A Red Sox Journal
The Buffalo Head Society
Jim Leyritz's Little Shop of Horrors
By David Nevard
with Karen Johnson & Norman Neu
On September 20, the Peter Gammons Sunday column in the Boston Globe featured a cryptic little item. Former Red Sox Jim Leyritz told this story about GM Dan Duquette:
"He called me into Jimy Williams's office one day and started the conversation with 'Do you know your wife has a problem?' It seems that my wife and kid like to buy costume stuff at a store in Waltham, and the Red Sox made some assumptions and accusations they couldn't back up. She wanted to take legal action, but I just challenged them, and they never backed it up. But the damage was done. What do they do, spy on all their players? They did on Mo. We all know that."
What exactly were these assumptions and accusations?
We can assume the Leyritzes lived in the brand-new luxury apartment complex in downtown Waltham; nine Sox players live there on short term leases. A few blocks up the street, where gentrification hasn't set in, is the old corner Costume Shop, Waltham's only costume shop according to the Yellow Pages. So we'll assume this is the shop the Globe mentioned.
The accusations were clarified on October 18, when the Globe ran a short piece by beat writer Gordon Edes, who wrote "a source who had firsthand knowledge of the situation said that the Red Sox implied that Leyritz's wife, Karri, had a drug problem because she frequented a costume shop in Waltham that apparently sold drug paraphernalia. According to the source, Karri Leyritz went on her own for a drug test, and when the results came up negative, she brought the information to Duquette and threatened a lawsuit." No lawsuit had actually been filed, however, and Leyritz didn't want to go into detail about the incident.
BHS Staffer Karen Johnson commented, "I wonder if it's dawned on the reporter (as it may haye to DD and the Red Sox) that, theoretically speaking, a person buying things isn't necessarily using them herself. A threat to sue certainly might distract everyone from the issue at hand."
"Then, of course, Karri Leyritz just may be a costume freak... heck, most MLB players' wives are. But they don't buy their get-ups at a costume shop..."
"I'm completely dumbfounded"
Levritz came to the Red Sox on November 6, 1997' along with Damon Buford, in a trade that sent Aaron Sele, Mark Brandenburg, and Bill Haselman toTexas. Leyritz's contract stipulated that if Jim got 400 plate appearances, a $2 million option would kick in for 1999. "I want an opportunity to see what I could do with 400-to-500 at bats." Jim said. Of course, Jim Leyritz has not actually made 400 plate appearances since Double-A ball in 1989. But he's still battling for that elusive regular catching job. According to Leyritz, Dan Duquette told him that the Red Sox planned to use him to catch between 80 and 90 games, as well as use him as a righthanded DH and to give occasional breathers to Valentin at third and Vaughn at first.
But at the end of spring training manager Jimy Williams told Leyritz that, in effect, Jason Varitek had beaten him out for the catching job, and he would be sharing the DH role with Reggie Jefferson. "I'm completely dumbfounded," Leyritz told The Sporting News in March. "I was under the impression I came here to catch. It's frustrating. But I've been through this before."
By June 17, Leyritz had accumulated only 119 at-bats and wanted to be traded. "Right now, I have to go with the assumption that I'm going to be a free agent next year," Leyritz told reporters. "I don't want to go to the bargaining table with 200-250 at-bats. I think a trade is a good possibility. Dan has been very cooperative with my agents as far as discussing possibilities and they want to make sure they get equal value. I don't think they're just going to give me away, but at the same time I don't think they want me here unhappy, either."
"We're not really shopping the kid around." general manager Dan Duquette said of Leyritz. "He has value to a lot of clubs -- he's a proven major league hitter. But he also has value to our club. I think Mr. Leyritz' agent is very interested in getting him traded."
It was during this period that Duquette had the Costume Shop meeting with Leyritz. Was Dan Duquette having players' families spied on? Or did some observant bystander -- a Waltham cop, perhaps -- relay the information to Red Sox management?
Was Duquette trying to help a player in trouble? Or was he pressuring Leyritz to shut up and play ball?
Publicly, the two sides were talking options and playing time.
The team concept... good chemistry
Leyritz said he would accept his reduced role if Duquette picked up his option. "Pick up the option. call it a wash," Leyritz said. "But they didn't even consider it." On June 21 Leyritz and minor leaguer Ethan Faggett were sent to San Diego for RHP Dario Veras, RHP Carlos Reyes, and C Mandy Romero.
"Trading Leyrirz," Duquette said, "reinforces the team concept and commitment every player makes to the other players on the roster ... To have good chemistry, everybody has to make a sacrifice to be a part of the team ... Jim Leyritz was not satisfied with his role on this team. We thought it best for the ballclub, with the season it has going. to make a change that allows him to pursue his goals with another ballclub."
Leyritz said. "If Dan can look somebody in the face - and I know he can, because he lies right through people - and say that he traded Aaron Sele for a close-to-$2 million catcher/utilityman who would never play in the field for two months, then he's a bigger man than me. ALso a huge liar. You don't trade Aaron Sele and Bill Haselman for a platoon outfielder [Buford] and a platoon DH. That doesn't make sense.
"The bottom line is Dan made a commitment to me that he didn't communicate to his manager. And now he's trying to smear me. I think Dan knows he made a mistake. Whether he's willing to admit it. I don't know. If I were in his position. I wouldn't admit it, either. Who was I traded for?" Leyritz said.
"Ask Dan Duquette this: Is he trying to win a World Series, or is he trying to win in the future?"
Back in Texas, the Rangers were certainly happy with their end of the deal. 28-year-old Aaron Sele proved that the Boston Brain Trust had given up on him too soon; he went 19-11 with a 4.23 ERA. Bill Haselman had a good year in the shadow of Pudge Rodriguez, batting .314 with 6 homers.
As it turned out, Reggie Jefferson went down with an injury, and on July 30 the Red Sox traded minor league pitchers Peter Munro and Jay Yennaco to Toronto for Mike Stanley ~ who is basically the same player as Leyritz: a righthanded ex-Yankee catcher who is now a DH. Leyritz hit .287 with 8 homers for the Sox. Stanley hit .288 with 7 homers.
"Somewhere down the line, they're going to miss me."
"It may not show up now," Leyritz said when he was traded, "but somewhere down the line, they're going to miss me being there. When it comes down to crunch time, hopefully those kids will come through for them. I know I would have. I've been there."
In the division series, Mike Stanley, hampered by a hamstring injury, hit .267 with four singles and no RBIs. The Red Sox showed a glaring lack of power hitting beyond Garciaparra & Vaughn, and no bench strength.
In his division series, Jim Leyritz became America's bald-headed television hero, hitting .400 with 3 monster dutch home runs. As Baseball Weekly put it, "He nearly won Game Two with his two-out, two-strike, pinch-hit home run off Billy Wagner. His solo shot decided Game Three. Then he went deep again in Game Four."
Leyritz went on to hit another homer in the NLCS, and earned a title shot at the Stadium. "I think Dan Duquette blew it," Leyritz told the Providence Journal during the World Series. "There were 25 guys there, and I liked every one. We had a lot of good guys in Boston. I was sorry to see them lose. But I'm glad to be here. and I'm glad Dan Duquette is sitting at home.'
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