Salary drive more a blooper for Rickey

KEN ROSENTHAL

October 17, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

TORONTO -- As baseball axioms go, it's right there with "see the ball, hit the ball."

Hell hath no fury like Rickey in a salary drive.

Hey, Rickey, you're so fine, you're so fine with money on the line, hey, Rickey.

Remember when?

Rickey Henderson was the best player in the game -- when his contract status dictated it.

As a potential free agent, the old Rickey would be a lock to dominate this World Series.

The new Rickey?

Who knows?

The new Rickey hit .120 in the American League Championship Series. The new Rickey is such a bust, Toronto general manager Pat Gillick regrets even trading for him.

The price was right-hander Steve Karsay and minor-league outfielder Jose Herrera. Karsay might pitch 10 years for Oakland. Rickey has 10 days left with the Blue Jays.

"In hindsight, I wouldn't have made that deal," Gillick said recently. "We needed somebody, and consequently we thought Rickey would do the job. It just hasn't happened."

How's that for instant analysis? Rickey could hit .600 in the Series, the Jays could sweep in four games, and Gillick would still think he made a stupid trade.

Maybe, maybe not.

Yes, the Blue Jays won the AL East by seven games and the ALCS in six games without Henderson making a significant impact.

Yes, Oakland pitching coach Dave Duncan calls Karsay "the best young pitching prospect I've ever worked with."

But what about the Series?

What if the old Rickey shows up?

It could happen. Henderson hit .412 in his two previous World Series. And who can forget the way he terrorized Toronto in the '89 ALCS, batting .400 with eight steals?

The problem is, Henderson is nursing a pair of sore hands. "They're not well -- period," he said Thursday. Of course, by Friday, he pronounced himself "ready to break loose."

"I'll say this -- I don't think he's been healthy," Gillick said last night. "He got hit by a pitch, and that's still bothering him. He's also had a hamstring problem."

Obviously, Gillick didn't anticipate the injuries. But there's no guarantee the Blue Jays would be in this position if he hadn't made the trade.

At the time, the Jays were tied for first with the New York Yankees, 1 1/2 games ahead of the Boston Red Sox, four ahead of the Orioles.

The Orioles were a late entry into the Rickey sweepstakes, but balked at the A's asking price -- left-hander Arthur Rhodes. The Yankees also were thought to be interested.

As Toronto right fielder Joe Carter put it, "Well, he's helped in one way. The Yankees didn't get him, and Baltimore didn't get him, either."

zTC Actually, he helped in other ways as well. Henderson batted only .215 after joining Toronto, but he maintained a .360 on-base percentage, stole 22 bases and scored 37 runs in 44 games.

Devon White, dropped to No. 2 in the order, saw more fastballs as a result of Henderson getting on base. And the Jays' defense didn't exactly suffer with Henderson in left field.

Of course, in retrospect, Gillick knows the Orioles probably wouldn't have won with Henderson. The Yankees were trying to add pitching, and never made Oakland a serious offer.

Gillick said he wasn't motivated by the fear of either team acquiring Henderson. And it wasn't the Orioles' intent to drive up the price, according to assistant GM Doug Melvin.

"There are times when you do that," Melvin said yesterday. "But we had interest in him. It's a matter of how far you'll go.

"You have to be sincere about it. You have to be ready to take the player. But sometimes, the longer you stay in it, the price does go up."

In any case, the Orioles aren't expected to bid on Henderson as a free agent, knowing he'll be 35 in December, fearing he'll want a multi-year contract.

The Yankees, though, still need a leadoff hitter. And the Chicago White Sox also could show interest, if they lose Tim Raines and Ellis Burks to free agency.

So much depends on the Series.

On how Rickey performs.

"I always expect I'll be a hero," Henderson said. "But you never know what will happen in this game. You toss a coin, and hope it comes up heads."

That's what the Blue Jays did.

And the coin still hasn't come down.

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