During a 15-year Major League Baseball career – all with the Houston Astros – Jeff Bagwell was among an elite class of hitters, and in 1994, became the fourth National Leaguer to be unanimously selected as Most Valuable Player. Now as the Astros Special Assistant to the General manager, Mr. Bagwell, will be presented the 2009 William A. “Bill” Shea Distinguished Little League Graduate Award during the 63rd Little League Baseball World Series in South Williamsport, Pa., Aug. 21-30.
The award was established in 1987 to serve a two-fold purpose. First, and most importantly, the award is presented to a former Little Leaguer in Major League Baseball who best exemplifies the spirit of Little League. Consideration for selection includes both the individual’s ability and accomplishments and that person’s status as a positive role model.
“Jeff Bagwell played the game for its enjoyment and he had the talent to make baseball his career,” Stephen D. Keener, President and Chief Executive Officer of Little League Baseball and Softball, said. “Now as a member of the Astros’ front office, he is engaged in player development and serves as a talent evaluator, while continuing he charitable endeavors.”
Lending his time and name to many worthwhile organizations that aid and benefit children, Mr. Bagwell has been active with the Children’s Miracle Network and is a strong supporter of the Ronald McDonald House in Houston. He has established the Jeff Bagwell Foundation that supports many child-related causes including research for pediatric cancer.
“For Mr. Bagwell, baseball has been a life-long ambition, and his drive to play the game at the highest level required personal commitment and fortitude that was learned while playing Little League,” Mr. Keener said. “His transition from playing to teaching skills and mentoring young players has brought him full circle with the experiences and enthusiasm enjoyed during his Little League days. Jeff’s athletic prowess coupled with his desire to assist in the lives of children makes us are proud to honor him with this award.”
Playing in Killingworth (Conn.) Little League, Mr. Bagwell, now 41, participated in the Little League program for four years, pitching and playing shortstop. In three of his four years, Mr. Bagwell participated in the Little League International Tournament, but his teams never advanced out of district play.
“As soon as I could walk, I wanted to play baseball,” Mr. Bagwell said. “My dad (Robert) was my Little League coach all four years, and I was a better-than-average player. I remember hitting a few home runs, but when I got to the bigger diamonds things went backwards. In high school, I was average, and just a good college player, but I still got drafted and made the big leagues.”
In his current role with the Astros, Mr. Bagwell assists the club’s baseball operations staff with its Major and Minor League player development programs, the Astros’ hitting development program, the amateur player draft, scouting and minor league team operations and evaluations.
“I loved putting on my Little League uniform and going to play,” Mr. Bagwell said. “As I got older, every time I put on my uniform it was exciting. When I talk to young players, I tell them, ‘If baseball is what you want to do, go practice, play hard, keep plugging away and don’t give up.’”
Mr. Bagwell, a native New Englander who was born in Boston, and graduated from the University of Hartford in Connecticut. He was drafted by his hometown Boston Red Sox in the fourth round of the 1989 amateur player entry draft. After signing with the Red Sox organization in 1989, Mr. Bagwell went on to win the Double-A Eastern League’s Most Valuable Player Award.
By 1990, the stout 6-foot, 195-pound right-handed slugger had put himself on the fast track to the Majors, but in the midst of a pennant race, the Red Sox decided to trade its top prospect to the Astros for pitcher Larry Andersen.
“I cried when the Red Sox took me,” Mr. Bagwell said of being drafted by his favorite team. “When I got traded to Houston, I had already played a year-and-a-half in the Minors. It was more devastating for my parents than me, because by then I knew I could play at the Major League level.
“When I was in Little League, I cried one time when I struck out and my dad benched me,” Mr. Bagwell said. “That moment taught me about adversity and that things aren’t always going to go your way. When you’re a kid you just play, and that’s what I did, from Little League all the way up to the Majors. I got to be a better player as I got older, and things worked out for me.”
Mr. Bagwell debuted with the Astros on April 8, 1991, moving from his natural third base position to first base. In his rookie season, he hit .294 with a team-high 15 home runs, 82 runs batted in, and was named the club’s MVP. Later that season, he received 23-of-24 first place votes and became the first Houston player to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award.
In 1994, his fourth Major League season, Mr. Bagwell’s statistics continued to impress. He won his only Gold Glove, and in earning the National League Most Valuable Player Award, became the first National Leaguer since Hall of Famer Willie Mays in 1955, to finish the season first or second in batting average (.368), runs scored (104), runs batted in (116) and home runs (39). Mr. Bagwell played only 110 games that year due to injury and the Major League Baseball players’ strike.
“My parents taught me that if you start something, don’t ever quit, and Little League taught me about sportsmanship and being a good teammate,” Mr. Bagwell said. “When I was with the Astros, we never shook hands with the other team, but I remember after our Little League games, we’d go shake hands. I learned about sportsmanship from those times.”
Injury limited Mr. Bagwell’s availability over the next three seasons, but not his productivity. In 1995, he hit .290, with 21 home runs, and 87 runs batted in. The following season (1996), he posted career highs in runs scored (111); runs batted in (120); and collected a league-leading 48 doubles, to achieve his second career season with a better than .300 batting average; 30 home runs and 100 RBIs.
Mr. Bagwell’s 1997 season saw him just miss out on his second NL MVP award, as he hit 43 home runs, stole 31 bases and drove in 135. Larry Walker of the Colorado Rockies was the league’s most valuable player that season. He did win the second of his three Silver Slugger awards, and made his third of four National League All-Star teams in 1997.
Dismissing any concerns about his durability, Mr. Bagwell proceeded to become a decade-long fixture at first base for the Astros. At one point during his career he played nearly 400 consecutive games.
In 2005, Bagwell’s Astros reached the World Series, losing in four games to the Chicago White Sox. In the Series, he was 1-for-8 with a single and a run scored. In 33 postseason games, Mr. Bagwell amassed a .226 batting average, with 24 hits, including four doubles, two home runs and 13 runs batted in.
During his Major League career (1991-2005), all with the Astros, Mr. Bagwell played in 2,150 games. His career offensive totals include 2,314 hits, 449 home runs, 488 doubles, 32 triples, 1,529 runs batted and 1,517 runs scored. On five occasions, Mr. Bagwell finished in the top 10 in MVP balloting.
Mr. Bagwell and his wife Ericka, live in Houston with daughters, Bryce (8) and Blake (6).