Right about now writers from across the country will start to fill in their HOF ballots.
What a difference a year makes. Last year I was an outraged Astros fan, full of righteous anger against the baseball writing snobs that sought to deny one of the stars of my franchise from baseball immortality because of some vague and priggish notion that by denying select steroid era players a place in the Hall of Fame they were somehow acting as keepers of the moral conscience of the sport.
In two of what I deem to be my best pieces, even if they are rought and unpolished I took Jeff Pearlman to task on a) the notion that Craig Biggio used steroids and b) he had any evidence at all that suggested Jeff Bagwell was a user.
But now, on the eve of Bagwell's second year on the ballot? I find it hard to care at all.
This may not be surprising to many. Burnout from a long and weary 2011 season has infected many fans, and the primary focus is on Jim Crane's search for a new GM now Ed Wade has been shown the door, while we all wonder which piece will fall off the board first; Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Myers or Carlos Lee (gasp), never mind the impending Rule 5 Draft.
Against this backdrop it is hard to enthuse yourself to gear up for all eight Chicago Tribune writers, at least half of which spent most of their careers watching Bagwell, to reject him all over again. That every single Tribune writer left Bagwell off their ballots last year was a scandal. If Bagwell had played for the Cubs, and Houston Chronicle writers left him off, they would be screaming of a scandal.
However, Bagwell, if he hadn't before, has sloughed off the clean-cut image. Why should this all matter? Pete Rose was no saint and Shoeless Joe Jackson was still adored by Kevin Costner's dad even if he was a criminal. But it does matter, as we form an emotional connection with the athletes we watch, grudgingly admire and sometimes worship.
Even if the more scandalous details made it off most of the traditional press, and the Houston Chronicle glossed over most of it, but details of the former first-baseman's murky private life have done little to enamor him to the wider audience. Details of his divorce last year tie in to his puzzling decision to not return as hitting coach of the Astros in 2011. Perhaps these things were always orbiting Bagwell but I just chose not to pay close attention to them. But now, for whatever reason, that seems harder.
Should we care at all?
I have never been a Hall of Fame fan, as an adherent to the belief that all this post-career gratification really isn't necessary, but since it is going on I would like to see Astros players 'honored' in the same way guys from other teams are.
Bagwell may well sneak in this year due to writers' boredom with the rest of the names on the ballot. As Duk points out on Yahoo the likes of Bernie Williams, Jeromy Burnitz, Tim Salmon and Vinny Castilla hardly scream Hall of Famer.
However, we may all be looking back wistfully at this modicum of calm when the bloodbath that is the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot arrives, and with it Mike Piazza, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa for starters. Against that lot Craig Biggio will probably be sainted.
Scouring the internet for likely voters, I find this from Jeff Schultz, which will probably gauge the temperature of a good half of all writers. Like most others, he recognises the worth in Bagwell's numbers, but is put off by the smoke surrounding steroid era players who could hit for power (but those who didn't?).
Bagwell may enter the Hall on Biggio's coattails next year, or limp in a couple of years down the line, but it is hardly the sort of triumphal entry a player of his caliber probably deserved.