Henke, 35, is latest addition to rapidly-aging Rangers staff

December 16, 1992|By Gerry Fraley | Gerry Fraley,Dallas Morning News

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The graying of the Texas Rangers' pitching staff continued yesterday with the signing of free-agent right-handed reliever Tom Henke.

The Rangers gave Henke, who turns 35 Monday and considered retirement last spring because of a sore right shoulder, a two-year guaranteed contract with a club option on a third season. According to major-league officials, Henke is guaranteed about $8 million and could earn about $12 million if he lasts three seasons. Boston offered more money but a less desirable living situation.

Henke, who had 34 saves with world champion Toronto this past season, is the third 30-something pitcher to join the Rangers this off-season. They also have added left-handed starter Charlie Leibrandt (36) and left-handed reliever Bob Patterson (33). Starter Nolan Ryan (46) will be the oldest active pitcher in the majors next season.

"It wasn't a grand plan," general manager Tom Grieve said of the infusion of experience. "These were players we felt could be significant to the team and could be signed to contracts that wouldn't take them past their usefulness.

"They're not in the middle of their career. Some people might say they're on the downside of their career. But these are experienced pitchers who have been with winners and can perform important jobs for us."

Henke becomes the bullpen closer, a position he handled with Toronto. In the past five seasons, Henke had 143 saves and a .928 success rate.

"Talk to just about anyone in the league, and they'll tell you he's been as consistent as anyone in the game," Toronto pitching coach Galen Cisco said.

In spring training, the Blue Jays did not know if they would have Henke. He could not throw because of shoulder tendinitis and discussed retirement with his wife, Kathy.

"I was a little scared," Henke said during the World Series. "I was definitely thinking about retiring if I couldn't pitch the way I wanted to. This game takes too much mental and physical energy to hang on for the sake of squeezing out one more contract. That's not the way I want to go out."

Toronto manager Cito Gaston used Henke cautiously, and he lasted the season. Henke had 34 saves in 37 chances, second-best success rate in the majors behind Oakland's Dennis Eckersley (51-for-54). Henke also held opponents to a .197 batting average, fifth-lowest total among AL relievers.

"That's a plus," starter Kevin Brown said of adding Henke.

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