Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ball.

Tomorrow night might be my last opportunity to see Mike Lowell live (on TV, that is) as a major league baseball player. After all, I'm taking an extended JDcation starting this weekend, so whatever you see on this blog next week is pre-canned stuff. Not to say it's bad content. But it's not current.

But next Saturday the Red Sox will be paying tribute to Lowell, who finished a very interesting and eventful major league career there.

He started with the Yankees, drafted there and being taught apparently-controversial baserunning skills - something that almost blew up when he railroaded Robinson Cano ten years later to break up a double play. Guy played hard pretty much always. Lowell technically got a World Series ring with the 1998 Yankees, as he was on that roster for a little while before being traded. So in the midst of the last baseball dynasty, Mike Lowell was there.


Then he was traded to the Florida Marlins and was almost immediately diagnosed with testicular cancer. Three months after surgery, he decided cancer wasn't as serious as 46's sore ribs and decided to start playing baseball again. That takes ball.

By the time he approached age 30, he momentarily put up crazy numbers. He never hit .300 in Florida, but he did rock 32 home runs and led one of my fantasy teams to total domination a few years ago. Of course, his 32 home runs didn't land him in the top 20 in the majors that year - something that may have proven how f***ed up the baseball world was in 2003. At this point, he was 29 years old. Then two years later, he hit rock bottom. I don't know what the deal was - maybe it was a roid thing, but hitting 32 home runs at age 29 contrasted to the rest of his career doesn't seem too unfathomable - but the guy was absolutely terrible. He sabotaged the 2005 "Can I Write A Check?" fantasy team and looked like a guy who was done at age 31. Steroid rumors, whether fair or not? Mike Lowell was there. He said it himself: He heard them. Instead of ignoring them or searching for the real killer like David Ortiz, he faced the sitution.

Then the Red Sox traded for him. People who knew me back then knew my reaction, and I'm sure anyone who knows me even now could figure out my reaction back then. Let's just say I went missing for about three hours the night Anibal Sanchez threw a no-hitter while Beckett gave up 36 home runs in a season, Lowell hit zero doubles for an entire month, and Hanley Ramirez won Rookie of the Year.

However, Fenway Park undoubtedly resurrected his career, and the friendly confines probably ended up being extremely lucrative for him in the long haul. He'd probably already be retired by now if he had never played at Fenway. But whether it was the park or something else, Lowell became a doubles machine, took the 2007 team on his back, and won the World Series MVP. He was brought back to Boston in an offeason when Alex Rodriguez was available. And everybody preferred that. But there he was, once again. He showed up big time in the clutch. He had ball.

His career hit an interminable rough spot when he tore his labrum in his hip. After that, it was more or less over and the Red Sox were trying to get rid of him. They were unable to. But he stuck around, once again because he had ball. And instead of whining, he minimized the distraction and most likely continued to do what he did culturally throughout his career, trying to unite the Anglo and Latin players.

Lowell was always outspoken about things, including his Cuban heritage. Half Irish, half Cuban, Lowell was born in Puerto Rico and was an outspoken opponent of the Castro administration. He once told the Boston Herald he hoped Castro dies. It takes quite a ball to do something like that. When you see that on the front page, it makes you buy the newspaper. The same summer, he crushed people who threw steroid accusations at him. And unlike other players, he handled himself with respect and ball toward the media and fans so frequently that when he decided to speak his mind about controversial subjects - like being basically benched this year - he didn't come off as a d-bag. Seriously, if you lose me in 2005 but win me back by May 2007, you have done something special.

But even at the end, Lowell handled himself with courage that you just don't see frequently in ballplayers anymore. He played with the torn labrum through the 2008 postseason. He played three months after having his testicle removed. And he played through a broken rib this year. Did he complain? Did he take a vacation? Did he go on the DL? No. Also, tying it into yesterday's conversation, he decided to stay away from bullcrap and contract disputes when he probably could have gone to Philadelphia for 2008 and beyond.

He may not have led the league in too many things over the course of his career, but he went through quite a bit and hammered through everything. Despite the fact that he only had one, Mike Lowell was always among the league leaders in balls.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

DV

My first experience with Mike Lowell was watching him hit a 3-run home run into the Red Sox bullpen to complete a Marlins comeback from a 9-2 deficit on a Saturday night in Boston in 2003. That was also Gabe Kapler's first game with the Red Sox. I found all of this interesting because A) Kapler almost hit for the cycle and had four hits (and never would have four hits again for the Sox) and because never, ever, EVER again would I see Mike Lowell hit an opposite field home run.

Now with all that worthless introduction in mind, Mike Lowell was a good player and tough guy. He earned his farewell contract with his solid/very good play from 2006 and 2007. Unfortunately, he was never the guy he was before his last contract these past three years. He was hurt and it robbed him of some of his pop. But he always played hard, and well, he always played (often times hurt) which is a lot more than can be said for many guys who made the type of money he did. His was an unspectacular career, but a very good one nonetheless. It says a lot that he was usually on winning teams and that his teammates rallied around him in the 2007 off-season when there were prettier players to be had. I will remember him fondly and wish him the best.

--the Gunn

Anonymous said...

My first memory of Mike Lowell was when I first heard his name and thought, "That's funny, there's a city in Massachusetts by the same name."

Lowell- greaty guy. Good player. The kind of guy you generally want to have on your team.

Unfortunately, what came to my mind when I read this was that Lowell was a big reason that we didn't get Teixeira. Because goodness gracious, it didn't make sense to move Youkalis to third and put Teixeira at first when we had Mike Lowell at third and Lars Anderson coming up.

I have to admit that I agreed with DV in his anti-Teixeira rants at the time. But in retrospect sticking with Lowell and not getting Teixeira was an awful idea. I think that needs to be mentioned here. Of course, DV mentions none of that in his post.

the gm in ireland said...

Greetings from Ireland, guys. Enjoy Pat F and maybe some of my archived posts. PEACE OUT.