Bagwell retires, remembers 'great ride'
Astros star puts down bat, signs personal services deal
By BRIAN MCTAGGART
Jeff Bagwell walked into a crowded news conference at Minute Maid Park and couldn't help but chuckle upon seeing numerous poster-sized photographs of himself at various stages of his Astros career.
There was the young and thin Bagwell who was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1991. There was the high-tops-wearing Bagwell who won the 1994 NL Most Valuable Player award.
And there was the Bagwell who donned baggy pants and a goatee in the twilight of his playing career.
"You've got the mullet over here and the long beard over there," Bagwell said while admiring the photos on the wall.
He began a new chapter in his life Friday by announcing his retirement after 15 seasons, during which he hit .297 with a club-record 449 home runs and 1,529 RBIs for the Astros.
"It's been a long journey, but it's been a great ride," Bagwell, 38, said. "It really has."Low-key to the end
The news conference was typical Bagwell ? low-key and void of much hoopla. None of his former teammates nor any of his family members attended.
Bagwell's retirement had been expected since his deteriorating right shoulder forced him off the field during spring training this year. The Astros didn't pick up the option on his contract for 2007, paying a $7 million buyout.
"I wish I could still play and try to win a World Series here in Houston but I'm not physically able to do that anymore," he said. "I'm OK with that. Most of you that know me know I had a tough time the last four or five years with my shoulder, which took a lot out of me on and off the field."
Bagwell will remain an integral part of the organization. He has signed a personal services contract through the 2009 season in which he will work with the major league baseball operations staff and player development.
"For me personally, this is a sad day to see officially that Jeff is not going to be part of the Houston Astros, playing first base and hitting home runs," team owner Drayton McLane said. "He's going to continue to be involved with us. I think there's more great things to come with Jeff Bagwell and the Houston Astros."
Bagwell spent much of the 2005 season on the disabled list following shoulder surgery he considered a last-ditch effort to save his career. He returned in September and was limited to a pinch-hitting role before starting two games as the designated hitter for the Astros in the World Series.
The Astros deemed Bagwell a disabled player prior to the 2006 season in hopes they could collect on an insurance policy that would pay them most of his $17 million salary, but Bagwell came to spring training eager to prove he could play.
But the pain became too much for Bagwell, who conceded March 25 that it would take a "miracle" for him to play again.
"The day in spring training this year when I said I couldn't go anymore, that's when I pretty much knew my time was done," he said. "I was thinking about having surgery, but I just couldn't do it at the time. It was a 20 percent chance I might make it, but I couldn't take that chance."A pro and a role model
In addition to being remembered as one of the most prolific power hitters of his era, Bagwell was known as a consummate professional who, along with teammate Craig Biggio, was a role model in the clubhouse and in the community.
"It's the end of an era as far as what we've been able to do on the field, but he's going to be part of the organization," Biggio said. "It's one of those sad days when you lose a great player who contributed so much to a city and the organization."
A native of Boston, Bagwell was drafted by the Red Sox in 1989 and was traded to the Astros for relief pitcher Larry Andersen on Aug. 31, 1990.
"Unfortunately, things had to end," Bagwell said. "My career is over but my life in the game is going to continue so that I can stay with the organization. I will be around. They (fans) will see me. They just won't see me play first base."