To catch a thief
Rivera released, accused of stealing from Jeter's lockerPosted: Tuesday March 12, 2002 10:16 AM
Updated: Wednesday March 13, 2002 9:14 PM
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- A baseball player's locker is a sacred place -- the one private place in his very public world. Ruben Rivera learned that invading that sanctum can be a most serious offense.
Once one of the most promising prospects in baseball, Rivera was placed on unconditional release waivers by the New York Yankees after being accused of taking a bat and glove from teammate Derek Jeter's locker.
"That type of thing is a shock," manager Joe Torre said Tuesday. "It's sad. It's unfortunate."
Unlike many off-the-field transgressions that often can be overlooked, Rivera was not given a second chance by the Yankees.
"We look at this as our house and this is our family," reliever Mike Stanton said. "We spend more time here than we do with our real families. This was something that had to be dealt with quickly and as discretely as possible, but that's not possible in this age."
None of the Yankees players or officials would publicly say why Rivera was cut. But a baseball lawyer familiar with the decision, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Rivera took the equipment from Jeter's locker and sold it to a sports memorabilia agent.
Rivera later returned the glove and bat, which he reportedly sold for $2,500, but it was too late to save his career with the Yankees.
He signed a one-year $1 million guaranteed contract with the Yankees last month, but the team negotiated a $200,000 settlement Monday, the source said.
"The clubhouse is a special place," Torre said. "It's our sanctuary. It's big part of what we do. Trust is very important."
Jeter declined to comment, saying he didn't "want to add fuel to the fire."
Rivera also refused to comment on Monday night before leaving the team and agents declined comment.
Clubhouse thefts aren't common, but two notable ones became public last year.
Philadelphia 76ers conditioning coach John Croce, the brother of then-team president Pat Croce, was fired after he was caught on videotape stealing money from Allen Iverson's pants in the locker room.
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Albert Connell was arrested last year on charges he stole more than $4,000 from teammate Deuce McAllister. Connell was released from the team last month.
Yankees starter Roger Clemens said things disappear from his locker all year, but he has never suspected a teammate.
"I try and protect some of my important game stuff," Clemens said. "It happens all the time. I don't think it's the players."
Jeter and Rivera were teammates in a rookie league 10 years ago and played together at stops on the way to the majors. Their lockers were about 30 feet apart.
Like that of most players, Jeter's locker is filled with shoes, bats, uniforms and gloves -- which he considers his most precious baseball item. Other valuables are usually locked away.
Jeter sells most of his game-used equipment -- including 20-to-25 bats a year -- through Steiner Sports Memorabilia to raise money for his Turn 2 Foundation for children.
Brandon Steiner, the head of the company, said the sales generate more than $250,000 a year for the charity, including between $2,500 and $10,000 per bat. But there's one item Jeter never sells.
"I know those gloves are very personal," Steiner said. "He never parts with them."
Rivera was confronted by the team after players learned of the accusations. Rivera had a closed-door meeting Saturday with Torre, general manager Brian Cashman and special instructor Reggie Jackson.
Cashman met with Rivera again Monday morning and, later that day the players were told of the decision.
"We have always been able to discuss things as a team," outfielder Bernie Williams said. "That's one reason why we've been so successful because we've had such good chemistry. We tend to act as a unit and talk things through."
Complicating matters is that Rivera is a cousin of closer Mariano Rivera, who played a role in bringing the outfielder back this season.
"I am disappointed," Mariano Rivera said. "I prefer not to talk about it."
The 28-year-old outfielder originally was signed by the Yankees as a free agent in 1990, and became the team's top prospect. He was traded to San Diego in the Hideki Irabu deal in 1997 but never fulfilled his potential.
"He's one of the best physical talents I've seen," Williams said. "He can do it all. He has the potential to be the best."
Instead, Rivera has struggled to stay in the majors, hitting .218 with 58 homers and 185 RBIs in 562 games.
The Yankees hoped Rivera was starting to turn his career around this spring. He batted .350 in eight games in his bid to make the team as a backup outfielder.