Season lost? Bagwell comeback on hold

Season lost? Bagwell comeback on hold

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Jeff Bagwell headed to Spring Training with two goals. First, he wanted to return to his position at first base and play effectively for the Houston Astros. But he also promised himself he would be completely honest about his progress, and he wouldn't do anything to hurt his team if he decided he couldn't go any further.

He accomplished one goal. Unfortunately, he fell short of the other -- playing consistently after fielding his position on a regular basis.

Bagwell has reached a point where he is physically unable to play, and he announced on Saturday that he will begin the season with the Astros not at first base, but instead, on the disabled list.

He will look into having a surgical procedure to remove bone spurs from his shoulder, as a last-ditch effort to play baseball again. He will consult with orthopedic surgeon James Andrews, as well as explore options with other doctors.

The chances of a comeback are the slimmest they've been since his shoulder problems began five years ago. The odds he'll return this year appear to be non-existent. Playing in 2007 appears to be a long shot at best.

The decision to end his comeback attempt is attributed simply to one element: pain. This became evident on March 21 in Lakeland, when he had to come out of the Astros' game with the Tigers after the second inning, three short of his goal.

"I said I wasn't going to embarrass myself, and I felt like this was a joke," he said. "I could not get the ball to the infielders, and they were on the grass. God bless my teammates, even from the pitchers who come get the ball from me, it's amazing how great they've been through this.

"I just could not get it to them, and I said, 'This is not what I want.' I'm not going to continue to do this. We are defending our National League championship this year, and I'm not going to be this kind of distraction of a broken-down first baseman who can't throw to the infielders. I said, 'I've got to go in a different direction.'"

Bagwell has made peace with the fact that this may be the end of the road.

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"My thoughts of not playing or being close to the end of my career -- that was OK with me," he said. "I understood that. As I sit here today, I understand that. I may never play baseball again. There is a good possibility of that. Am I ruling it out? No I'm not. If there are other options for me -- I don't know what they are at this particular time -- but let's find out how I feel."

Bagwell spoke in realistic terms, but with hope that he'll play again. Manager Phil Garner, general manager Tim Purpura and owner Drayton McLane spoke of Bagwell's career in past tense, eulogizing his status in Major League Baseball instead of talking about hope for the future.

"The beautiful thing about baseball is we can have a wonderful career and in the prime of our life we have a lot of other things to do," Garner said. "So while I celebrate Jeff's baseball career, and I'm sorry it's come to an end, I also celebrate the fact that he does have health, he does have a great family and he has the means to enjoy a lot of things in life.

"When we get to that point, we realize we can get up in the morning, we don't have to go to the ballpark and we can enjoy some other things. Life can be very, very enjoyable."

"Running the farm system here was easy," said Purpura, who directed the Minor League system for more than a decade before assuming the GM role, "because I had Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio to use as role models and examples to our young players. We'll continue to do that, and I hope in time, Jeff joins us with that in helping us mold the future Astros."

Added McLane: "I would hate to think where the Houston Astros would be today, in 2006, if Jeff had not been here the last 15 years. He has lifted this franchise and been such a positive influence. Whatever his role is going forward, he will still be a positive influence."


Bagwell by the Book
Jeff Bagwell has spent his entire 15-year career with the Houston Astros. Here is a look back at what the beloved Astro accomplished during his memorable time in Houston.
Career Statistics
Games: 2,150
At-bats: 7,797
Runs: 1,517
Hits: 2,314
Doubles: 488
Triples: 32
Home runs: 449
RBIs: 1,529
TB: 4,213
Walks: 1,401
Strikeouts: 1,558
SB: 202
OBP: .408
SLG: .540
AVG: .297
Awards/Feats
NL MVP: 1994
Gold Glove: 1994
All Star: 1994, 1996, 1997, 1999
Silver Slugger: 1994, 1997 and 1999
Rookie of the Year: 1991
Player of the month: May 1993, June 1994, July 1994, May 1996, July 2001
Three homer games: June 24, 1994 vs. LA, April 21, 1999 at Cubs, June 9, 1999 at White Sox
Notes
* First 30-30 player in baseball history to play exclusively at first base
* Only first baseman in history with more than 400 home runs and 200 stolen bases.
* One of six first basemen in history with 300-plus homers and 100-plus stolen bases

Bagwell's health situation was magnified this offseason in a very public battle between he and McLane. Bagwell is owed $17 million in 2006, the final year of his contract. The club holds a $7 million option for 2007. The Astros are attempting to collect $15.6 million of Bagwell's final salary from the insurance company, and it was their desire prior to Spring Training that he would agree that he was disabled, and not play.

Bagwell stuck with his plan to report to Spring Training, and the club allowed for him to do so. Whether the club can still collect the insurance is to be determined.

Bagwell and McLane both attended Saturday's press conference, six days after the two met for a 40-minute face-to-face conversation. Asked about their relationship, Bagwell was classy as always.

"I got a chance to come down here [to Spring Training] and I owe everything in my career to the Houston Astros," he said. "I've been a Houston Astro my whole life. I was with the Red Sox a little bit [in the Minors] but obviously the only thing I've really known is being an Astro. That carries a lot of weight with me. Things can be worked out one way or another."

Lance Berkman will move to first base in Bagwell's place, which clears a space for Willy Taveras in the outfield. He'll play center, while Preston Wilson will move to left and Jason Lane will play right.

Bagwell has battled a degenerative condition ever since his 2001 surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He played effectively from 2002-04, appearing in 158, 160 and 156 games, respectively.

However, in 2005, his condition worsened to the point where he had no choice but to go on the DL. He went on the 15-day DL on May 4 and had surgery a month later to release the capsule in his shoulder. He missed 115 games and was activated Sept. 9, serving as a pinch-hitter.

Bagwell appeared in seven postseason games last year, including two in the World Series as a designated hitter.

Asked about his legacy, Bagwell said first and foremost, he wants to be remembered as a good teammate.

"Day in and day out, I played, I treated them like men and that I accepted every person for who they were," he said. "Not to be some 'cookie-cutter' perfect person with a perfect attitude or whatever. I think that's my legacy as far as the clubhouse, and that's what is important to me. As far as on the field, only thing I wanted to be remembered as is that I was consistent."

Fifteen years. Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player honors. Four All-Star appearances, 449 home runs and 1,529 RBIs. Mission accomplished.

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.