When push came to shoving Richie Sexson out the door, his former employers say it was the way he acted off the field when kept out of the lineup on Wednesday that ultimately sealed the move.
OAKLAND, Calif. — What finally pushed Richie Sexson out of a Mariners uniform wasn’t just his failures on the field.
To hear his former team tell it, a roller-coaster 3 ½-year relationship between Sexson and his “hometown” squad didn’t end exclusively because he’d hit only two home runs since May 24. It didn’t end because his .218 batting average was the worst of any major-leaguer with at least 250 at-bats. Or because the supposed power-hitting first baseman had a lowly .381 slugging percentage.
When push came to shoving Sexson out the door, his former employers say it was the way he acted off the field when kept out of the lineup on Wednesday that ultimately sealed the move.
“If I felt that he could handle the next couple of weeks with less playing time, I would not have agreed with the move,” Mariners manager Jim Riggleman said. “But [Wednesday], his body language was such that he looked like he wasn’t going to handle it at all.”
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Sexson, 33, was told of the move late Wednesday night at the team hotel in San Francisco. The Mariners announced it Thursday morning on a busy day in which pitcher Erik Bedard was also placed on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to July 5, with stiffness in his left shoulder.
The team called up infielder Tug Hulett and relief pitcher Jared Wells from Class AAA Tacoma to fill the roster spots vacated by Sexson and Bedard. Hulett was acquired from Texas last winter in the Ben Broussard trade; Wells came over from San Diego in the Cha Seung Baek deal in May.
For now, the team will give Jose Vidro the bulk of playing time at first base against right-handed pitchers, and Miguel Cairo will play the position against left-handers.
Mariners interim general manager Lee Pelekoudas said the team is likely not done making moves and could do more as the July 31 trade deadline approaches. Pelekoudas said the three-run homer belted by Sexson in the series opener on Monday, followed by a double on Tuesday, did little to impact a move he’d contemplated for several days.
“We just thought it was time. When we made the managerial change here, one thing we said is, we’re going to give everybody a chance to play,” Pelekoudas said. “We gave Richie and others ample opportunity to produce.”
Sexson hit 39 home runs and added 121 runs batted in during the 2005 season, his first under a four-year, $50 million contract that enabled the native of Brush Prairie to play in his home state. He added 34 homers and 107 RBI in an up-and-down 2006 season, then plummeted to a .205 batting average, 21 homers and 63 RBI last year.
Riggleman had already decided to cut Sexson’s playing time. Sexson was only going to start against left-handed pitchers.
“I think he would have given us power immediately against left-handers,” Riggleman said. “[Against] right-handers, I think the power would have come eventually.”
But a team that has struggled with leadership and clubhouse issues all season wasn’t about to let Sexson become a distraction.
“Look, I’ve been managing here for 19 days,” Riggleman said. “I’ve sat him twice and seen the same reaction both times. It wasn’t going to work.”
Riggleman added: “Richie is an everyday player. He’s been an everyday player for a long time and he’s earned the right to come to the ballpark and not to have to wonder whether he’s going to be in the lineup. He needs to play, or go somewhere else where he’s going to play every day.”
And he was no longer going to get that in Seattle.
Riggleman likened the situation to what happened between Frank Thomas and the Toronto Blue Jays earlier this year. Thomas complained after being told his playing time would be reduced and the Blue Jays, worried about a clubhouse distraction, quickly released him.
The Mariners are on the hook for $14 million owed to Sexson for the remainder of this season, though any team picking him up after he clears waivers — the period ends next Monday — can have him for the $390,000 major-league minimum.
“The manager’s got to be able to make a lineup out without feeling somebody’s going to be unhappy,” Riggleman said. “If we sat Willie Bloomquist and he was unhappy, we could handle it. But if one of your big boys is down in the dumps, that can take others down.”
Sexson was a popular player in some clubhouse circles. He was regularly surrounded by teammates like Bloomquist, Jamie Burke and Jeremy Reed, sitting by his locker, on a sofa watching television, or at a table for a game of cards.
“He’s part of the identity of the team,” Riggleman said. “And when the identity of the team is sitting down, everybody wonders what the heck is going on.”
Bloomquist said Sexson could look in the mirror at the end of the day and know he gave it his all.
“He had pressures a lot of us didn’t have,” he said, calling Sexson the best teammate he ever had. “But he showed up to play.”
Sexson had worked in indoor batting cages before games with since-fired hitting coach Jeff Pentland, both last season and this year. And he worked behind the scenes on a new batting stance with Pentland’s replacement, Lee Elia. The idea was for Sexson to employ a more open stance.
But he became more of a singles hitter than the power guy so desperately needed. Sexson was 27 for 94 (.287) since making the change, but only four of those hits went for extra bases.
“What he’s here for is to provide power, RBIs,” Pelekoudas said. “And we just didn’t see that from him enough.”
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com/Mariners