Lowell puts the hurt behind
Postseason pain, offseason trade talk just bad memories
FORT MYERS, Fla. - Mike Lowell turned 35 yesterday and he was able to practice playing baseball. Not bad for a guy who looked like he was 135 years old last time we saw him on a ball field.
Lowell was playing with a partially torn labrum in his right hip at the end of the 2008 season and it was hard to watch. There were times when he looked as if he needed a cane. Or a wheelchair. Young Benjamin Button had more lateral mobility than old Mike Lowell.
The ball seemed to keep finding his weak spot. Rival batters would hit screamers down the third base line and Lowell would be forced to dive to his right. It was awful. I kept thinking about Bo Jackson. Bo was one of the most gifted athletes of the 20th century, but it was a hip injury that took him out of first football, then baseball. We never saw him again.
Lowell struggled to stay on the field in the first round of the playoffs even though it was pretty clear he belonged in the hospital. He went 0 for 8 in two games against the Angels, and that was it.
There would be no more baseball for the 2007 World Series MVP. Lowell watched the ALCS from the sideline and underwent surgery in late October.
"I was taking pain medication just to be able to be on the field," he said. "I was putting the 8-ball behind myself because I still wanted to play.
"In my first [playoff] at-bat off John Lackey, I lined out to left, so I thought I was pretty good. But everything was just a click slow. They told me the medication might slow me down.
"I really didn't have it playing defense. I knew when [Mark] Teixeira hit the ball by me that it was a ball I should get. I just didn't have the quick first step, which is vital to play third.
"When my labrum tore, I guess it rolled up into the joint. It's not hanging onto anything. The labrum took away a piece of the bone and every time I ran, my femur pushed it further into the joint. When I would swing it was OK, but when I'd check my swing, it would grind into the bone. That's when I felt the sharp pain and got the flareups. And I couldn't extend my legs to run."
Doctors shaved part of Lowell's femur when they repaired the labrum.
While Lowell was recovering from surgery and beginning his rehab, the Red Sox engaged in a very public pursuit of Teixeira, who had become a free agent. You didn't need Bill James or Peter Gammons to tell you what that meant. The offseason blueprint called for the Sox to sign Teixeira, move Kevin Youkilis to third, and find a team willing to take Lowell in a trade.
Philadelphia was considered a logical destination for Lowell. The Phillies showed interest in the winter of 2007-08, when Lowell wound up signing a three-year deal with the Sox for $37.5 million.
When the Teixeira deal imploded under the weight of hate and accusations spewn by Scott Boras and Larry Lucchino, the Sox were left with Lowell as their third baseman. He's not embarrassed to say that he was hurt by the Sox' plan.
"Absolutely," he said. "I understand it's a business and it's their choice and they can do anything they want, but that doesn't change the way you feel."
How closely did he follow the Boston Teixeira debacle? "It's not like I was on the computer every minute tracking things," said Lowell. "I was basically trying to get a weekly update from my agent. I was concerned about getting my hip better. I couldn't control it anyway, so I wasn't going to dwell on it.
"I really didn't talk to anyone in the organization. Just Tito. He'd text me every once in a while to see how I was feeling. I didn't ask him what was going on because what could he tell me? He's not going to tell me he agrees or disagrees. He's smart enough not to show his cards."
"There were days when I was trying to keep the lines of communication open, knowing that he probably didn't feel like hearing from me," said Francona.
"I'm really glad I don't have to be on that part of the game [trades] because we do value relationships and I know he felt somewhat betrayed. If that's the case, I think you have to recognize it, deal with it, and move on."
Which is what everybody is doing. Lowell probably won't play in spring games until the middle of March, but he's doing most of the drills with his teammates and plans on being at third base against Tampa Bay when the season opens at Fenway April 6.