Alex Rodriguez might win the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award, but there’s no doubt who’s taking home the People’s Choice Award - Mike Lowell.
Almost as soon as Jonathan Papelbon fanned Seth Smith to secure the Red Sox’ World Series sweep of the Colorado Rockies, the campaign to re-sign Lowell went from grass-roots to full-blown, as teammates and fans alike sent not-so-subtle messages to management about what they believe should be the team’s top offseason priority.
If there was any question as to Lowell’s popularity in and out of the clubhouse, David Ortiz set the record straight Friday during an appearance on “Live with Regis and Kelly” (mercifully, noted Yankees lover Regis Philbin had the day off, with Longmeadow native and Sox fan/actor Damien Fahey filling in).
When asked by Kelly Ripa if he’d like to have Rodriguez on his team, Big Papi acknowledged A-Rod’s skills but said, “Right now, we’re just focused on signing Mikey Lowell.”
This came on the heels of Papelbon telling David Letterman on Wednesday that Lowell is “a phenomenal guy . . . obviously we’d like to have Mikey back, that’s for sure,” and Kevin Youkilis chanting, “Sign Mike Lowell” constantly during Tuesday’s celebratory rolling rally through the streets of Boston.
Lowell’s transformation from salary-dump throw-in to World Series MVP has been impressive.
The Red Sox, desperate to land young ace Josh Beckett from the Florida Marlins, agreed to take Lowell and his $9 million-per-year salary as part of a seven-player deal Nov. 24, 2005.
After five stellar full seasons in Miami Gardens, including belting 123 home runs, collecting three All-Star appearances, and a Gold Glove Award, Lowell’s numbers took a precipitous drop in 2005, when he hit .236 with just eight home runs.
The cost-conscious Marlins needed to get out from underneath Lowell’s contract and used Beckett, who also was about to become too rich for their blood, as the bait. The Red Sox were willing to oblige, shipping heralded shortstop prospect Hanley Ramírez along with pitchers Anibal Sanchez , Jesus Delgado, and Harvey Garcia to Florida for Beckett, Lowell, and pitcher Guillermo Mota.
Needless to say, the trade has worked out well on both sides.
The 6-foot-3-inch, 210-pound Lowell wasted no time showing why he earned the reputation as a solid pro, on and off the field. All he’s done since arriving in Boston is collect 354 hits, including 41 home runs, and 200 RBIs. In addition, he provides sterling defense.
After putting up decent numbers in 2006 (.284, 20 HRs, 80 RBIs), Lowell exploded out of the gate in ‘07 and stayed hot all season, hitting a career-high .324, leading the team in hits (191), and specializing in clutch deliveries.
His torrid pace continued in the postseason, when he hit .353 with two homers and 15 RBIs. He was particularly clutch in the World Series, hitting .400 with a home run and four RBIs. His signature moments in the Fall Classic included a game-winning double in Game 2 in Boston and a solo homer in Game 4.
”I’m on cloud nine - it’s unbelievable,” Lowell said after being named Series MVP. “For us to come through and do what we thought we were capable of doing is unbelievable. We’ve got a lot of people to give credit to.”
Throughout the joyous ride, Lowell made no secret of his desire to stay in Boston, where he loves his teammates, the coaching staff, and the fans.
”It would mean the world to me [to remain a Red Sox],” Lowell told reporters prior to the duck boat parade. “But that’s nothing new . . . I enjoy playing here. This is a good situation for me. I think it would be a good situation for a lot of people.”
Much to the delight of Lowell’s teammates and fans, it appears the Red Sox will do everything possible to sign the hard-nosed veteran, who overcame testicular cancer in 1999.
Over the past week, owner John Henry called negotiating a contract extension with Lowell “a very high priority.” When asked about Boston’s possible interest in Rodriguez, chairman Tom Werner said, “Our priority is first to have conversations with Mike Lowell’s agent.”
President and CEO Larry Lucchino jumped on the bandwagon yesterday, telling WEEI, “We’re going to think long and hard about Mike Lowell . . . that’s where we’re going to be focused.”
When pressed on Rodriguez, Lucchino added that anything concerning A-Rod would come “after we focus on Mike Lowell.”