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Baseball / Ross Newhan : Landing Henderson, A's Got Better; So Did Giants, Mets

June 25, 1989|Ross Newhan

There was heavy trading on the New York and Pacific stock exchanges this week.

In action generally associated with Labor Day and the September stretch drive, the Bay Area and New York teams plunged early in an attempt--for the most part--to enhance their chances for title dividends.

Here are a synopsis and analysis:

RICKEY GOES HOME

Already boasting baseball's best record, despite a barrage of injuries, the Oakland Athletes couldn't restrain their enthusiasm at re-acquiring leadoff man and left fielder Rickey Henderson from the Yankees.

"It's a run whenever he gets on base," pitcher Dave Stewart said. "It's automatic offense. You'll see the difference immediately."

Said Dave Parker, the designated hitter: "In New York, Rickey was the whole show. He felt he had to do it all. Here, he just has to do his job. Now he'll put on the show."

Nobody can do it better than Henderson, when he has his mind on it.

But the Yankees--at least at the management level--had begun to question the frequency with which he had his mind on it.

"I'm not saying Rickey didn't bust his tail every day, but I just didn't see the juice and enthusiasm people said Rickey had when he's on a hot streak," Manager Dallas Green said.

If ever there was a season for Henderson to display that juice, this was it.

He is coming off a five-year, $8.6-million contract, is eligible for free agency when the season ends, reportedly wants $8.2 million over three years and had given the Yankees until the All-Star break to reach an agreement, at which point, he said, negotiations would end and he would plan on playing elsewhere next season.

Henderson and the Yankees were said to be $1.2 million apart, a difference the club was unwilling to resolve, considering that Henderson will be 31 on Christmas Day and there are questions about the consistency of his physical skills--in addition to those concerning his drive. A trade also represented an opportunity for the Yankees to improve their bullpen depth.

They acquired relief pitchers Eric Plunk and Greg Cadaret and left fielder Luis Polonia, who replaces Henderson--at least on the lineup card. Polonia is a spray hitter with speed, but he lacks Henderson's defensive ability and his on-base percentage doesn't compare because of an unwillingness to accept walks.

Former Yankee manager Lou Piniella reflected on the acquisitions and said: "It's almost like the Yankees borrowed Rickey for four years and then sent him back for the same ingredients."

In acquiring Henderson from the A's 4 1/2 years ago, they traded spray hitting outfielder Stan Javier and pitchers Jose Rijo, Tim Birtsas and Jay Howell.

Before and since, the Yankees have traded so much pitching talent that Plunk and Cadaret--primarily middle men who at times played key rolls for the A's but weren't considered irreplaceable--probably glittered like gold.

Most Yankees, however, endorsed the view of relief pitcher Dave Righetti, who reflected on the loss of Henderson and said:

"I wasn't thrilled. It's the last thing I expected to see. I'm trying to figure out what direction we're going in. We've had trouble scoring runs and we're going to miss him.

"When he got here in '83 we became a damn good team right away. He had that try-to-get-me-out arrogance. Our whole lineup was like that last year. I hope he doesn't come back and beat us but you know he will someday."

Henderson, who averaged .293 in his previous four years with the Yankees, was hitting .247 when traded. His success rate on steal attempts was down from 86% to 75.8%, and his pace projected to only 55 steals, 90 runs and 48 runs batted in.

The A's, however, are confident that Henderson will be invigorated by the return to his hometown and the chance to ignite one of baseball's most formidable lineups once Jose Canseco returns near the All-Star break.

They are confident, too, that their prized chemistry won't be disrupted by an often individualistic player. When the trade was being rumored, Oakland players huddled privately, then let management know they approved the acquisition.

"If he tries anything that's not in the spirit of what we're trying to accomplish here, he's going to hear about it," Manager Tony LaRussa said. "He's going to hear about it from the manager, the coaches and a bunch of players."

There are two bottom lines for the A's. They are optimistic they can sign Henderson. And, as Canseco said, "To me, he's got to be the best leadoff hitter ever. How often do you get a chance to trade for that kind of player?"

RELIEF FOR THE GIANTS

In their championship summer of 1987, sensing a chance to put the National League's Western Division away, the San Francisco Giants traded for pitchers Rick Reuschel, Dave Dravecky, Craig Lefferts and Don Robinson.

It was in the same sense that club President Al Rosen moved to acquire relief ace Steve Bedrosian from the Philadelphia Phillies.

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