The story is so famous, it has become the first cautionary tale for every new big league general manager.
The Boston Red Sox, looking for bullpen help during the 1990 stretch drive, target the Astros’ Larry Andersen – a 37-year-old veteran of four teams who has posted earned-run averages below 2.00 for each of the two previous seasons.
In exchange, the Red Sox offer a 22-year-old Double-A third baseman who is batting .333 for the New Britain Red Sox but has only four home runs. But a little more than 400 days later, Jeff Bagwell wrapped up a rookie season in Houston where he hit .294 with 15 homers and 82 RBI – a season that would eventually win him the 1991 National League Rookie of the Year Award by a near-unanimous vote.
It was the beginning of a career that would take Bagwell to the Hall of Fame.
Born May 27, 1968, in Boston, Bagwell was the Red Sox’s fourth-round draft choice in 1989. He had received little attention as a high school player in Middletown, Conn., but found a place on the University of Hartford squad.
A lifelong Red Sox fan, the trade to the Astros devastated Bagwell – at first. But soon, Bagwell saw the trade as the platform that eventually launched his career.
After his Rookie of the Year season, Bagwell’s power numbers continued to climb before beginning an assault on the record books in 1994. That season, Bagwell hit .368 with 39 homers and 116 RBI in just 110 games in a season that was cut short by a strike, winning the NL Most Valuable Player Award. Suddenly, fans and media alike began to take note of the first baseman – the Astros moved him across the diamond before his big league career even began – with the shoulder-wide batting stance and fearless disposition.
Bagwell continued to put up astounding numbers in the next decade, scoring 100-or-more runs in eight of nine years from 1996-2004 and driving in more than 100 runs seven times in that span. He also averaged better than 113 walks a year during those seasons.
From 1996 through 2001, Bagwell totaled at least 30 home runs, 100 runs scored and 100 RBI per season. At the same time, Bagwell turned the Astros into an annual postseason contender – helping Houston advance to the playoffs six times from 1997-2005.
But early in the 2005 season, Bagwell removed himself from the lineup due to a right shoulder that had caused him four years of constant pain. The arthritic condition – produced by bone-on-bone wear and tear – left him virtually unable to throw a baseball.
Bagwell willed himself back onto the Astros’ roster for their 2005 run to the World Series, but called it quits after he was unable to appear in any games in 2006.
The final numbers: a .297 batting average and Houston club records of 449 home runs and 1,529 RBI to go with a .408 on-base percentage.
Bagwell was selected to four All-Star Games, finished in the Top 10 in the National League MVP voting six times, won three Silver Slugger Awards and also captured a Gold Glove Award in 1994.
Bagwell was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2017.