OAKLAND – In the end, it wasn’t the strikeouts or the fact that Richie Sexson had hit only two home runs since late May.
What pushed the Seattle Mariners to release the 33-year-old first baseman Thursday – and pay the remainder of his $15.5 million salary – was body language.
“Richie wasn’t going to play regularly, and I saw his body language on the bench, he was a little perturbed,” manager Jim Riggleman said. “That was reason enough to do this. We can’t have negativity on the club. I think the players would agree – Richie needed a change of scenery.”
After 31/2 years, 105 home runs and 321 RBI, Sexson’s career as a Mariner was prolonged by three weeks when the team switched managers, and Riggleman wanted to see if Sexson could regain his confidence and his swing.
He didn’t, and was batting .218 with 11 home runs and 30 RBI in 74 games this season.
“We gave Richie a lot of rope,” general manager Lee Pelekoudas said. “There just wasn’t enough improvement. This is the time of year you’re talking to other teams and looking for solutions – long and short term. With Richie, it was time.”
Sexson was told at the team hotel late Wednesday night and didn’t come to the clubhouse Thursday. Instead, he flew home to be with his family in Vancouver, Wash. On Monday, he’ll become a free agent, and a team could offer and sign him to a contract paying the major league minimum salary.
The Mariners won’t be surprised to see Sexson in another uniform.
“This isn’t the end of his career, he’s got baseball left in him,” Riggleman said. “We just couldn’t find the key to open that door for him.”
Sexson’s problems at the plate began last year, when he hit just .205 with 21 home runs and 63 RBI.
Unable to find his stroke again in 2008, Sexson’s struggles – and those of an underachieving team – probably cost batting coach Jeff Pentland his job. And manager John McLaren’s steadfast faith in Sexson played a role in his demise, too.
Booed loudly at home in Safeco Field, Sexson for the past seven weeks had become a power hitter without the ability to hit the ball out of any ballpark consistently. In June, his batting average rose slightly but his production didn’t.
In the last 30 days, trying a modified stance, Sexson batted .230 – with just two home runs. That’s a far cry from his best.
Signed before the 2005 season, Sexson had a history of home runs, twice hitting 45 in a season. His first year as a Mariner, the right-handed hitting Sexson hit 39 home runs with 121 RBI – then followed in ’06 by hitting 34 homers with 105 RBI.
In his time with Seattle, Sexson was always leery of the local media, and only rarely talked to the press, even after his best games. In a clubhouse that lacked clear leadership, Sexson’s presence was a quiet one.
That doesn’t mean he wasn’t without influence.
“Richie was like a brother to me, he always took care of me,” outfielder Jeremy Reed said. “If I made a mistake, Richie was the one who’d talk to me about it.
“He wanted to do it so badly here, and people didn’t understand how different it was for him than for anyone else here. He was booed at home and dealt with that professionally. I’m going to miss him, but he’s a good friend and will be for life.”
Reed was one of the few players to talk to Sexson after the team released him.
“I think on one level he was prepared for it, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t hit him hard,” Reed said. “Being from Washington, he had to deal with things most of us never do. Every game he played, he left it all on the field. He gave us everything he had.
“I still think he can play. The man’s got 300-plus home runs? I don’t think he’s done.”
When Sexson formally becomes a free agent Monday, any team can sign him and offer him the pro-rated major league minimum for the remainder of the season. At that price, less than $200,000, a handful of teams apparently have interest – including the Angels and Dodgers.
As for the Mariners, their first baseman of the future is very much up in the air. For now, veterans Miguel Cairo and Jose Vidro will play first. After the All-Star break, the team could take a look at Tacoma first baseman Bryan LaHair, a .291 career hitter in the minor leagues.
There’s even a slim chance catcher Kenji Johjima could play the position later this season.
“We’ve given up the threat of power to get more contact hitting in the lineup for now,” Riggleman said. “With Richie, we just weren’t gong to be able to get him enough at-bats to keep him happy.”
Sexson’s place on the 25-man roster wasn’t taken by a first baseman, but by feisty middle infielder Tug Hulett, who was batting .302 in Tacoma. His role with the team is as a utility player.
THE richie sexSon FILE
Richmond Lockwood Sexson
Born: Dec. 29, 1974, Portland
Position: First base
Height: 6-8 Weight: 240
Bats: Right Throws: Right
Personal: Resides in Vancouver, Wash., with wife, two sons and a daughter. Earned all-state recognition in baseball, basketball and football at Prairie High, where he graduated in 1993.
June 1993: Signed after Cleveland drafted him in 24th round. July 2000: Traded by Indians in seven-player deal to Milwaukee. December 2003: Traded by Brewers in nine-player deal to Arizona. November 2004: Granted free agency. December 2004: Signed as a free agent by the Mariners. July 2008: Released by the Mariners.
Career MLB STATISTICS
MLB totals1345490074612792591730593714582 1303.261