Notes: Bagwell's words speak volumes
Astros slugger encourages team before NLCS-clinching victory
ST. LOUIS -- Jeff Bagwell has been a leader, a spokesman, an example-setter for the Astros for a decade and a half, but he always expressed himself through actions, more than words.
That's not to say Bagwell sits in brooding silence in the clubhouse. He has had a personal relationship with every one of his teammates over the years, and most have looked to him as a trusted friend an confidante through the good and the bad, on the field and off.
But Bagwell isn't the type who will throw things around the clubhouse after a bad loss. He won't scream and yell and tell players to get their heads on straight. He won't stand up and give a Knute Rockne let's-go-get-'em type speech before a big game.
So when he does speak up, people listen. And they listened before Game 6, when the greatest slugger in franchise history had some things to say to his team before they took the field in pursuit of the National League pennant.
Apparantly, the words carried a lot of weight.
"Bagwell had a little something to say before the game tonight, and I think it had a lot to do with this win," manager Phil Garner said. "They were encouraging words. In my opinion, it was big. The players responded."
Garner thought about addressing the team himself, but after Bagwell spoke, the skipper felt that was enough.
"After he talked, I said, 'There's no point,'" Garner said. "He did a [heck] of a job."
Bagwell's contributions over the years are well-documented, and well-respected in the baseball industry. But his presence this year may be his biggest triumph, because he showed how much more he cares about this team winning than he does about his own personal perils.
Shoulder surgery kept Bagwell out of commission for three months during the regular season. During that time, the Astros started to turn their season around. They rose from the cellar of the National League to turn themselves into Wild Card contenders.
After each win, no one appeared happier than Bagwell. He smiled, he laughed with his teammates, and appeared to be completely unaffected by the idea that should this team go to the World Series, he might not even be able to be a part of it.
He sped up his rehab and returned as a pinch-hitter in September, hoping to contribute as the Astros continued their run.
He didn't play in Game 6 of the NLCS, but apparently, he contributed to the win even before the team took the field.
"He felt the need to address the team, and it comes from the heart, and that's what makes it great," Garner said. "It comes from the heart. It doesn't have to be a well-scripted, Hollywood rah-rah thing. It just comes from the heart. That's exactly what it was."
A win for the decades: Plenty of images flashed through general manager Tim Purpura's mind when the final out was caught in Game 6 of the NLCS.
He thought about his mother, his wife and daughter and his late father. He thought about Astros Major League scout Walt Matthews, longtime employee Mary Ann Bell, who retired halfway through the season, and Julio Linares, Purpura's special assistant for Dominican scouting and development.
"What are they doing right now?" Purpura said. "How do they feel right now? What's going on in San Pedro de Macoris? What's going on in Valencia, Venezuela? I'd love to know."
Purpura also thought about all of the former Astros players who came so close to reaching the World Series, but fell short. In honor of the 1980 and 1986 clubs, Purpura said the Astros' World Series berth is as much theirs to enjoy as it is for the current players who are going to represent the club in Chicago, beginning Saturday.
"This is for Nolan [Ryan] and Scotty [Mike Scott] and Billy Doran," Purpura said. "All those guys that have given so much time for this organzation and so much of their lives and careers. People like Danny Darwin. This is their championship as much as it's our championship here today."
Pile on: When the Astros recorded the final out of Game 6 on Wednesday, the Astros rushed the field, gathered in a scrum and danced and jumped in one collective group hug.
Craig Biggio and Bagwell, however, stayed somewhat on the outer part of the circle. But don't mistaken that for a lack of excitement. They were just protecting the goods.
"That's for the young kids," said the almost-40 Biggio, who resembles a mummy after games with the ice packs strapped to several body parts after every game. "The old guys jump in, they get hurt."
Meet and greet: Approximately 200 fans were waiting for the Astros at Minute Maid Park when the team arrived, around 3 a.m. CT on Thursday.
Purpura, along with a handful of players, shook hands with as many as possible, in a show of thanks for the support through this roller-coaster season.
"We tried to touch base with as many as we could," Purpura said.
Kind words: From a Houston fan perspective, it's easy to hate the Cardinals' Jim Edmonds, nicknamed "Astro killer" over the years for his ridiculously inflated batting average in games against Houston, especially at Minute Maid Park.
But the St. Louis center fielder had nothing but good things to say about the Astros following his club's 5-1 loss in Game 6 on Wednesday.
"I don't think you'll find a classier group of people than you do on that team, and that's hard to say around the league," Edmonds said. "That's my honest opinion. I think they treated us with class at their stadium, they introduced us classy. I've never seen a group of people in the game more classy than the way they handled everything for us.
"Besides a little premature celebration the other night [during Game 5], I think it was a great series to watch and we had a lot of fun. They're a great team to play against, and hopefully they'll play well in the World Series."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.