Bagwell, Biggio and Life's Journey

added 1/16/2012 by Bob Hulsey

When I was young, there was a magazine found in the waiting rooms of doctors and dentists called "Highlights for Children". It featured articles and pictures aimed at children in the early reading years. One item in the magazine was a recurring cartoon series entitled "Goofus & Gallant".

These were the names given to two young boys who encountered similar situations. "Goofus" was always selfish and slovenly. "Gallant" was neat and considerate. The moral was for little boys to pattern their behaviors after Gallant and not Goofus.

In a similar way, we might contrast the post-playing lives of Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. First, let me disclaim that I have never met either man and my perceptions are largely based on their public lives after ending their playing careers.

Both were Northeastern boys who devoted their young lives to playing baseball, with exceptional results. Both played their entire major league careers for the same club and stood side-by-side on the infield together. Both spent most of their time in the majors playing a different position than they did in the minors. Bagwell plated Biggio more than any other. Each will likely be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame someday.

Both men worked tirelessly at their craft with a devotion and dedication few of us have experienced. Both trained their bodies to get the peak performance from them. Both were solid role models on and off the field (not perfect, mind you, but better than most).

Biggio got to leave his career on his own terms. Bagwell did not, succumbing to an arthritic right shoulder that neither surgery nor rest could repair. Who can forget Bagwell's drive to come back after surgery in 2005 to play a role in the final September and playoff push? Likewise, who can forget Biggio's perserverance to reach 3,000 hits in the sunset of his career?

But when the clock ran out on Craig's playing days, he found something else to devote himself to. Having missed so much time with his sons while playing for the Astros, Craig choose to be their high school baseball coach at St. Thomas High School and has led his team to two TAPPS 5-A state championships. He continues his charity work with the Sunshine Kids and takes part in various Astros events.

By contrast, Jeff seems like a wayward soul - a man with too much money and too much time with no concept of how to spend either wisely. On several of his appearances at Minute Maid Park, Jeff looks like any guy they've dragged in off the curb with hair unkempt and shirt untucked. Occasionally, his name surfaces in discussions you wish he didn't, such as steroid rumors and the divorce case of Michael and Rachel Brown.

Jeff has tried his hand as a roving instructor, hitting coach and color analyst with the Astros but none appear to have captured his fancy the way his playing career did.

I know it reads like I am bashing Jeff Bagwell, but I'm not. My personality profile reads more like Jeff and less like Craig, albeit with far less wealth and temptation. I, too, sometimes question what direction I'm going and lack the commitment to jump into something new with which to devote myself. I'm empathetic to Jeff's situation, having been out of work a few times recently.

None of us exists in a vacuum. We are all the products of our parents, siblings, spouses and friends. We all face challenges and cope with them differently. Perhaps the loss of teammate-friends like Ken Caminiti and Daryle Kile hit Jeff harder than it did Craig or perhaps Craig had the support system to work through it that Jeff lacked. Perhaps Jeff still pines one more chance to get into the batters box and hit career homer number 450 and circle the bases yet again.

For whatever reasons, Jeff has yet to find something to do with his life after baseball like Craig has. Usually athletes who don't, don't turn out with happy endings.

Morgan Ensberg likes to tell the story of how Jeff ran the clubhouse when Morgan first came up to the Astros, even chastising him about anyone on the team picking up a dinner check besides himself. By most accounts, Jeff is a quiet but considerate man who gives to others without much fanfare. He's not Goofus.

But Craig seems to be Gallant, doing things for himself and others with the same spirit and purpose he applied to his baseball career. He hasn't sat back and rested on his fame and wealth. He's moved forward with his life. For that, he should be saluted. I just wish he could teach Jeff how to do the same.