“FENWAY'S BEST PLAYERS”


 
2006-2010
#5   MIKE LOWELL

No one is ever going to hand you a big-league career on a silver platter. Just ask Mike Lowell. In fact, few players have had to climb the mountains that he has scaled. Drafted as an afterthought and discarded by the New York Yankees, the slick-fielding third baseman overcame cancer in his rookie year and went on to lead two teams to world championships. Mike may not have always gotten the respect he deserved from the clubs he played for, but at every stop he has been an admired and respected teammate—and a guy who knows how to get the job done, especially in the clutch.

Michael Averett Lowell was born February 24, 1974 in Puerto Rico. He was one of three children, along with brother Carlos and sister Cecelia. Mike’s father, Carl, was a Cuban of German descent who moved to Puerto Rico as a boy when Castro took over in 1960. The Lowells eventually relocated to Miami, where Mike was raised as a boy. He was known to friends and family as "Mikey." An excellent student and superior athlete from a young age, he spoke English and Spanish fluently and was a whiz with numbers.

Mike also loved baseball. His favorite player as a kid was Mike Schmidt of the Philadelphia Phillies. He also followed Jose Canseco closely. Mike was good enough to make the local Little League All-Star teams, including one that co-starred Alex Rodriguez.

In 1988, Mike enrolled at Christopher Columbus High School. He went out for the baseball team and sat on the bench for the Explorers. Mike was just too short and skinny to play. With little hope of cracking the CCHS starting lineup, he got his parents’ permission to switch schools and transfer to Coral Gables Senior High School. It was a tough decision—the Lowells preferred the Catholic education he was receiving to a public school education. Mike was ranked #3 in his class, but baseball was just as important to him.  Mike soon became one of the best players on the Coral Gables baseball team. Despite his lack of size, Mike matured into an excellent player at Coral Gables. He was scouted by several local colleges and earned a scholarship to Florida International University. There, he continued to develop his skills on the baseball diamond, drawing All-Conference honors as a second sacker three times. FIU enjoyed its best season with Mike on the team in 1995. That year, the Panthers won 50 games and finished in the Top 25. Mike batted .338.

That spring, Mike was drafted by the Yankees in the 20th round. He joined Class-A Oneonta after the college season and his .260 in 72 games. The New York brass decided he would be better suited to play third base and moved him there. It was a tough summer in the field, but eventually he made the necessary adjustments.  In 1997, Mike earned the organization’s Player of the Year award after hitting a combined .315 with 30 homers and 92 RBIs between stops at Double-A and Triple-A. Mike’s .360 average for the Norwich Navigators led the Eastern League. Mike remained on the farm for the Yanks in 1998 and had another great season, clouting 26 homers and batting .311 in 126 games for the Columbus Clippers. He was rewarded with a September call-up and got a hit off Kelvim Escobar of the Toronto Blue Jays in his first game.

The Yankees offered Mike around and found willing takers in the Florida Marlins, who unloaded three mid-level pitching prospects on New York. A few weeks after the trade, doctors discovered a suspicious lump in Mike's groin area during a routine physical. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer and underwent surgery and radiation therapy. Mike did not return to the diamond until the end of May. A few days later, he clouted his first big-league homer off of Darren Oliver.

Mike finally began to gain the recognition he deserved in 2002, when he was named to the All-Star team for the first time in his career. Overall, he batted .276 with 44 doubles, 24 homers and with 92 RBIs. Mike enjoyed another solid season in 2004, hitting 27 homers and 44 doubles to go with a career-high .293 average. He was an All-Star for the third year in a row and cemented his reputation as a clutch hitter with 18 game-winning RBIs—more than 20 percent of his team’s 83 victories. In the 2003 World Series, Mike hit safely in four of the six games against his old Yankee teammates and also played solid defense. He collected two hits, including a double, in the decisive Game 6 in New York. Beckett, who threw a 2-0 gem to deliver Florida’s second championship, was named series MVP.  Mike’s final year in Florida was 2005. Though he captured his first Gold Glove it was an otherwise disappointing season. Mike slumped at the plate all year, finishing at .236 with just eight home runs. With the Marlins out of the playoffs again and Cabrera itching to play third base, the writing was on the wall for Mike.

Because Mike was making decent money, the Marlins would not be able to move his contract easily. In the end, they included him as a throw-in with Beckett on a trade with the Red Sox that brought back Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez. Boston was looking for an answer at third, where former batting champ Bill Mueller was showing his age. The team knew Mike's glove would be an asset at the hot corner and hoped the change of scenery would reawaken his bat. That would solve another problem for the Red Sox as they searched for someone to hit behind David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez.

Mike gave the Red Sox just about what they expected in 2006. He posted the second-best fielding average in the majors and hit .284 with 47 doubles and 20 homers. He was particularly effective against righthanders, reversing his stats from the season before. Mike’s year was not enough to push the Red Sox into the postseason, however. The team faded to 86 wins and fell out of Wild Card contention by the end of August.

The 2007 season was a different story for both Mike and the Bosox. Often fearful of Big Papi and Manny, opponents opted to face Mike with the big guys on base—and he made them pay. Mike boosted his average to a career-best .324 and drove home baserunners in bunches. His other numbers were at their normal standards (37 doubles, 21 homers and 79 runs scored), and he ended up leading all third basemen (except A-Rod) in RBIs and finished with 191 hits.

The Red Sox and Yankees battled all year in the AL East, with Boston opening up a big lead early and New York threatening late in the summer. Boston ultimately captured the division. In the Division Series, the Sox demolished the Los Angeles Angels in a three-game sweep. Mike batted .333 with three RBIs.  The Cleveland Indians proved to be a more troublesome opponent in the ALCS. The Tribe won three of the first four games before the Red Sox came roaring back to win the pennant. Mike was again a big part of the picture. In 27 at-bats versus Cleveland pitching, he picked up nine hits and eight RBIs. With Ortiz and Ramirez also swinging hot bats and Beckett pitching lights out, Boston had the look of a championship club. The team’s opponent in the World Series, the Colorado Rockies, went quietly, falling in four uneventful games. Mike’s seventh-inning leadoff homer in Game 4 proved the difference in a 4–3 victory. He had previously doubled and scored.

After the series, Mike said all the right things. A free agent, he proclaimed his desire to stay with the Red Sox. His teammates talked about how much they wanted him back. The ball was in Boston’s court—and the team responded with a three-year, $37.5 million deal.  Enjoying the apex of a very good career, Mike has had no trouble putting his accomplishments into perspective. His second World Series ring is a nice bookend to his first, but the greatest victory of his life was his comeback against cancer. And as Mike will tell you, all of that is pretty good for a throw-in.