Bagwell was part of the trade that sent relief pitcher Larry Andersen to the Red Sox, now regarded as one of the most lopsided trades in sports history. Andersen pitched just 22 innings for Boston while Bagwell hit 449 home runs for the Astros, the most in club history, among setting numerous other franchise career and single-season records. He excelled at every major aspect of the game, including hitting, on-base ability, running, defense, and throwing. One of the most consistent players of his generation, in each of his first 11 seasons, he produced no fewer than 4.7 wins above replacement (WAR) per Baseball-Reference.com. His 1994 season was perhaps his finest. As the fourth unanimous NL MVP in history, he set the record for fewest plate appearances to reach both 100 runs scored and 100 runs batted in, produced a .750 slugging percentage − the highest in the NL since 1925 − while batting a career-high .368. In 1999, he finished second in the MVP voting, producing his second career 30–30 season.
The only player in MLB history to achieve six consecutive seasons (1996–2001) with each of 30 home runs, 100 RBI, 100 runs scored, and 100 walks, Bagwell is just the fifth to achieve 300 home runs, 1,000 RBI, and 1,000 runs scored in his first 10 seasons. He is just one of 12 players in history to hit 400 home runs and record an on-base percentage (OBP) of .400, and the only first baseman with at least 400 home runs and 200 stolen bases. Overall, Bagwell batted over .300 six times, had a career OBP of .408 (39th all-time) and a slugging percentage of .540 (32nd all-time). He is the only first baseman to achieve the 30–30 club more than once. His 79.6 career WAR per Baseball-Reference.com ranks sixth all-time among first basemen.
Since his playing career ended, Bagwell has served in sporadic instructor assignments with the Astros, including as hitting coach in 2010.
Born in Boston, Massachusetts, as the only son of Janice (née Hare) and Robert Bagwell, Jeff Bagwell and his family moved to Killingworth, Connecticut, when he was one year old. Much of Bagwell's family is from the Greater Boston area, including both his parents, and are avid fans of the Boston Red Sox. His favorite player, Carl Yastrzemski, was a longtime left fielder for the Red Sox. Robert, from Watertown, pitched college baseball at Northwestern University and as a semi-professional. Janice, a police officer, grew up in Newton and played softball in local Boston leagues until her 20s. Bagwell's parents divorced when he was 11. Precocious and demonstrating much athletic ability early in life, he played a wide variety of sports as a youth. Recalled Janice, Jeff "could throw a ball before he could walk. When he was six months old, we’d throw a ball to him and he would throw it back."
Bagwell graduated from Xavier High School, a private all-male Catholic school located in Middletown, Connecticut. A versatile athlete, he excelled at soccer, setting the school goal-scoring mark, played shortstop, and lettered in basketball. In early 1989, Bagwell was honored by Xavier for his character and generosity. He also excelled in American Legion Baseball under coach Fred Tremalgia for Post 75 in Middletown and went on to be named the 2003 American Legion Baseball Graduate of the Year.
Former major league pitcher Bill Denehy, coach of the Hawks college baseball team for the University of Hartford in Connecticut, offered Bagwell a scholarship in spite of baseball not being his primary sport. Bagwell accepted the invitation and Denehy switched him to third base. Over three seasons playing for Hartford, he batted .413 in 400 at bats, a school record, and, for a time, a New England collegiate record. He also was the school's career home run (31) and run batted in (126) leader when he was drafted, and a two-time Eastern College Athletic Conference player of the year.
The Red Sox selected Jeff Bagwell in the fourth round of the 1989 Major League Baseball draft. Throughout his career, Barry Axelrod served as his agent. For his first professional assignment, the Red Sox appointed Bagwell to the Winter Haven Red Sox of the Florida State League in 1989, where he batted .310 with two home runs. In 1990, while playing for the AA New Britain Red Sox, Bagwell won the Eastern League Most Valuable Player Award. In 136 games with New Britain, he batted .333 with 160 hits, four home runs (HR), 61 runs batted in (RBI), 34 doubles, seven triples, 73 bases on balls (BB), 57 strikeouts (SO), .422 on-base percentage (OBP), .457 slugging percentage (SLG) and .880 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS). He finished first in the league in hits and doubles, second in batting, OBP and OPS, fourth in BB, fifth in SLG, ninth in runs scored and tenth in RBI.
Late in the 1990 season, the Red Sox, who were in search of relief pitching to improve their chances of making the playoffs, contacted the Houston Astros about Larry Andersen. Stan Benjamin, who scouted the New England region for the Astros, recommended that they ask for Bagwell in return. The Astros initially hesitated owing to his sparse home run production, but Benjamin persuaded them, quipping that New Britain's Beehive Field was so large that "Babe Ruth couldn’t hit home runs in that ballpark." On August 30, 1990, the Red Sox took the Astros' offer. The trade is now considered one of the most one-sided trades in baseball history; in 2001, ESPN's readers named it the second-worst trade in sports history, behind only the Red Sox trading Ruth to the New York Yankees. Although Andersen pitched well down the stretch in 1990 – he allowed three runs in 22 innings of relief – to help the Red Sox secure the American League East division title on the final day of the season, the Oakland Athletics swept Boston out of the American League Championship Series (ALCS). They then lost Andersen after the season when he was declared a free agent due to the third collusion settlement.
