Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell said Sunday he will undergo an operation next month described as a “last-chance option” to repair his injured right shoulder and salvage his baseball career.
If the procedure succeeds, Bagwell hopes to play the last month of this season and return for 2006, the final year of his contract. 

“I have to do it,” Bagwell said at a news conference before Sunday’s AstrosGiants game at Minute Maid Park. “It’s the only way I can continue to play this game. 

“I want to play. I want to help the Houston Astros. It kills me that I can’t play now, and I think the best chance for me to play again is to do the surgery. I owe it to the Astros, and I owe it to myself to get it done.” 

Bagwell, 36, was placed on the 15-day disabled list last week with what was described as a right shoulder sprain. He has played for three years with pain and arthritis in the shoulder but said, “It just got to the point now where I just can’t do it.” 

Team physician Dr. David Lintner, an associate professor at Baylor College of Medicine, said the Astros and Bagwell consulted with several shoulder surgeons before Bagwell, who was batting .250 with three home runs and 15 RBIs in 24 games this season, decided to undergo an operation described as an arthroscopic capsular release. 

“The unanimous opinion was that Jeff should consider this surgery only when he’s to the point when he feels he can no longer perform to his satisfaction,” Lintner said. “Given the fact he can’t play anymore now, this is the time to call it. I think this is kind of a last-chance option to salvage his playing career.” 

The surgery will be performed by Dr. Richard Hawkins, a founding member of the American Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons and co-founder of the SteadmanHawkins Clinic, which has locations in three Colorado cities and in Spartanburg, S.C., where Bagwell’s surgery will be performed. 

Hawkins, who is traveling in Europe and will be unable to perform the operation until early June, is a professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical
School in Dallas, former team physician for the Denver Broncos and medical
director for the Colorado Rockies. His former patients include John Elway, Greg
Norman, Billie Jean King, Monica Seles and Terrell Davis. 

Lintner, who will assist in the operation, said surgeons will make a series of
incisions in the tissue around Bagwell’s shoulder in an effort to expand the range
of motion in the joint. 

“It’s much like opening a pie crust to make it more flexible,” he said. “It allows
the shoulder to rotate more than it has in the last few years. Jeff s shoulder is
extraordinarily tight.” 

Bagwell said Hawkins has performed about 200 of the procedures, which
generally take about an hour. Among athletes, Lintner said shoulder capsular
releases are performed most commonly among weightlifters and football players.
Bagwell said he hopes to regain 80 percent of the range of motion in his right shoulder. But he said he is prepared that his career might be over. 

“There’s a chance I could be back up here and talking about how I can’t do it again,” he said. “Have I gone through that in my mind? Yes.” 

Dr. Walt Lowe, an associate professor of sports medicine at Baylor and the Texans’ team physician, said the procedure is similar to the one performed on former Texans offensive lineman Tony Boselli, who was unable to return to football after the operation but was able to resume golf and other normal activities. 

“There’s no question it will give (Bagwell) better movement in his shoulder,” Lowe said. “But the question is whether it will bring enough relief from the pain to play baseball.” 

Lowe described the normal recovery time as four to six months but said some patients have recovered as early as three months after surgery. 

Sports medicine is filled with unique procedures that have revived careers, most notably the elbow ligament reconstruction procedure known as Tommy John surgery. As one of the most prominent athletes to undergo a capsular release, perhaps Bagwell has a chance to enter the books as the namesake of Jeff Bagwell surgery. 

“It could be,” said Astros general manager Tim Purpura, smiling thinly. “If it works, it will be.”

Chronicle staff writer Eric Berger contributed to this report.