Baseball notes

Henderson was one to steal the show

By Nick Cafardo
January 11, 2009
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Mike Port was forewarned by Rickey Henderson's agent at the time, Jeff Borris. Port was told he might encounter a few things with Rickey he'd never dealt with before.

Port was general manager of the Red Sox in 2002 when, on the suggestion of team president Larry Lucchino, they signed the 43-year-old Henderson to a minor league contract. After Henderson won a major league job in spring training, Port presented him with a major league contract for $350,000.

It was then that the game's all-time leader in stolen bases and its greatest leadoff hitter informed Port, "Rickey has decided to cancel that contract."

Because he had made the team, Henderson figured, he was worth more money.

Port stuck to the point, which was that the minor league contract specified what the major league salary would be.

"Rickey will put his name on this contract but I will not sign it," Henderson informed Port.

"Eventually," said Port, "we got it done."

There are a thousand stories of Rickey bring Rickey. In '02, he was on the same team as Manny Ramírez, and in fact replaced him when Ramírez broke his finger sliding into home. Just a few days earlier, Henderson had expressed unhappiness about his playing time, and as Port recalls, when the team arrived for a series in Oakland, which was Henderson's home, he packed up his belongings and went home, as if he were going to quit.

Port and Borris spoke again, and the GM was told that Henderson loved baseball so much he would be back.

"Sure enough, Rickey shows up the next day like nothing happened," Port recalled.

Henderson was going to get more playing time, but when approached by Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy about it, he said, "The way it was was all right with me."

No matter what his quirks were, Henderson will likely go into the Hall of Fame as a near-unanimous choice when the balloting is announced tomorrow.

He spent only that one season of his 25 in the big leagues with the Red Sox, but a memorable one it was.

"There were always a lot of negative stories surrounding Rickey over the years, but I'm telling you, he was one of the most professional ballplayers I was ever around," said Tommy Harper, who was Boston's first base coach in 2002.

"We spent a lot of time together on the bench talking about baserunning and taking leads and pitch counts and all the things that are important to base stealers. He had a tremendous knowledge of the game. Very smart about the game and pitchers and situations.

"He was a great help to the young kids on the team who watched the way he did things and the great condition that his body was in and how well he took care of himself. Those types of things are so important for young players to see."

Harper remembers the lighter moments, as well, such as the time Henderson led off a game at Fenway with a home run.

"For some reason the ball came back to me and I just threw it in the stands," recalled Harper. "Rickey says, 'Harp! Harp!'

"I wasn't thinking that Rickey was the all-time leader in leadoff home runs and that he kept track of those balls. I remember throwing the ball to some kid in the stands and the team had to give the kid a lot of stuff in exchange for that ball.

"He was a very good guy. I really enjoyed that year with him."

He also was a game-changer.

"It was amazing when you sit and look at his numbers," said Harper. "When you look at how often he got on base, at how many runs he scored. I guess OBP is the big stat nowadays and well, if that's the case, Rickey's your man.

Henderson's career on-base percentage is .401.

Henderson will likely be wearing an A's cap on his Hall of Fame plaque, but Boston is a stop he'll remember.

"I enjoyed it there," he said in an interview two years ago. "I wanted to play more, but I understood the situation. I always loved the atmosphere because people cared about baseball."

And nobody cared more about it than Rickey.

A mound of thoughts from pitching coach

A few questions for Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell:

How do you get Brad Penny back to what he was?

JF: "Brad is a proven major league pitcher with multiple years of success and postseason experience. We feel that we can offer him a program, that all of our pitchers are involved in, that will address his needs and regain the pitching form he showed in '06 and '07 with LA. Brad joining us has all the ingredients to be a win-win situation."

How will you use Justin Masterson and Clay Buchholz?

JF: "Justin and Clay will prepare for the season as starting pitchers. This approach is consistent with the way Justin has prepared for each professional season and the best way to build arm strength in major league spring training. We still view him as a very capable major league starter and he could be in our rotation if the need were to arise during camp. Justin's flexibility is a tremendous asset that is matched by his ability to adapt to change. His role does not have to be defined at the moment. Personally, I feel Clay will be a much improved pitcher in 2009 because of his experiences in 2008. He is a premium talent that will compete for a spot in the rotation. We view Clay as a starter, but the potential to use him as a reliever has not been ruled out. If we feel that using Clay as a reliever makes us a better pitching staff, I'm sure we'll discuss and consider it."

Your take on Ramon Ramirez and Wes Littleton?

JF: "Ramon Ramirez gives us another power arm that has quietly put together outstanding years in Colorado and KC. He is a fearless competitor with above-average strikeout ability and inducing ground balls. I think Wes Littleton will benefit greatly pitching in a different ballpark. His low arm slot complements the other righthanded relievers currently in our bullpen."

How do two new catchers affect the pitching staff?

JF: "If two new catchers are brought in, every measure will be taken to ensure they know each of our pitchers' strengths and limitations. Spring training will allow for both formal and informal settings to accomplish that. Through repetition, pitchers will gain comfort and confidence in the way they are handled.

How can you get Daisuke Matsuzaka to economize?

JF: "Daisuke has made a number of adjustments during his two years in Boston and will continue to do so. He began to use his two-seam fastball with more frequency vs. lefthanded hitters. This allowed him to be more effective when attacking them. As he uses this approach more, I do think his BBs to lefthanded hitters will reduce, as will his overall pitch count. We all would like to see him be a bit more economical but not at the expense of being less successful."

It's not the usual spring drill for Carpenter

Former National League Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter is crossing his fingers. Two years of pure agony with Tommy John surgery and a nerve problem in his shoulder have kept him off the field and in rehab situations that, quite frankly, he's sick and tired of.