According to the Red Sox' then-general manager, Lou Gorman, the trade made sense at the time, and he spent the ensuing years explaining the decision-making process. In his 2005 autobiography, One Pitch from Glory, Boston already had Wade Boggs at the major league level at third base, and had rated prospects Tim Naehring and Scott Cooper higher on the organization's depth chart. Mo Vaughn was already established at first base. MLB's player relations committee had assured Gorman that Andersen would not be lost to new-look free agency.
The disproportionate results of the trade notwithstanding, Bagwell became personally acquainted with Anderson and they formed a friendship. “I knew LA and I love him,” Bagwell asserted. “He used to make fun of me when I was playing bad. He said, 'you’re making me look bad, you have to step it up.' Look up his numbers. He was pretty good at what he did.”
In spite of the unexpected detour early in Bagwell's professional baseball career, he blossomed in Houston, becoming one of the most accomplished players in Astros franchise history. He spent his entire major league career in a Houston uniform and, along with teammate Craig Biggio in their 15 seasons playing together, were a prodigious offensive and defensive unit known as the "Killer B's", synonymous with the Astros throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s. During their 10 peak seasons from 1994–2003, they appeared in nine All-Star Games, won five Gold Gloves, ranked in the top five of the Most Valuable Player Award voting five times and averaged 226 runs scored. They totaled 689 home runs, 2,485 RBI and 3,083 runs scored while the Astros advanced to the postseason six times.
With an exaggerated and unusual batting style, Bagwell waited for each pitch in a low crouch, with legs wide open and knees bent nearly 90 degrees, appearing as if he was sitting on an invisible bench. He stepped back with his front foot as he began his swing. Next, he would rise from his stance and rotate his hands with the bat forward into his powerful, uppercut swing. "That wide stance keeps him from over striding", Joe Torre observed, "which can be your biggest problem when you’re trying to hit for power." The low crouch also shrunk his strike zone, allowing him to walk more often. Standing 6 feet tall (72 inches (180 cm)) and weighing 195 pounds (88 kg), he did not present the image of an imposing, home run-hitting giant that would cause pitchers to be very careful when he batted after he began his major league career.
The Astros invited Bagwell to major league camp in spring training of 1991. Bagwell, expecting for the club to assign him to their AAA affiliate Tucson, enthused them with his play. Because they, too, already had an established major leaguer at third base in Ken Caminiti, they approached Bagwell about shifting to first base, which he accepted. Having not previously played the position as a regular, Bagwell received a crash course, playing minor league games in the morning and Astros games in the afternoon until Opening Day. Observed The Sporting News: "Rookie Jeff Bagwell never played first base before this spring, but the position is his to lose. It's up to his bat." Thus, Bagwell made the major league club without an assignment to AAA, making the uncommon jump from AA to the major leagues, and made his major league debut on Opening Day. On May 6, he hit the ninth-ever upper-deck home run at Three Rivers Stadium off Bob Kipper in a seventh-inning pinch hit appearance, estimated at 456 feet (139 m). Bagwell hit .350 in September. He finished the year hitting .294 with 15 home runs and 82 RBI while leading the Astros in several offensive categories. He was named the 1991 National League (NL) Rookie of the Year, the first Astros player to win the award, Baseball America's Rookie of the Year, The Sporting News Rookie of the Year and post-season All-Star and on the Topps' Rookie All-Star Team.
Bagwell's power hike piqued the curiosity of many baseball observers. In two minor league seasons from 1989–90, he had managed six home runs in 932 at bats–a ratio of 155 at bats per home run (AB/HR). With 15 HR in his first year in Houston, that average shrunk to 36.9. He also exhibited extraordinary plate discipline for a rookie: while ranking tenth in the league in walks with 75, his OBP placed fifth at .387. Of the power surge, commented Bagwell to hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, "That's awesome", to which he reacted, "Awesome? We can get more out of you than that." By altering an approach to contact the pitch with topspin as he did when he arriving to Houston, Jaramillo taught Bagwell to hit with backspin, resulting in a soaring trajectory rather than nose diving. He also habituated Bagwell to manipulate the count, waiting for a pitch to drive instead of indiscriminately swinging at any pitch that appeared to be a strike. Accounted Bagwell of the newfound advantage, "I didn’t hit many home runs in the minor leagues, but when I hit one, when I got backspin on it, it went a long way."
Although firmly established as the Astros' first baseman from Opening Day in 1991, Bagwell remarked years later that transitioning from third base was not automatic. First basemen approach fielding plays from their right side, which is opposite to playing third base. He recounted one conversation that occurred during an Astros pitching change in a game against St. Louis. Shortstop Ozzie Smith was on first and asked Bagwell, "How's it going?" Bagwell responded, "I'm really struggling with my backhand." Smith replied, "Well, here's what you do. You can't field the ball deep. You have to get out in front of it." Remarked Bagwell, "I was basically being given a lesson from Ozzie Smith at first base during a pitching change. It's pretty cool."
The next year, Bagwell hit .273, driving in 96 runs with 18 home runs. In 1993, the Astros improved to a third-place finish in the National League West division, and in mid-September, Bagwell was batting .320 with 20 HR and 88 RBI. However, a pitch from the Philadelphia Phillies' Ben Rivera broke the fourth metacarpal bone in Bagwell's left hand, ending his season prematurely. It was the first of three successive seasons that ended early or was interrupted due to an incoming pitch breaking the same bone in that hand. His tendency to dip just before starting to swing made his hand more vulnerable to being hit by inside pitches. His .320 average was sixth in the NL. In February 1994, Bagwell and the Astros agreed to a one-year contact with a $2.4 million base salary (USD, $4.0 million today).
