Bagwell weighing surgery options

Bagwell weighing his surgery options

HOUSTON -- Jeff Bagwell hasn't yet decided whether to pursue another surgery on his right shoulder, but on Wednesday he said he may be leaning toward giving it a try.

This decision will be based more on quality-of-life issues than baseball issues, although in an ideal world, the surgery would help both. Bagwell realizes the long bone spurs in his shoulder are causing some of the problems that prevented him from successfully returning to the field during Spring Training in March. He also knows it's not the main issue, nor are there any guarantees that removing them will do him any good.

If surgery helps him enjoy a less painful day-to-day life, it'll be worth it. But those decisions will come later. Right now, Bagwell is following the advice of Astros medical director David Lintner, who suggested he simply take it easy for a while.

"We talked about taking a month or so to try to strengthen my shoulder and try to see how my shoulder reacted to non-baseball things," Bagwell said. "Not throwing a baseball, not hitting a baseball every day."

After working the shoulder so violently during Spring Training, full inactivity for a long period of time should give Bagwell a clearer view of how much pain still lingers in his degenerative shoulder. Whatever he feels after a month or two could be a good indicator of how he'll feel in a year.

Soon, Bagwell should be able to make an informed decision about his long-term future. He'd like to enjoy a life where normal activities, things we all do without thinking about it, won't take some grand effort, as it has for the better part of five years.

"Work out. Play golf. Pick up my kids. Sleep," Bagwell said. "Then the surgery would be worth it to me."

Still, there is no certainty that surgery is an option. The bone spurs are surrounded by nerves, and chances are the procedure could be deemed alarmingly risky. If so, no surgeon will take a chance and perform an operation that could cause permanent damage, possibly paralysis.

Another risk: He has the surgery, it creates too much movement and too much friction in the shoulder, and he's in more pain. What then?

"If I have it and I get worse, then there's only one other thing I can do," Bagwell said. "And that's get a shoulder replacement."

At this point, it's a last resort. While Bagwell realizes he isn't likely to play baseball again, he's not ready to make that final call. An artificial shoulder would squash any hopes of returning to the field.

"Once he has that shoulder replacement, the clock ticks," general manager Tim Purpura said. "They only last so many years and you have to get another one. To do it on your shoulder is way worse than doing it on a knee or hip, because there's not as much bone to work with.

"He's 37 years old. Dr. Lintner's point is, see what you can live with, from a daily activity point of view. That precludes baseball right now."

If Bagwell decides he is ready to explore the surgery route, the Astros will help him. He'll likely talk to noted orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews, who told him in January he'd like to "have a shot at" the bone spurs. Bagwell will probably also shop around for other surgeons who have high success rates with such procedures.

"The last time I talked to Jeff, I said, 'When and if you want to go back to Dr. Andrews, let me know,'" Purpura said. "That's an open invitation. It's our responsibility to take care of all of that."

The Astros recently sued Connecticut General Life Insurance Co., claiming breach of contract because the insurer denied the club's wish to recoup $15.6 million of Bagwell's $17 million contract. That fight is likely to last long after Bagwell's contract runs out, but the court case has no effect on Bagwell's standing in the organization.

He's welcomed into the clubhouse, and encouraged to visit often. He stopped by Wednesday prior to the Astros' game with the Brewers, and afterward, he sat in his street clothes at his locker, chatting it up with teammates. Just like old times.

But he admitted some uneasiness about entering such familiar surroundings, yet feeling like somewhat of an outsider.

"I don't want to be in the way," he said prior to the game. "It's a weird deal. It's a strange thing, having been here so long. The young guys -- I've watched them. I've watched Lance [Berkman] become what he's become, I've watched Morgan [Ensberg], [Jason] Lane, all these guys. I'm a fan, too. I like to see them and let them know I'm thinking about them. Whether it means anything or not, it's just the way I feel."

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