Bagwell acknowledges he might 'never play again'

Updated: March 26, 2006, 4:52 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Houston Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell said Saturday he will start the season on the disabled list and isn't sure if he'll return this year.

Jeff Bagwell career highlights
• Astros' career leader in home runs (449), RBI (1,529) and runs (1,517).
• 1994 NL MVP when he hit .368 with 39 home runs and 116 RBI in just 110 games of the strike-shortened season.
• 1991 NL Rookie of the Year when he hit .294 with 15 home runs and 82 RBI in 156 games.
• 1994 NL Gold Glove winner.
• .297 career batting average in 15 big-league seasons.

To learn more about Jeff Bagwell, click here.

"I may never play again," he said. "It's been 15 years with the Astros. I have to do what's best for me, what's best for the Astros and best for baseball."

The 37-year-old Bagwell, perhaps the most popular player in franchise history, spent the spring in a contentious battle with the team while he tried to prove he could still play despite a chronically injured right shoulder.

"I came down to spring training to see if I could still make it as a first baseman with the Astros," he said. "There were times in the offseason where I felt like I could do this. But with the condition of my shoulder, I'm not going to be able to start the season with the Astros."

The Astros filed an insurance claim in January to recoup about $15.6 million of the $17 million Bagwell is guaranteed this season in the final year of his contract, arguing he is too hurt to play. For now he is on the 15-day disabled list. He must stay on the injured list all season for the Astros to collect their money.

Bagwell started several spring games at first base, but in two of those starts he left after two innings because of soreness in his shoulder. He hit .219 with two RBI, but never had to make a tough throw.

"I'm going to be honest with myself," Bagwell said. "I'm going to be honest with the Astros. I'm out here in the condition where I can only play once every few days, and that's not what I'm out here to do."

Bagwell, who made the announcement at the Astros' spring training facility in Kissimmee, Fla., said he would consult with a doctor to see if it will be beneficial to remove bone spurs from his shoulder.

"There's a chance they could not do it," he said of the surgery. "You have to do everything you can to try and play. If not, you'll be kicking yourself."

Jeff Bagwell
AP Photo/Tony DejakThe Astros are looking to recoup most of the $17 million Bagwell will earn in his final contract year.

Bagwell was told by his surgeon, Dr. James Andrews, that he has numerous degenerative bone spurs in his shoulder that need to be removed, his agent, Barry Axelrod, told ESPN.com. But doctors were concerned that removing them during his most recent shoulder surgery could cause problems that would slow or prevent his recovery.

Now, however, Bagwell has nothing to lose. So, "the next alternative, and the last resort, is to take the bone spurs out and see if it relieves the pain," Axelrod said.

Bagwell has dealt with the arthritic shoulder since 2001 and says the team never raised the issue until now. He batted no lower than .266 in the four years prior to 2005, when he missed 115 games following shoulder surgery. He has said he will likely need to have shoulder replacement surgery when his career is over.

"We talked two or three days ago, and he talked about how he was letting people down," Axelrod said. "I said, 'Who do you think you're letting down? Your wife? Your kids? Me? Your teammates?' I said, 'No one has tried harder to do what you can do under difficult circumstances. So no one is going to feel you've let them down.'

"But Jeff talked about how the other infielders, when they were warming up before innings, had all moved to the inside of the grass so he wouldn't have to throw the ball so far across the infield. And he said, 'That's not what I want.' We've said all along that all Jeff wanted was a chance to show what he could or couldn't do -- on the field. He didn't want doctors or insurance companies to say that. He wanted that chance. And at least the Astros gave him that chance."

Astros manager Phil Garner said he appreciated all Bagwell has done for the team.

"I can't imagine what the Houston Astros would have been the past 15 years without Jeff Bagwell on this ballclub," Garner said. "He made the Houston Astros what they are today."

Most career HRs, all for one team
Player Team HRs
Mike Schmidt Phillies 548
Mickey Mantle Yankees 536
Ted Williams Red Sox 521
Ernie Banks Cubs 512
Mel Ott Giants 511
Lou Gehrig Yankees 493
Stan Musial Cardinals 475
Willie Stargell Pirates 475
Carl Yastrzemski Red Sox 452
Jeff Bagwell Astros 449

Bagwell, a four-time All-Star, is the franchise leader in home runs (449), RBI (1,529) and runs (1,517). He returned late last season and could bat but couldn't throw. He went 1-for-8 with an RBI in the World Series.

He is the only first baseman with 400 home runs and 200 stolen bases in his career. Bagwell has been the Astros' first baseman on Opening Day the past 15 seasons.

Doctors hired by the Astros to examine Bagwell told the club that Bagwell's shoulder was still damaged and that the team could no longer expect him to be productive.

"I think this is just one of a whole bunch of sad days that have gone on since the World Series,"Axelrod told the Houston Chronicle in a phone interview from Arizona. "It's been just one of several sad days."

Left fielder Lance Berkman will move to first base to replace Bagwell, which means more playing time in the outfield for postseason stars Jason Lane and Chris Burke.

While Bagwell left open the possibility for a return, Garner's comments sounded like he doesn't expect him to play again.

"I've been an Astros player and now an Astros manager, and I celebrate Jeff's career," Garner said. "But I also celebrate the fact that he has his health, his family and he can enjoy what makes life really great."

Over the last couple of years, as Bagwell's shoulder problems have worsened, the Astros have talked about the possibility of bringing him into the organization in a non-playing capacity. Axelrod said Bagwell is open to that if it turns out he can't play anymore.

"Needless to say, there haven't been discussions of that in detail," Axelrod said, "because our position has always been that Jeff was trying to be a player. But it has been discussed in the past, even as far back as [four years ago] when we were doing the contract -- that they want him to be involved for his lifetime as an Astro, much like Nolan Ryan is involved.

"Right now, we're just waiting for the air to clear a little bit. But Jeff has been an Astros for his whole life. He's a quality baseball guy. But more than that, he's a quality guy. So I think he'd be an asset to the organization, certainly. And he's 38 years old. He's not going to want to sit on his behind and play golf every day. I think he'll want to be involved somehow."

Information from ESPN.com senior baseball writer Jayson Stark and The Associated Press was used in this report.