Bagwell's No. 5 lifted to the rafters
Astros retire the number of franchise's career home run leader
HOUSTON -- One of the most celebrated athletes in Houston sports history said one last goodbye to Astros fans on Sunday, as Jeff Bagwell's uniform No. 5 was retired during an elaborate pregame ceremony that featured touching speeches, video highlights and a special message from Bagwell's boyhood hero, Carl Yastrzemski.
Bagwell hasn't played in nearly two years, and he's been honored time and time again since he made his retirement official last December. But Sunday carried a feeling of finality more than the other events, as it was his last time to say farewell to the fans, and vice versa.
"That was good," Bagwell said. "As you know, I don't enjoy too much of the spotlight. It was a neat deal, good closure for me and for the fans."
The understated first baseman is as humble in retirement as he was in uniform. The pomp and circumstance that followed him during his 15-year career and beyond, quite frankly, makes him uncomfortable. But Sunday's on-field ceremony was special. He was joined by the people who have meant the most to him in his life, both on personal and professional levels.
His immediate family -- his wife, Ericka, and daughters, 6-year-old Bryce and 4-year-old Blake -- sat next to him, each carrying a giant bouquet of pink roses, a gift from the team. Next to his girls sat his mother, Janice, and his father, Bob, both of whom instilled "my desire, discipline and love," Bagwell said. "Love for the game and for life itself. You are the two biggest reasons why I am the person I am today."
And to his wife and kids: "People say you have no idea about love until you have a family. I can sit here today and say that is absolutely true. I can't express to you how much you guys mean to me. You make my life a joy every single day."
Bagwell wasn't the only featured speaker. The nearly sellout crowd was treated to speeches from Bagwell's close friends and teammates, catcher Brad Ausmus and second baseman Craig Biggio.
As expected, Ausmus mixed in a bit of humor during his tribute to his friend. In honor of the No. 5, Ausmus revealed five things the fans don't know about their beloved former first baseman:
1. "Growing up in Connecticut, he liked soccer as much as he liked baseball."
2. "He finished only three home runs behind boyhood idol, Carl Yastrzemski -- 452 to 449."
3. "His baseball card says he's six feet tall. He's closer to 5-10."
4. "He had 32 triples in his career. Same as me."
5. If you've seen him on TV or around town, you notice his hair is a lot longer. I want to confirm he does not have hair extensions."
On a more serious note, Ausmus talked about Bagwell as a teammate.
"Something you don't see as fans, but something that we see as teammates, is the type of person he is," Ausmus said. "He was the quintessential teammate. He was a superstar who always put the team before himself. And between he and Bidge, they always shouldered the blame we struggled and tried to deflect the credit when we won."
Biggio was next. He talked about his admiration for his longtime teammate, who joined him in 1991, three years after his own big league debut.
"We were little kids in the big leagues," Biggio said. "Jeff Bagwell made me a better player, a better teammate, better person. He's a class act, on and off the field."
The living former players whose numbers have been retired by the Astros were also on hand for the ceremony: Mike Scott, Jose Cruz, Nolan Ryan, Larry Dierker and Jimmy Wynn. They were joined by Bagwell's longtime agent, Barry Axelrod, and several club officials, including owner Drayton McLane, presidents Tal Smith and Pam Gardner and general manager Tim Purpura.
The Astros presented a video tribute, which included highlights from Bagwell's career, as well as special messages from current teammates, former opponents and one Hall of Famer -- Bagwell's hero, Yaztremski, who said, "Congratulations, Jeff, on your number being retired. I begged the Red Sox not to trade you when you were in the Minors with us. Boston's loss was Houston's gain. See you in Cooperstown."
With that, Bagwell tried to catch the eye of his dad, a lifelong Red Sox fanatic who undoubtedly admired the Red Sox legend as much as his son.
"I think he was still looking up there [at the video board] when I was looking down at him," Bagwell said with the smile. "That's a big thing for us."
The Astros and Pirates used three first bases during Sunday's game, all marked with a special commemorative insignia that said, "No. 5, Jeff Bagwell jersey retirement, Aug. 26, 2007." One of the bases will be Bagwell's to keep, while the other two will be auctioned to raise money for the Astros in Action Foundation.
McLane, who will forever be remembered for ensuring that Bagwell and Biggio spent their entire careers in Astros uniforms, thanked Bagwell for his contributions, and for being such a positive influence on his teams through the years.
"Jeff is a complete person," McLane said. "He set so many records, won an MVP, the home runs he hit, the games he won. One of things we admired, you were a smart player. You used your talent and stayed ahead.
"All of us need role models and you have been a great role model. Whether you're a youngster, or persons of all ages. You've been a great role model and lifted us up, and we say thank you."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.