SI Vault
Stephen Cannella
September 11, 2000
Houston's Lone StarEven during the Astros' miss of a season, Jeff Bagwell has been a tremendous hit
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September 11, 2000


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Bags in Miner's Korner?

Through Sunday, Jeff Bagwell was on pace for 48 home runs, the Astros for 94 losses. Rarely has a batter done so much for a team that's done so little. Only four times has a player hit at least 45 homers for a team that lost 90 games.

Player, Team



Sammy Sosa, 1999 Cubs



Harmon Killebrew, 1961 Twins



Ralph Kiner, 1950 Pirates



Ralph Kiner, 1947 Pirates



Houston's Lone Star
Even during the Astros' miss of a season, Jeff Bagwell has been a tremendous hit

Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell knows how it must have felt to be one of the musicians playing as the Titanic went down. It's tough to get excited about a virtuoso performance when your stage is as good as sunk. "Absolutely not," was Bagwell's answer last Friday when asked if he finds any satisfaction in his gaudy offensive numbers this season. 'We're paid to win baseball games, and we didn't win enough to come close to the playoffs. As I look at it right now, there are 29 games left in a miserable season."

Lost in the wreckage of Houston's season—through Sunday the Astros had the majors' third-worst record (57-79) and were 21 games behind the Cardinals in the National League Central—has been a performance by Bagwell that were it not for Houston's free fall, would have MVP written all over it. He was first in the league in runs (126), second in walks (93), tied for second in home runs (40), fifth in RBIs (109) and sixth in on-base percentage (.430). Bagwell also had become only the eighth major leaguer to have five consecutive 30-homer, 100-RBI, 100-run seasons, and just the fifth to reach 300 homers, 1,000 RBIs and 1,000 runs in his first 10 years (after Hank Aaron, Joe DiMaggio, Frank Robinson and Ted Williams).

Bagwell's monster August—he hit .380, smashed 12 homers, scored 31 runs and set a club record for RBIs in a month with 34—and an uptick in the play of the Astros, who went 16-12 in August, are two of the few silver linings in a cloudy season. Outfielder Moises Alou has returned after a year lost to injury and hit .367, righthander Scott Elarton (15-5) and outfielder Richard Hidalgo (33 home runs) have blossomed after promising sophomore seasons in 1999, second-year outfielder Lance Berkman had 17 homers, and first-year infielders Chris Truby (third base) and Julio Lugo (shortstop and second base) have been solid in every-day roles in the second half. "We went to Plan B for the season," says manager Larry Dierker. "We've played a lot of young guys and maybe accelerated their progress."

The youth movement, necessitated by injuries to veteran third baseman Ken Caminiti and second baseman Craig Biggio, and the off-season departures of outfielder Carl Everett and lefthander Mike Hampton, are also frustrating for Bagwell—and that frustration has begun to color his thinking about his future. "We've got every prospect we have up here, so I guess that's a positive," he says. "I want to see us get in the right direction to win."

Thus will Bagwell, whose contract expires after the 2001 season, pay close attention to the Astros' off-season attempts to clean up this year's mess. He hints that though he wants to stay in Houston, he won't blindly sign an extension this winter. General manager Gerry Hunsicker says signing Bagwell will be on the "front burner" in the off-season. "I can think of no better way to show our fans and our other players the direction we're heading than by signing our franchise player," he says. "I know my fate will be decided this off-season," says Bagwell, "but I need to see management do some things and commit this team to winning. It won't be me signing first."

Waiting for McGwire
Cards Hungry For Big Mac

It was a good news-bad news weekend for the Cardinals. The good: They swept the Mets at Busch Stadium—winning all three games with last-inning heroics—and Mark McGwire announced that he would probably be ready for pinch-hitting duty by the end of this week. The bad: It appeared that McGwire, who has been out of the lineup since July 7 with severe patella tendinitis in his right knee, was still weeks from doing anything else. "At the plate I'm fine," said McGwire, who as of Sunday was able to jog lightly and take batting practice but not do infield drills, "but on defense I still have that tight pulling and tearing feeling."

That St. Louis still led the National League Central by nine games through Sunday belied how much it needed McGwire back in the lineup. After winning 50 of their first 84 games, the Cardinals were only four games over .500 in 52 games without Big Mac. Reason No. 1? An offense that—with the exception of red-hot Will Clark, who was acquired from the Orioles at the trading deadline and had hit .381 with eight home inns since coming to St. Louis—wasn't as formidable as it had been earlier in the season. Before McGwire got hurt, St. Louis averaged 5.9 runs per game; in 52 McGwireless games the rate dropped to 4.8.

No one would welcome McGwire's return more than center-fielder Jim Edmonds, who was mostly batting third ahead of McGwire. When McGwire went down, Edmonds was hitting .342, with an on-base percentage of .455 and a slugging percentage of .658. Since Big Mac went on the disabled list Edmonds was more than 100 points lower in each of those categories, having hit .238, slugged 508 and reached base at a .340 clip. He recaptured a bit of his clout last weekend, hitting two walk-off home runs against the Mets. "Whether they're pitching me differently or not," says Edmonds, "I still have to do what I was doing."

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