Yesterday, the Baseball Hall of Fame, an insanely (and somewhat silly) exclusive club that designates baseball’s best, announced its 2017 class: Tim Raines, Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, and Jeff Bagwell, or “Bagpipes” as I came to know him. I remember Bagwell for his excellent goatee, his low stance, and his ability to knock the snot out of a baseball. ESPN reporter Darren Rovell, on the other hand, remembers Bagwell because he attended his bar mitvah on Long Island when Bagwell was a no-name rookie for the Houston Astros in 1991.
Rovell, a Mets fan, asked his dad to get either a couple Mets prospects, or Phil Plantier (any Red Sox fan will know this name), or Craig Biggio, the Astros’ third-year catcher who would also make it to Cooperstown.
Somewhere along the way, [my father] realized that Biggio was the best option. It turned out that the Astros were playing the Mets in a night game on my bar mitzvah day. Shea Stadium was only 13 miles away.
He found a number for the Astros public relations department and eventually spoke to someone who helped arrange events for the players.
“Biggio probably won’t be available for this,” the woman told my dad, as he later recalled. “But there’s a nice young player who I think could work.”
His name? Jeff Bagwell.
So Rovell’s father bit, and off he went to met Bagwell in New York City to pay him a $500 appearance fee and have him sign some memorabilia. And Bagwell bought a tan sport coat in a suit store so he’d look the part. At the bar mitvah, however, Rovell’s friend weren’t too enthused—it wasn’t Darryl Strawberry or Gary Carter they were hanging out with. But Bagwell signed stuff for the kids anyway. Little did they know he’d be a Hall-of-Famer.
I’m sure that most of the kids didn’t keep Bagwell’s signature long enough to even have it at the end of the year when he was named National League Rookie of the Year and certainly not by 1994, when he won NL MVP.
Over the years, the idea that Bagwell was at my bar mitzvah became more meaningful to my friends who were at the party.
Jonathan Zalman is a writer and teacher based in Brooklyn.