The most productive season in Bagwell's professional career was the strike-shortened 1994 season which set several franchise records. On Opening Day, April 4, against the Montreal Expos, Bagwell hit the game-tying home run while going 3-for-6 as the Astros won in a 12-inning walk-off. For the month of April, he batted .360 with six home runs and added another six home runs in May. In June, he hit 13 home runs, establishing an Astros' franchise record for one month, while batting .394, 11 doubles, .455 OBP, .899 SLG, and 1.354 OPS. On June 24, he hit three home runs against the Los Angeles Dodgers at the Astrodome – two in the same inning – in a 16–4 rout, becoming the first Astro since Glenn Davis in 1990 to do so. He was the NL Player of the Week for consecutive weeks on June 19 and June 26 and the NL Player of the Month for June, his second career monthly award.
Selected to his first All-Star Game as a reserve, Bagwell had tied Kirby Puckett for the major league RBI lead at 81 going into the All-Star break, and batted .348 with 27 HR and 74 runs scored. In the All-Star Game, Bagwell entered as a pinch hitter for starting pitcher Greg Maddux, singling off David Cone, and wound up collecting two hits in four at bats. The first player in the majors to reach 100 RBI on July 27, Bagwell homered off José Rijo in a 6–5 win over Cincinnati to give him 101 RBI in his first 101 games. In July, he tied a club record for RBI in any month with 29, which José Cruz and Jimmy Wynn shared. and hit .409 with 11 HR, 20 walks and 1.384 OPS and collected his second consecutive Player of the Month award. He would hit another three home runs with six walks in nine August games before a pitch from Andy Benes fractured his left hand on August 10 and ended his season in the same manner the season before. Entering that game, Bagwell carried an 18-game hitting streak. Two days later, the strike ended the season for all the major leagues. His production accelerated in 26 games after the All-Star break, batting .432, .530 OBP, .916 SLG, 1.446 OPS, 10 2B, 12 HR, 34 RBI and 30 runs scored. The Astros finished one-half game out of first place in the inaugural season of the National League Central division, a product of MLB's division realignment.
Bagwell played in 110 games in the 1994 season, batting .368 with a .750 SLG, 1.201 OPS, 39 HR, 116 RBI, 104 runs scored, 300 total bases and 213 adjusted OPS (OPS+) in 400 at bats. He led the major leagues in SLG, OPS+, RBI, and total bases, and the NL in runs scored and OPS, but fell short of winning the batting Triple Crown, finishing second for the batting title to Tony Gwynn, who, after batting .394, had the highest average in the major leagues since Ted Williams in 1941. Bagwell finished second in HR to Matt Williams, who hit 43.
Bagwell set the record for the fewest plate appearances in a season reaching 100 of both runs scored and runs driven in and became the first National Leaguer to finish first or second in batting average, home runs, RBI, and runs scored since Willie Mays in 1955. His .750 SLG at the time ranked as the seventh-best ever and was the highest by a National Leaguer since Rogers Hornsby in 1925 (.756). Further, at the time in National League history, the 213 OPS+ trailed only Hornsby's 1924 season (222 OPS+) for the second-highest ever. The 116 RBI in 110 games qualified for the 13th-highest ratio in history. He also hit 23 home runs in 56 games at the Astrodome, setting a record that stood for the stadium that was famed to be pitcher-friendly until the Astros moved out following the 1999 season. He set single-season club records for batting average, SLG, OPS, OPS+, AB/HR, and offensive win percentage (.858), and also for home runs, breaking Wynn's 27-year-old record, and RBI, breaking Bob Watson's record he had set 17 years earlier – later which he again both subsequently broke.
The unanimous winner of the NL Most Valuable Player Award, he became the fourth player in National League history to win by this distinction, and the first Astros player to win the award. Bagwell also won his first Silver Slugger, Gold Glove, and Player of the Year Awards from The Sporting News, Associated Press, Baseball Digest, and USA Today Baseball Weekly. "Crazy stuff happened that year", Bagwell recalled of his 1994 season. "Every pitch that I was looking for, I got. And when I got it, I didn't miss it." The Astros and Bagwell agreed to a four-year contract on November 23, 1994, worth $27.5 million (USD, $44.4 million today) with the three option years. The average annual value of $6.875 million ($11.1 million today) made him the fifth-highest paid player in the majors.
The 1995 season was shortened by 18 games due to the players' strike that commenced the year before. Bagwell endured a slump through the month of May in which he batted .183. In June, his results started to improve as he batted .339 and followed up in July by driving in 31 runs. Both Bagwell and Derek Bell − included as a "Killer B" − registered 31 RBI that month, breaking the monthly club RBI record. Bagwell had tied the previous record one year earlier to the month. He hit his first two career home runs against Maddux of the Atlanta Braves within a week – on May 28 and June 3 – who ceded eight over the entire season. On July 28 against the Colorado Rockies, Bagwell's 10th-inning home run tied the score and two innings later he scored the winning run for a 5–4 final score.
For the third time in three seasons, an incoming pitch broke a bone in Bagwell's left hand: on this occasion, it was on July 30 from the Padres' Brian Williams. Rather than change his successful style, Bagwell resorted to wearing a heavily padded protective batting glove. He returned in September to bat .313 with five home runs and 21 RBI as Houston finished one game behind the Rockies for the NL wild card. Bagwell missed a total of 30 games, appearing in 114 and batted .290 with 21 HR. He won the 1995 ESPY Awards for Best Breakthrough Athlete and Outstanding Baseball Performer (later renamed "Best Major League Baseball Player"). After the season, he commenced a rigorous training program that enabled him to gain 20 pounds and increased his endurance for the long season. Activities of focus included concentrated weight lifting, change of diet, and the use of creatine and androstenedione.
