Mets tab Rickey to lend his expertise

Mets tab Rickey to lend his expertise

NEW YORK -- The Mets' late-season push fell short in 2001, and when the team struggled mightily in 2002, the heat on general manager Steve Phillips intensified. The primary focal point of public dissatisfaction with the team Phillips had created was Roger Cedeno, a player of significant impact with the Mets in 1999 who subsequently was traded and, before the 2002 season, re-signed as a free agent.

Cedeno stumbled during his second hitch with the Mets, no semblance of the player who had established a franchise record for stolen bases (66) and scored 90 runs in 525 plate appearances three years earlier. He was lacking in the outfield and, to a greater degree, on the bases and at-bat. The reason: he was lacking Rickey Henderson, too.

Henderson had been Cedeno's personal tutor in 1999, sharing his expertise with his younger teammate in a way no one had foreseen when he signed with the Mets in December '98. Henderson taught Cedeno technique, strategy, discipline at the plate and, more important, a don't-care-if-you-get-thrown-out attitude that fueled Cedeno's finest season.

And now the Mets want Henderson to share his considerable baseball experience with their current roster and specifically with Jose Reyes -- the player who last season approached the club's stolen base record -- five-tool prospect Lastings Milledge and second base aspirant Anderson Hernandez. The Mets have arranged for Henderson, the greatest leadoff hitter and most prolific base stealer of all time, to spend one week as an instructor during Spring Training, after the players return from the World Baseball Classic, and another during the regular season.

"What better guy is there to teach our guys how to steal a base and what it takes to get on base?" Mets GM Omar Minaya said on Friday during a conference call with reporters. "He'll help all of us. He'll help me. It's up to us to tap into what Rickey knows."

The Mets general manager said he told Henderson during the 2002 World Series that he might someday want to take advantage of his baseball savvy. When Minaya recently received a call about Henderson from Dave Stewart, now an agent and once Henderson's teammate with the A's, he recalled Henderson's influence on Cedeno and others. The idea of using Henderson's expertise was rekindled.

Henderson, now 47 and less than 2 1/2 years removed from his last Major League appearance, still isn't ready to retire. But he said Thursday he has reached a point where he wants to "give back to the game" and "help the young kids."

"I felt I have a lot to give back," he said. But he also said he is in good shape and "willing to do that" if some club asks him to audition.

Henderson said he looks forward to working with Mets manager Willie Randolph, his teammate with the Yankees from 1985 through June 1989 and with the A's in 1990. Henderson said he feels close to Randolph, who begins his second year managing shortly. His first season in Queens produced the Run Run Randolph Mets and 153 stolen bases, the third most in club history and the most -- by far -- in the National League last season. Moreover, the Mets were caught stealing only 40 times. The 12 National League teams caught less often averaged merely 78 steals.

The announcement involving Henderson came out of left field, literally. He was the Mets' all-but-regular left fielder in 1999 and appeared in 31 games in 2000 before his release -- prompted by hustle issues -- on May 13.

Minaya said he told no one other than Carlos Beltran of his plan, keeping it quiet for fear other clubs would pursue Henderson.

Henderson enjoyed a 25-year, nine-club, 13-stop career that produced more stolen bases (1,406) and runs (2,295) than any player in Major League history.

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.