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Happy trails to Jeff Bagwell

First up, a little news. The Mariners and Expos have reached an agreement on a trade, which will send second baseman Jose Vidro to Seattle in exchange for outfielder Chris Snelling (25 years old, .312/.396/.476 career minor league line, but a brutal 2006) and pitcher Emiliano Fruto. The Expos will pay just $4 million of Vidro's remaining $16 million.

The Blue Jays have offered Vernon Wells an enormous contract, worth over $120 million.

Jeff Bagwell is one of my favorite players, and an arthritic throwing shoulder is going to force him to announce his retirement, which of course everyone saw coming when he couldn't play at all in 2006.

Bagwell was a prolific slugger, a terrific player who belongs in the Hall of Fame even though he'll fall short of the milestones. As an incredibly durable full-time player for 14 seasons before the shoulder wiped out most of his '05 and all of his '06, Bagwell did not have a single bad season, and never really came close. Jeff Bagwell's worst season at the plate was 2004, when the injury started bothering him noticeably, and he hit .266/.377/.465 with 27 homers, 89 RBI, and 96 walks.

He won the Rookie of the Year award in 1991, and the MVP in 1994. He also finished as runner-up for the MVP in 1999, and was in the voting top ten in 1996, 1997, 2000 and 2001. He may very well be the best player in Astros history, linked forever with the other real candidate, Craig Biggio. He was a four-time All-Star (and could have easily had far more than that) and won the Gold Glove in 1994, as well.

Bagwell finished in the NL top ten in park-adjusted OPS+ every year from 1993 through 2000. He's also the only major league first baseman in history to hit 400 home runs and steal 200 bases. He went 30-30 two times.

The ten most similar hitters to Bagwell in baseball history are (in order) Frank Thomas, Gary Sheffield, Fred McGriff, Willie Stargell, Andres Galarraga, Ken Griffey Jr., Orlando Cepeda, Mickey Mantle, Willie McCovey and Duke Snider.

Bagwell and Thomas are also linked, as they were born the same day, May 27, 1968, Bagwell in Boston and Thomas in Columbus, GA. Bagwell, of course, was drafted by the Red Sox in the fourth round in 1989, out of the University of Hartford.

He was infamously traded a year later for Larry Andersen. This has been said a million times, but really, can you imagine the type of hometown hero Jeff Bagwell would have become to Red Sox fans? A Boston kid who becomes one of the best hitters of his generation, playing all of his career in Houston because the Red Sox traded him for 22 innings of a 37-year old reliever. (To be fair, and this is only occasionally noted, Andersen was one of the best in the game at that time, and was fabulous for the AL East champion Red Sox.)

The reason I became such a big fan of Bagwell centers on the quirks that make kids big fans of players. I mean, yes, he was really great, but there's more than that. He just looked tough, and intimidating, with a powerful build and that squatting stance at the plate. He seemed menacing.

And the older I got, the more I'd read stuff about Bagwell, and he was always described as a great person. He seemed wholly admirable. Tim Purpura said of Bagwell, "He's one of the finest teammates I've ever seen in baseball. The way he gave to his teammates, and not in real obvious ways, very quietly behind the scenes by his work ethic, by the way he went about his business, I think that's what he gave the other players."

So happy trails to Jeff Bagwell, and hopefully we'll see him in Cooperstown someday.

"I'm a professional ballplayer and what I see as my responsibility is to be ready to play. All the rest of that stuff, being a star or whatever, is never something I've been interested in."