By the start of the 1996 season, Bagwell and Biggio had gained seniority – even if not necessarily by age – within the Astros clubhouse as well as status as superstars. According to journalist Dayn Perry, the earliest recorded reference to an Astros version of the nickname "Killer B's" encountered via a Google Search occurred that year. Bagwell enforced accountability and preparation which fostered camaraderie and incorporated all players as instrumental to the success of the team. Thus, the Astros raised their level of play, and a new string of playoff appearances followed. In time, all who entered the Astros gym were greeted with a banner that read: "Bagwell's Gym. Work Hard. Play Hard. Or Leave."
On May 7 against Philadelphia, Bagwell reached the 500th RBI of his career with two home runs and four RBI. By hitting his second upper-deck home run at Three Rivers Stadium on May 29 – it travelled 459 feet (140 m) – Bagwell joined longtime Pirate Willie Stargell as the only players to homer twice into the stadium's upper deck. For the month of May, he batted .360 with .740 SLG, 10 HR, 31 RBI, scored 22 runs, and stole four bases. He was named NL Player of the Month, his fourth career monthly award. On June 14, Bagwell tied a major league record with four doubles in one game against San Francisco. He played all 162 games that year, batting .315 with a 1.021 OPS, 31 HR, and 120 RBI, 135 BB with 111 runs scored. With 21 successful stolen bases in 28 attempts, it was his first season in the 20–20 club, that is, to steal 20 bases while hitting 20 home runs in the same season. Bagwell reached base 324 total times and in all but 11 games. He led the NL in doubles with 48 while earning his second All-Star selection and finishing ninth in the MVP voting.
Rumors had surfaced during the 1996 season that manager Terry Collins did not get along well with Bagwell and Biggio, largely contributing to his dismissal. The Astros hired team color commentator Larry Dierker after the season to replace him. According to his autobiography, This Ain't Brain Surgery, Dierker was asked during the interview how he would handle the players. His response: "'Look, I'm tired of this Bagwell and Biggio s---,' I said. 'Bagwell and Biggio will not be a problem, believe me.' I now believe that this statement is the one that got me the job." The Astros won division titles in four of five seasons with Dierker as manager; however, in each instance, they did not advance past the first round of the playoffs, and 2001 was Dierker's last season as the club's manager.
The 1,000th hit of Bagwell's career was a home run on May 20, 1997, off Calvin Maduro, one of his two that game, in a 9–5 win over the Philadelphia Phillies. He was selected to the play in the All-Star Game. Exhibiting above-average speed and baserunning skills for a first baseman, Bagwell became the first full-time first baseman to join the 30–30 club, capping the 1997 season with 31 steals in 41 attempts. The only other first baseman to accomplish the 30–30 club is Joe Carter. Bagwell batted .286 and scored 109 runs. He finished second in the league with both 43 home runs and 135 RBI − the RBI total was a career high − and was third in the MVP balloting. He made the playoffs for the first time in 1997 when the Astros won the National League Central division, the club's first appearance in 11 years. The Astros faced the Atlanta Braves in the National League Division Series (NLDS), who swept them in three games. Bagwell, Biggio and Bell combined for two hits in 37 at bats.
In 1998, Bagwell informed a Houston Chronicle reporter that he was using androstenedione (commonly referred to as "andro"), which at the time the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classified it as a nutritional dietary supplement, finding it benign and authorized for non-medicinal purposes. It was considered a "weak" androgen steroid hormone and allegedly in widespread use around the sport at the time. Bagwell hit his first career grand slam while tying a career-high six RBI against Cincinnati on September 8 in a 13–7 victory. It was his 218th career home run, making his streak the then-longest among active players without a grand slam.
Bagwell finished the 1998 season batting .304 with 34 HR, 111 RBI, 124 runs scored, 19 SB, 109 BB, .424 OBP, .557 SLG, .981 OPS. He ranked third in the league in runs scored and BB, fifth in OPS+, sixth in OBP, and eighth in OPS. The Astros won a franchise-best 102 games while winning the NL Central division title, leading the league in runs scored. Their season ended by defeat to the San Diego Padres in the NLDS, including losing two starts against Kevin Brown – both by a 2–1 score. Bagwell, Bell, and Biggio combined for six hits in 51 at bats in this series.
The high school which ruminated Bagwell, Xavier, officially retired his uniform number 9 in a commemoration on January 30, 1999. As the "Killer B's" brand gained increased national attention, journalist Dayn Perry jocosely noted that in 1999 the Astros, "in pursuit of arcane history, used eight players whose last names began with 'B'", including Bagwell, Paul Bako, Glen Barker, Bell, Sean Bergman, Lance Berkman, Biggio, and Tim Bogar. On April 21, Bagwell realized three home runs in a 10–3 win against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, his second career three-home run game. The second home run allowed him to overtake Wynn as the Astros' all-time home run leader at 224 and he tied a career-high with six RBI in one game. Bagwell produced another three-home run game on June 9 against the Chicago White Sox that was a grand slam short of the "home run cycle", accounted with a solo home run, a three-run home run, and a two-run home run, respectively. The two three-home run games made him the only player to accomplish this feat at two different stadiums in Chicago in the same season.