Carpenter said his arm feels fine, but it's felt fine before. His hope now is to go through his normal preparation for a season, then head to spring training with the Cardinals and be ready to go.

"I just started playing catch, which is what I normally do at this time of the year, and then I get on a mound at around the beginning of February," Carpenter said. "That's my plan right now.

"After two very frustrating and miserable years, I just want to feel healthy again. I feel if my arm and elbow are fine, I'll be able to do what I've always done."

However, St. Louis manager Tony La Russa hasn't ruled out using Carpenter as the closer, though he might see whether youngsters Chris Perez or Jason Motte could handle the role.

"Nobody has said anything to me about that this offseason," said Carpenter, "but when I came back last year after my elbow surgery and before the nerve in my shoulder flared up, we had discussed that role.

"I'll say now what I said then, and that is I'll do anything they ask me to do. When I came back last year I was in the bullpen, so if that's where the team feels they need me, I'll do it. I just want to pitch again."

Carpenter said he hasn't had any discussions with doctors about which role would be less taxing on his arm, and the team's medical staff hasn't offered him any direction in that area, which leads Carpenter to believe that he can pitch in any role if his arm is void of pain.

"I miss just having things be normal," he said. "I got to be around the team late last year and it was great, but not being able to pitch, well, it became very frustrating for me.

"It's two very long years and I'm looking forward to getting back in there."


Touching the bases
Apropos of nothing: 1. If Mike Lowell had signed with the Phillies last winter, he'd have back-to-back championships; 2. Nomar Garciaparra would be a nice fit for the Phillies; 3. Is that the sound of salaries being cut I hear at Fenway? 4. The White Sox payroll is currently $82.5 million; it was $120 million on Opening Day last year; 5) Love the Indians' signing of Carl Pavano.

Catching up with . . .
1. Brad Ausmus, free agent catcher: He "retired" from the Astros but has not necessarily retired from baseball. Ausmus, who lives in San Diego, said he would be amenable to returning if it's in a city he prefers. According to major league sources, there are talks ongoing with the Padres and Dodgers. Ausmus, a Cheshire, Conn., native who owns a vacation home on Cape Cod, has drawn interest from the Red Sox in the past, but they are not interested this time.

2. Gregg Zaun, free agent catcher: After our interview with Zaun last week, there was more contact with the Red Sox, but no significant movement on a deal. Scouts have said the Sox could do worse than have Zaun, with his experience and grit, behind the plate for a year or two.

3. Xavier Nady, Yankees outfielder: The most attractive trade bait the Yankees have. He could land them an end-of-the-rotation starter. The Angels and possibly the Giants and Mets could be suitors. A return to the Pirates has been shot down.

4. Manny Ramírez, free agent outfielder: Major league sources are telling us the Giants were willing to make a four-year commitment, but in the form of a one-year deal with three options. The Giants remain intrigued because they know Ramírez puts fans in the stands. We pointed out last week that attendance in San Francisco has slipped (by some 400,000 from '07 to '08), and Ramírez, love him or hate him, could have a Barry Bonds effect. The Dodgers remain the best bet to keep him.

5. Derek Lowe, free agent pitcher: The action on Lowe will likely accelerate this weekend among three NL East teams - Atlanta, New York, and Philadelphia. The Braves, who met with Lowe last week, need to nail this one down. They acquired Javier Vazquez from the White Sox earlier this winter, but they have lost John Smoltz and have yet to make an offer to the rehabbing Tom Glavine. They would salvage their offseason by signing Lowe, who among the baseball people we spoke to was considered the second-best free agent pitcher out there (after CC Sabathia). One rub is that Lowe wants to go somewhere where he can get to a World Series. Are the Braves that team? Are the Mets? We know the Phillies are.

6. Todd Helton, Rockies first baseman: Helton finds himself in a similar position to Lowell, working his way back from surgery (back for Helton, hip for Lowell). Remember, two years ago the Red Sox contemplated a Helton-Lowell swap. There has been some talk among other teams about the Sox and Rockies rekindling this scenario, though there has been no dialogue inside the Sox organization to that effect. But never say never.

7. Tom Ricketts, entrepreneur: Ricketts, 43, is the head of TD Ameritrade and could be emerging as the front-runner to purchase the Cubs. Also in the hunt are Marc Utay, managing partner of the private equity firm Clarion Capital Partners LLC, and Hersch Klaff, who has many holdings in Chicago real estate. This is tricky sledding for the seller, Sam Zell, because of the economic landscape. Selling one of the crown jewels of sports at this time is pretty difficult, especially in getting proper value. Said an American League owner, "I have no idea how much my team is worth now. I could have told you even six months ago, but now? It's almost impossible to put a number on it."

8. Prince Fielder, Brewers first baseman: The Brewers will say he is not available, but could they be overwhelmed with a package of young players? One AL talent evaluator said, "He makes a lot of sense for Boston. They need a big bat in the lineup, it would combat what the Yankees have done with Mark Teixeira. They could go to their Teixeira plan of moving [Kevin] Youkilis to third and trading Mike Lowell. In this type of package, you can start with Clay Buchholz and go from there."

9. Ben Sheets, free agent pitcher: We're hearing more and more that a team like the Braves or Rangers could pony up a couple of years on a contract that would land the oft-injured righthander. At this stage of free agency, he seems like big-time quality for a price that has surely come down. "I think as the weeks go on, more and more teams are going to take a good, hard look at him," said a National League manager. "Given his history, he's just not going to get a big deal, and the realization might be sinking in that he and his agents know it."

10. Adam Dunn, free agent first baseman/outfielder/DH: This five-time 40-home run hitter is still out there, with the price coming down. Still a few potential destinations. An emerging one is Atlanta, where the Braves need a left fielder.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at

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