Work in Sports
Mets release disgruntled Rickey Henderson
Posted: Thursday May 18, 2000 01:21 AM
NEW YORK (AP) -- Rickey Henderson got what we wanted: his release.
Baseball's career steals leader, angry since the start of spring training because the New York Mets wouldn't raise his $1.9 million salary, was let go Saturday, one day after failing to run out a drive.
"I didn't cause them to lose. Look someplace else," Henderson said before quickly leaving the clubhouse following a 7-6 loss to Florida.
Henderson, 41, was batting just .219 with no homers and two RBIs, and was in the midst of a rough week.
He was placed on waivers Monday -- no team claimed him -- and then was booed by Shea Stadium fans and criticized by manager Bobby Valentine for his lack of hustle in Friday night's 6-4 loss. Prior to Saturday's game, Henderson shouted at a reporter.
"After considering everything that happened last night and this morning, something had to be done," Mets general manager Steve Phillips said. "I think the reasons are fairly obvious. No matter how talent you have, if you continue to create problems and situations, you wear out your welcome. We got to the point where we had to compromise our ideals and what we expect from our players too often."
Henderson did not start Saturday, played left field in the ninth inning and did not bat. During the day, the Mets contacted every other major league team to try to work out a trade but got no interest.
"I hope the guys respond to it favorably and understand this is the way to go for the group," said Valentine, whose team has lost nine of 12 and fell to 19-19 this season.
Players didn't think Henderson had become a distraction but understood the reasoning.
"I thought he was a good teammate," Mike Piazza said. "It was very important last year -- all-time greatest leadoff hitter in the game."
Under baseball's rules, Henderson was placed on unconditional release waivers Saturday, immediately removing him from the active roster. If he isn't claimed -- and it's virtually assured he won't be -- he would become a free agent at 2 p.m. EDT Wednesday. Any team could then sign him for a prorated share of the major league minimum -- about $155,000. The Mets would be responsible for the rest of his salary.
"I don't anticipate having a problem finding him a place to play," said Henderson's agent, Jeff Borris. "A lot of people think Rickey has a lot of baseball left in him. Rickey has had a spectacular career, and it would be a blemish if it ended this way. There are a couple of major milestones that he still wants to achieve."
Henderson sought a trade -- the Mets talked to Detroit about a deal involving outfielder Bobby Higginson -- and also complained about having to make the 7,400-mile trip to Tokyo for the Mets' season-opening series against the Chicago Cubs.
During his career, he often has slumped when unhappy. Last season, after signing with the Mets as a free agent, he hit .315 with a .423 on-base percentage -- best among NL leadoff men -- and stole 37 bases.
This year, Henderson has stolen five bases in seven tries, raising his career steals total to 1,339.
On Friday, his first-inning drive off Ryan Dempster hit the left-field wall. He jogged to first, thinking it was a home run, and wound up with a single.
"It's not acceptable," Valentine said.
Henderson read an account of play in the New York Post and shouted at the reporter who wrote the story.
"I'm going to do it over again if I feel I hit a home run," the 10-time All-Star said to the Post's Andrew Marchand. "I know more baseball than you can think about. You probably were a baby when I first started playing this game."
During the confrontation by Henderson's corner stall, he told Marchand, who is 25, that the only reason he didn't beat him up was Henderson had "respect" for people.
Just a few minutes before the shouting, Phillips was asked if Henderson"s time with the team was close to an end. Phillips made a point of looking at his watch before humorously saying, "No."
Henderson and other Mets spent an hour in the outfield Saturday morning bantering with fans as part of a photo day promotion. Sitting with sunglasses on, he posed for pictures, smiled and charmed the customers.
Valentine spoke with Henderson in the dugout right after the first-inning at-bat Friday night.
"I didn't really get an answer," the manager said.
Phillips said he didn't think there was anything he or Valentine could do alter the behavior of Henderson, now in his 22nd major league season.
"We're not going to change Rickey at this point," Phillips said.
Valentine, who turned 50 Saturday, took a long time to answer questions about Henderson before Saturday's game, tapping a letter opener on his fingers and desk while thinking out his responses.
"You'd like to think people know the difference between right and wrong," Valentine said. "It's basically what everything's built on."
Talking with reporters after Friday night's game, Henderson said he didn't do anything wrong.
"I should have been running no harder than I ran. I thought it was a home run," he said.
Last year, Henderson didn't run out a ball on a similar play against Atlanta, which was noted Saturday by Valentine. Henderson also created a stir when he and Bobby Bonilla were accused of playing cards in the Mets' clubhouse during the season-ending, extra-inning loss at Atlanta in the NL championship series.
Bonilla was released during the offseason and signed with the Braves. The Mets are paying most of his salary, too, spreading out about $29 million in payments from 2011-35.