Nominated to his fourth career All-Star Game, Bagwell to that point in the season had scored or driven in 28.6% of the Astros' runs, the highest portion of a team's offense for which any one player in MLB accounted. He was stationed first in the NL in walks (83), runs scored (81) and OBP (.464), second in HR (28), RBI (78) and SLG (.648) and had 17 base thefts while Houston tenanted percentage points behind Cincinnati for first in the division. On August 20, 1999, he walked a major-league record six times in a 16-inning battle against the Florida Marlins.
Bagwell's aggregate output in 1999 included leading the major leagues in runs scored (143), bases on balls (149), and games played (162). He also batted .304, hit 42 HR, 126 RBI, and .591 SLG and stole 30 bases, giving him his second 30–30 season. Further, he paired with Barry Bonds as the only major leaguers to obtain the 40–30 mark (40 home runs and 30 stolen bases) twice. The Astros engulfed the Reds to clinch the NL Central division title in 1999, their third consecutive. They faced Atlanta in an NLDS rematch of two years prior but were defeated in four games. The NL MVP balloting materialized with Bagwell scaled second to the Braves' Chipper Jones. Bagwell was honored with the third Silver Slugger Award of his career.
In a presentation of rankings of active major leaguers prior to the 2000 season, Sports Illustrated slotted Bagwell second among position players behind Ken Griffey, Jr., and The Sporting News placed him sixth among all players, including pitchers. Bagwell christened the team's 2000 move to Enron Field (later renamed Minute Maid Park) with the stadium's first-ever hit and first two runs driven in, in a 6–5 exhibition victory over the New York Yankees on March 30. His two-run, ninth-inning home run against Trevor Hoffman in San Diego on June 10 won the contest for Houston, 7–6, and stopped a 10-game losing streak. On August 14 in Philadelphia, he homered twice and tied a club record with seven RBI in a 14–7 win, shared by Rafael Ramírez and Pete Incaviglia. Five days later against Milwaukee, Bagwell again homered twice for the 299th and 300th of his career; the second home run broke an eighth-inning tie to give Houston a 10–8 win. He joined Hank Aaron, Joe DiMaggio, Frank Robinson and Ted Williams as the fifth player in major league history to record 300 home runs, 1,000 RBI and 1,000 runs scored in his first ten seasons.
Bagwell finished the 2000 season with a career-high 47 home runs, .310 average, .424 OBP, .615 SLG – the second-best mark of his career – for a 152 OPS+. His 152 runs scored was the highest total in a season since Lou Gehrig in 1936, and his 295 runs scored from 1999–2000 set a National League two-season record. His pair of cleats from the 2000 season were turned in for display at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The following December, Bagwell and the Astros agreed to a five-year, $85 million (USD, $118.2 million today) contract extension. With an average annual value of $17 million, he became the third-highest paid player in the sport at the time. By 2005, he was the seventh-highest paid player in the sport, receiving $18 million in the fourth year of the deal.
With a triple on May 7, 2001, against Chicago, Bagwell achieved the 700th extra base hit of hit career. For the second time in his career, he reached seven RBI in a game – again tying a club record – at Kansas City on July 7. Over four successive games from July 8–13, Bagwell homered and totaled five home runs in that span. In a contest at Enron Field against the St. Louis Cardinals on July 18, he hit for the cycle. He went 4-for-5 with a BB and five RBI as the Astros won, 17–11. He was the NL Player of the Month that July after batting .333 with nine HR, and breaking his own club record with 36 RBI in a month, exceeding the 34 RBI in the previous August.
While hitting his 32nd HR on August 19, 2001, against Pittsburgh, Bagwell collected his 100th RBI. It was the sixth consecutive season he reached at least 30 HR and 100 RBI, making him the eighth player in MLB history to achieve such a streak, and the only Houston player to do so. Five days later, also against Pittsburgh, he scored his 100th run, joining Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, and Babe Ruth as the only players in MLB history with six consecutive seasons of 30 homers, 100 RBI and 100 runs scored. On September 30 at Chicago, Bagwell walked for his 100th of the season, thus making him the only player in MLB history to register six consecutive seasons of at least 30 HR, 100 RBI, 100 runs scored, and 100 walks. The Astros won the NL Central division title and faced the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS. In spite of Bagwell reaching base in eight of 12 plate appearances by single or by walk, he did not score any runs, and the Braves swept the Astros in three games.
Playing with sound health until 2001, an explosive pain started to progress in his left shoulder during the season. Bagwell underwent surgery to remove bone spurs and to reconstruct a partially torn labrum on October 26, 2001. He had also began to develop arthritis in his right shoulder, which gradually worsened and diminished his playing ability.
For the first three months of the 2002 season, Bagwell labored greatly with throwing; he still had not fully recovered from the shoulder surgery of the previous offseason. Even after it improved, it was noticeably less strong than two years prior. In July, he batted .349 with six HR and 23 RBI. Before a game against the San Diego Padres on August 27, he met with an 11-year-old bone cancer patient named Stephen Rael who asked him to hit a home run for him. Bagwell replied, "I'm going to try, but I'm not Babe Ruth." In the fifth inning, he hit a pitch from Mike Bynum over the left field wall and pointed to the child in the stands as he rounded third base. He later said, "I hit the home run, and he felt it was for him. I'm glad for that. It made it special." From August 10–24, Bagwell produced a season-high 15-game hitting streak, marking the 12th consecutive season with at least one double-digit hit streak, a club record, and second to Roberto Alomar with 14 among all then-active players. In September, he batted .343 with 11 multiple-hit games.
