WEST HARTFORD, Conn. — Newly-elected Baseball Hall of Famer and former University of Hartford baseball star Jeff Bagwell put up a lot of big numbers during his career with the Hawks. By the time he was drafted in 1989, Bagwell held the program's all-time records in batting average (.413), home runs (31), runs batted in (126) and slugging percentage (.733).
And he was just getting started.
During his 15-year professional career with the Houston Astros, Bagwell set the franchise records for home runs (449) and RBIs (1,529) and in 1994 became the only Houston player to ever earn league MVP honors. Bagwell placed his name among the game's all-time greats and that placement became permanent on Wednesday with his selection as a member of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2017.
Bagwell gained entry into the Hall along with Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez.
He garnered 86.2 percent of the required 75 percent of the vote and was selected on his seventh appearance on the ballot. He received the highest total of the three players elected in this year's class.
Bagwell will be inducted into the Hall in Cooperstown, New York on July 30.
"Bags is the best hitter I have ever played with — or seen," said Patrick Hedge, a teammate at Hartford from 1987-89. "You knew you could count on him to hit every day and we all fed off how competitive he was. If one player had three hits in a game, he wanted four. He made us all better. He worked hard and loved practicing. He simply loved the game."
Bagwell still holds Hartford's top spot in career batting average and slugging percentage. His No. 27 jersey was retired by the Hawks baseball program in 2004 and Houston retired his No. 5 jersey in 2007.
A Killingworth, Connecticut native, Bagwell is just the second draft-era MLB Hall of Famer from a University in the Northeast. The other is his former Astros teammate Craig Biggio who attended Seton Hall.
"Jeff Bagwell richly deserves this honor," University of Hartford President Walter Harrison said. "He was, with Biggio, the foundation of the Houston Astros for fifteen seasons, and was certainly one of the greatest hitters of his era. He personifies the spirit of the Hartford Hawks—great talent improved through hard work and discipline. All of us at the University are extremely proud of him."
According to Baseball America, Bagwell is just the 13th MLB Hall of Famer since the draft era began in 1965 to have even played collegiately, joining Biggio, Andre Dawson (Florida A&M), Tony Gwynn (San Diego State), Reggie Jackson (Arizona State), Randy Johnson (USC), Barry Larkin (Michigan), Paul Molitor (Minnesota), Mike Schmidt (Ohio), Tom Seaver (USC), Ozzie Smith (Cal Poly), Frank Thomas (Auburn) and Dave Winfield (Minnesota).
"Our coaching staff, alumni and current student-athletes want to congratulate Jeff on this remarkable honor," Hartford head baseball coach Justin Blood said. "I've gotten a chance to spend a little time with Jeff and it was very apparent that he was a student of the game and loved his relationships with his teammates. He was more excited to talk about the intricacies of baseball and how much people meant to him than his own personal accomplishments. This is such a well-deserved honor and I hope Jeff knows just how happy the Hawks are for him and his family."
Selected in the fourth round of the 1989 draft by the Boston Red Sox, Bagwell played two years in Boston's minor league system before being traded to Houston, where he spent his entire Major League career (1991-2005). He was the 1991 National League Rookie of the Year, the 1994 National League MVP, and is still the only first baseman in history ever to hit 400 home runs and steal at least 200 bases, with 207. Bagwell finished his career as a four-time all-star, three-time Silver Slugger and one-time Gold Glove honoree.
"The greatest tribute to Jeff is how his teammates feel about him," said fellow Hawk Chris Petersen (1986-88). "Every person he has ever played with, whether it be in high school, college, or the pros, loved him. For me, personally, as great as the Hall honor is for Jeff, I am most proud he is my best friend."
Bagwell was named on at least 60 percent of ballots in each of the previous five years and he received 71.6 percent in 2016.
He is also the first Connecticut native to be voted into the MLB Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Five other Nutmeg State natives gained entry through various other committees – Waterbury's Roger Conner (Player; Veterans Committee, 1976), Bridgeport's Jim O'Rourke (Player; Old Timers, 1945), Montville's Ned Hanlon (Manager; Veterans Committee, 1996), New Haven's George Weiss (Pioneer; Veterans Committee, 1971) and East Haddam's Morgan Bulkeley (Pioneer; Centennial Committee, 1937).