Rickey Henderson says he is happy to be back with the Oakland A's. It is the organization he grew up in, and where he had his best years.
But, all things considered, Henderson wouldn't mind being in Dunedin this weekend, playing leftfield for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Henderson finished last season with the Jays, after a July 31 trade from Oakland. Injuries to his left foot and his hands curtailed his contributions, but he still thought he helped the Jays win their second straight championship. He was a little surprised when the Blue Jays didn't make an attempt to re-sign him.
"I was very disappointed," he said.
Henderson was having an outstanding season _ "an MVP-type season," he said _ with the A's (.327, 104 hits in 90 games, 17 homers, 31 steals). He knows he didn't show the Jays much with a .215 average and limited production (eight extra-base hits and 12 RBI) in 44 games and a .170 batting average in the post-season.
"But they know what I'm capable of doing," Henderson said. He hears that the Jays are considering two rookies _ Robert Perez and Rob Butler _ for leftfield and says he is even more surprised. "They ain't got nothing," he said.
"I loved it there," Henderson said. "It was just a unit. The manager let you be free. The fans back you and they believe in you. Even though they're a little quiet, they're behind you."
When the Jays weren't interested, Henderson expected a huge offer from the New York Yankees. When that didn't materialize, he decided to go home to Oakland, signing a two-year, $8.6-million deal.
While he said he is excited to be back, he admitted to feeling a little blue. "With what Oakland paid, anybody could've gotten me," he said.
The "A" line: Oakland manager Tony La Russa doesn't think the A's, coming off a 94-loss, seventh-place finish, are that far from contention. With Henderson re-signed (and possibly moving from leadoff to No. 3 in the batting order) and Mark McGwire healthy again, La Russa said the A's have "an everyday lineup that can play with anybody." The key is how well their young pitchers perform. "I've been reading that we are a dark horse at best," La Russa said. "I think we're a dark horse at worst."
Mitch's pitch: Former Phillies closer Mitch Williams said he got one endorsement offer before being traded to Houston _ from a house relocation company. "I thought that was poetic," Williams said.
Jordan rules: As Michael Jordan tries to make the well-publicized switch from basketball to baseball, he faces a series of adjustments. Going from the superstar of one league to a fringe player in another he can handle. Adapting to the slower pace of baseball has been a challenge. "Patience is a virtue here," he said. "That's why a lot of guys fish. Very few basketball players did. Everyone here loves to fish or hunt. I never really got into it. It takes the same adaptation to learn baseball. The patience of waiting for your pitch, of waiting for the ball to be hit to you. I have to be patient."
Big Mac: The big story in the Mariners camp is Japanese pitcher Makoto "Mac" Suzuki. There have been about 25 Japanese journalists following the 18-year-old right-hander, who pitched last season with Class A San Bernardino (4-4, 3.68 ERA, 12 saves, 87 Ks in 81 innings). M's manager Lou Piniella said Suzuki has been impressive. "He's got a good arm, he works hard and he throws strikes," Piniella said. "He's got the tools to pitch in the major leagues. He's got an outside chance to make our team." Suzuki would be the second Japanese player to compete in the majors (Masanori Murakami pitched for San Francisco in 1964-65) and the first to do so without playing professionally in Japan.
Brave front: Atlanta manager Bobby Cox reminded his players they were winners despite failing to win a championship. "We've won more games (296) than anyone the past three years," Cox said. "I know some people out there consider us losers. That drives me crazy." The Braves may release outfielder Ron Gant, out three months after breaking his leg in a dirt-bike accident, by March 15 and thus only be responsible for about $917,000 of his $5.5-million contract.
Expanding views: While it was encouraging that an expansion committee was appointed last week and there was lots of talk that Tampa Bay and Phoenix are the favorites, it looks like it might be 1998 before the new teams play a game. Why so long? Phoenix needs three full years to build a stadium, and expansion leader Jerry Colangelo said there are no other options. Any new teams would have to start play together, Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said. Phoenix, though, may help force the initial expansion decision since legislation to raise money to build the stadium is available only until April 1995.
Miscellany: Oakland and Detroit are considering joining the Mariners in Japan for a season-opening series next year. Shawon Dunston says he is healthy and ready to play again.