During a 3–2 loss to the Montreal Expos on April 26, 2003, Bagwell's infield single gave him 2,000 hits for his career, joining Biggio as the only Astro to achieve this mark. Bagwell collected the assist for the final out of a combined no-hitter and 8–0 win over the Yankees on June 11. He scooped a ground ball batted from Hideki Matsui and relayed it to Billy Wagner covering first base, the final of a record six pitchers participating in the feat. Playing the Cincinnati Reds on July 20, 2003, Bagwell hit two home runs for the 400th of his career off Danny Graves, becoming the 35th player in MLB history to do so. ESPN's "The List" ranked Bagwell as the second-most underrated athlete of the top four North American professional sports leagues in August 2003, and Biggio third.
When he hit his sixth career grand slam against Milwaukee on April 9, 2004, Bagwell tied a club record. He recorded his 200th career stolen base on August 30 against Cincinnati to become the tenth player in MLB history to reach that plateau while hitting 400 home runs. On September 18, 2004, Bagwell collected his 1,500th career RBI with a single in the third inning against the Brewers. Two innings later, he homered for his 1,500th run scored, becoming just the 29th player in MLB history and first Astro to reach both milestones. Bagwell finished with 27 home runs, stopping a streak of eight consecutive seasons with at least 30, but extending a streak of 12 with at least 20.
The Astros faced the Braves in the playoffs for the fourth time in Bagwell's career in the 2004 NLDS. In Game 3, on October 7, he hit his first career postseason home run off Mike Hampton in the first inning in a 4–2 extra-inning loss. After three failed attempts to advance past the first round of the playoffs earlier in Bagwell's career – all to the Braves (1997, 1999, and 2001) – and seven overall in 43 years of franchise history, the Astros defeated the Braves for their first-ever playoff series win. The quartet dubbed the "Killer B's" – this time with the additions of Carlos Beltrán and Lance Berkman – ignited the Astros' offense, batting .395 (34-for-86) with eight home runs, 21 RBI and 24 runs scored. The Astros scored an NLDS-record 36 runs in all and Bagwell batted .318 with two home runs and five RBI. They advanced to Bagwell's first National League Championship Series (NLCS) to face the Cardinals. St. Louis defeated Houston in seven games to advance to the World Series.
In February 2005, Bagwell and Biggio were jointly inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. Shortly after the 2005 season began, the chronic arthritic condition in his shoulder that had begun in 2001 finally sidelined him, rendering him inactive for three-quarters of the season. The former Gold Glove winner was now subjugated into a defensive liability with severely restricted throwing ability, forcing him to "push" the ball instead of throwing it. Teams began taking advantage of his defensive increased weakness. Once possessing great ability to throw out the lead runner at third base ahead on bunt plays, Bagwell found it difficult to practice with the other infielders between innings.
Concurrently, Bagwell's offensive production suffered, and pressure mounted on Astros management to bench the perennial All-Star; the club had started the season with a 15–30 won–loss record. He hit his last major league home run against Maddux, now pitching for Chicago, on April 29, tying him for the most against any pitcher with seven. Bagwell continued to play through the pain until, after going 0-for-5 in a loss to the Pirates on May 4, it became so unbearable that he asked manager Phil Garner to remove him from the lineup the following day. He had hit just .250 with three home runs in 88 at bats. The Astros placed him on the disabled list a few days later and shoulder surgery followed.
The Astros dramatically improved after the poor start to finish 74–43 over their final 117 games and capture the NL wild card. Rendered unable to throw from the surgery, the club activated Bagwell in September as a pinch hitter, and he played a symbolic role in the successful drive to capture their first-ever National League pennant and World Series appearance. Moreover, the Astros secured the pennant against their division rival St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS, reversing the outcome from the year prior against the same club.
After having played 4,714 games and their entire major league careers together in Houston, Bagwell and Biggio appeared in their first World Series in 2005. Bagwell was the Astros' designated hitter in the first two games against the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field, and a pinch hitter in the two games played in Houston at Minute Maid Park. His last official major league plate appearance was in the seventh inning of Game 4, when he pinch hit for pitcher Brandon Backe and grounded out. The White Sox won this contest to sweep the Astros and secure the championship. With contributions of only a partially healthy Bagwell, the White Sox outscored the Astros by a combined six runs, the lowest scoring differential in World Series history. Together with Biggio, Bagwell received Baseball America's Lifetime Achievement Award after the 2005 season.
On January 23, 2006, the Astros indicated that they would file a claim on an insurance policy on Bagwell's health to collect approximately $15.6 million of the $17 million in salary owed to him for the 2006 season. Days earlier, orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews had performed a physical examination on Bagwell and determined that he had become "completely disabled" in terms of ability to play baseball again, including a maximum ability to throw a baseball 35 miles per hour (56 km/h) for short distances. Because of the language of the policy, the Astros could not release him without losing their settlement, nor could he take the field. The decision effectively eliminated his chances of playing again in the Major Leagues. On March 28, Cigna rejected the claim, contending that because Bagwell had played during 2005 World Series he could not have become more disabled during the period of baseball inactivity characteristic of the offseason.
Nonetheless, Bagwell still reported to spring training hoping he could contribute in some way during the upcoming 2006 campaign, and to test the injured shoulder. His mere presence in camp put the Astros' insurance claim into further question, creating an awkward situation between the player and the team. He appeared in several games, batting .219 with two RBI. He never had to make any difficult throws that would place notable stress on his shoulder as the other infielders shifted toward him. As expected, the Astros put him on the 15-day disabled list in late March with bone spurs in the shoulder. Bagwell disclosed that he was only in good enough condition to play every several days, rather than every day. He was eventually paid the full amount of his contract. The Astros and the insurance company settled the claim in a confidential arrangement the same day he announced his retirement.
The Astros declined to pick up Bagwell's $18 million club option for 2007, instead buying it out for $7 million. He filed for free agency in November 2006 but announced his retirement one month later. Owner Drayton McLane and general manager Tim Purpura stated that he would remain in player development department of the Astros organization, as one of the assistants to the general manager.
Bagwell made his first public appearance at Minute Maid Park since the end of his career on June 28, 2007. Former teammate and long-time friend Biggio had just logged his 3,000th career hit in the seventh inning against the Colorado Rockies. Bagwell, who was in the dugout, emerged to congratulate him. The Astros fans, who had momentarily quieted after cheering Biggio for his achievement, erupted into cheers again the moment Biggio dragged Bagwell onto the playing field and to the first base line. "The thing with Baggy is that he and I worked so hard here for this city and for this organization", Biggio remarked. "We made so many sacrifices as far as playing the game and giving your body to a city, a team." Together, they bowed to the crowd as Bagwell raised Biggio's arm, and returned to the dugout. Biggio was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015.
The Houston Astros officially retired Bagwell's jersey number 5 on August 26, 2007, prior to the start of a game versus the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was the eighth player in Astros history to have his number retired. Two of Bagwell's closest friends and former teammates, Biggio and Brad Ausmus, spoke on his behalf. Said Ausmus, "He was the quintessential teammate. He was a superstar who always put the team before himself. And between he and Bidge (Biggio), they always shouldered the blame we struggled and tried to deflect the credit when we won." Yastrzemski, Bagwell's childhood hero, delivered a special message: "Congratulations, Jeff, on your number being retired. I begged the Red Sox not to trade you when you were in the minors with us. Boston's loss was Houston's gain. See you in Cooperstown." Three first bases were used in the game, each embossed with a commemorative insignia and inscription, "No. 5, Jeff Bagwell jersey retirement, Aug. 26, 2007." One was given to Bagwell and the other two were auctioned to raise funds on behalf of the Astros in Action Foundation.
In 2009, Bagwell received the Bill Shea Distinguished Little League Graduate Award.
As part of a personal services contract Bagwell signed with the Astros, he served as a coach in spring training of 2007.
On July 11, 2010, the Astros hired Bagwell to be their hitting coach, replacing Sean Berry. At the time of the switch, the Astros had the second-worst average (.237) in the majors and the worst OBP (.295). At the end of the season, the team marginally improved, but was still last in the league in OBP (.303) and SLG (.362) and Bagwell announced he would not return as hitting coach.
After a five-year gap in contact with the Astros organization, Bagwell accepted a formal invitation from manager A. J. Hinch to be a guest instructor in spring training of 2015.
Eligible for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame for the first time in 2011, speculation abounded that some baseball writers initially refrained from voting for Bagwell on the premise that he used performance-enhancing drugs, since most of his playing career took place during what is commonly referred to as "the steroid era." In spite of the speculation, no concrete evidence has surfaced linking him to the use of performance-enhancing drugs; the closest to evidence that exists is a report that surfaced that he disclosed use of androstenedione to a Houston Chronicle reporter in 1998. At that time, neither the FDA nor MLB had banned its use, which apparently had already become widespread around the game. Bagwell has not been connected with any of the 104 positive samples in the 2003 survey tests that were leaked. Neither was he summoned for interview nor among the 89 players named in the Mitchell Report released in 2007.
Commented longtime former Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox on Bagwell – who opposed him from the dugout for the entirety of his career, including numerous times in the playoffs: "Jeff Bagwell was [in Houston] for so long and starred every year. For me a guy that dominated like that for one team, even in the league stats through the years. His are up there with anybody's. I would put him in right away. So he would get my vote on the first ballot." Still, in spite of the speculation that Bagwell used performance-enhancing drugs, San Francisco Chronicle sportswriter Bruce Jenkins opined that Bagwell did not have the credentials to be in the Hall of Fame. In July 2015, he acknowledged "that many are suspicious of Bagwell—without proof, as you say. I've always voted for the best players—Bonds, McGwire, Clemens, etc.—so that's not a factor for me. I always found Bagwell just a bit short of Hall of Fame material."
In 2011, Bagwell received 242 votes, or 41.7% of total ballots cast; the threshold for entry is 75%. In his second year on the ballot, he received 321 votes, or 56.0% of the ballots cast. In 2016, he received his highest percentage of the vote to that time, 71.6%. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2017, his seventh year of eligibility on the BBWAA ballot, with 86.2% of the vote.
Per Baseball-Reference.com, Bagwell's 79.6 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) rank sixth-most all-time among first basemen, trailing only Lou Gehrig, Albert Pujols, Jimmie Foxx, Cap Anson, and Roger Connor. Bagwell is fourth among those who have played since 1900, and the only first baseman with a higher WAR since World War II is Pujols. In the final 12 seasons of Bagwell's career, Houston finished in first or second place in the National League Central division 11 times, winning four division titles and qualifying for the playoffs six times, culminating in his lone World Series appearance in 2005. One of the most consistent players in history, he produced at least 4.7 WAR per season in each of his first 11 seasons, and no fewer than 3.7 in all except his final and 15th, which was abruptly cut short by shoulder injury. He spent the first nine of seasons of his career (1991–99) playing home games at the Astrodome, notorious for its reputation as the toughest park in which to hit when baseball was still played there. However, during those nine years, his production was nearly identical at home (.303 average/.421 OBP/.546 SLG) as it was on the road (.305 average/.412 OBP/.544 SLG). In that same period of time, his 160 OPS+ was fourth behind Bonds, McGwire, and Frank Thomas; his 56.7 WAR third to Bonds and Ken Griffey, Jr. From 1994–2000, a span including his age-26 through age-32 seasons, he averaged 41 home runs and 41 doubles per 162 games while batting .309, .433 OBP, and .593 SLG for a 167 OPS+.
Over his career, Bagwell batted at least .300 six times, amassed a 1.000 OPS five times, collected at least 30 home runs eight times, 100 RBI eight times, 100 runs scored nine times, and 100 walks seven times. He is the only player in history to achieve six consecutive seasons (1996–2001) with each of 30 home runs, 100 RBI, 100 runs scored, and 100 walks. Except for the 100 walks, only five other players in history have achieved the other three benchmarks in six consecutive seasons: Foxx, Gehrig, Ruth, Alex Rodriguez, and Pujols. Bagwell had seven seasons with 30 home runs and 100 walks; the only players with more are Gehrig, Ruth, Williams, Jim Thome, and Thomas.
As of 2016, Bagwell's .948 OPS ranked 21st all-time and 10th among right-handed hitters. His .408 career OBP was ranked 39th all-time, tied for 11th among right-handed hitters, 10th among first basemen, and fourth among right-handed first basemen. He is one of 12 players in MLB history to hit at 400 home runs and attain an OBP of at least .400. The only National League first baseman to reach the 30–30 club, he is the only first baseman in history to do it twice, and is the only first baseman to reach both 400 home runs and 200 stolen bases. He is just one of 21 players in history to win both a Rookie of the Year Award and an MVP. His 1,529 RBI during the span of his playing career ranked second in the Majors and first among right-handed hitters, 1,517 runs scored ranked second, 449 home runs and 2,150 games played ranked fifth. He was in the top 10 in the MVP voting five times. From 1994–2003, he led his position in stolen bases, doubles, hits, runs, walks, and extra-base hits, was second in games and RBI, and third in home runs. He is the Astros' all-time leader in HR and RBI and the only Astro to win an MVP.
In addition to stealing over 200 bases in his career, Bagwell contributed significantly around the field as a whole. During one series against Pittsburgh in 1994, the Pirates shifted while he batted, and Bagwell responded with seven opposite-field hits. A standout defender at first base, he won the 1994 Gold Glove award and developed a reputation as such with through the eye-test and advanced metrics. Remarked The Sporting News, "he's an extraordinary fielder who excels at charging bunts and throwing runners out at second and third. Although he has average speed, he's one of the game's smartest baserunners. ..." According to Baseball-Reference, he contributed 54 runs higher than the average first baseman over the course of his career. On the basepaths, he was a plus base-runner, with 31 runs above average per Baseball-Reference, a 72.1% stolen-base success rate, and he took the extra base almost half the time. From 1999–2000, his 295 runs scored led the major leagues and set a National League two-season record.
After his playing career, Jeff Bagwell has spent much of his time with his family while sporadically taking coaching and special assignment positions for the Astros. He is married to Rachel Bagwell, his third wife, with whom he has five children in a blended family. Rachel had three children prior to meeting Jeff. Before his marriage to Rachel, Jeff had two daughters, Blake and Bryce. Jeff was formerly married first to model Shaune Bagwell (née Stauffer) in 1992, and then to Ericka Bagwell, with whom he had his two daughters. Rachel is the widow of Greater Houston-area hand surgeon Dr. Michael Brown, the owner and founder of Brown Hand Center. The Browns had two children from their marriage. Legal issues plagued Dr. Brown, including his being acquitted of felony assault in 2011 in connection with a 2010 domestic quarrel at their home.
In spite of his professional success, Bagwell has stated that he "doesn't enjoy too much of the spotlight" that follows. While giving a tribute to him during the retirement ceremony of his uniform number, longtime friend and former teammate Brad Ausmus noted several little-known facts. "He liked soccer as much as ... baseball" while growing up in Connecticut. He hit three fewer home runs than his boyhood idol, Carl Yastrzemski − 452 to 449. "His baseball card says he's six feet tall. He's closer to 5-10." Both Bagwell and Ausmus hit 32 triples in their careers. After his playing career, Bagwell was seen with significantly longer hair. Remarked Ausmus, "I want to confirm he does not have hair extensions."
In January 2015, Bagwell reportedly sold his home in the Memorial neighborhood of Houston.
Darryl Kile, a former teammate with the Astros, died of a heart attack on June 22, 2002, while an active player for the Cardinals, before a game against the Cubs. The Darryl Kile Good Guy Award was established in his honor, annually for one player on both the Cardinals and the Astros. Bagwell was the first recipient for the Astros in 2003. Ken Caminiti, another former teammate of Bagwell's, died on October 10, 2004. Bagwell delivered a eulogy at his funeral.