The Jackson Hammerheads‘ patience closer with troubled closer Rick Sheen has finally reached its limit. After a season-plus of shaky on-field results and off-field problems with alcohol, Sheen has been bumped from the closer role. According to team sources, manager Bob Henley has been contemplating the move for a while, but finally pulled the trigger after an embarrassing incident in yesterday’s game.
Sheen worked the 9th inning of yesterday’s 4-1 win over Orlando, but observers noticed that for some reason, he was wearing teammate Hilton Sircy’s jersey while he did so. Henley refused to comment on it after the game, but team sources described a chaotic and bizarre scene.
The night before, Henley had called on Sircy, not Sheen, in a key situation in the 9th. As a result, Sheen went out and drowned his frustrations at a local bar for hours afterward. When Sheen arrived at the ballpark yesterday, he was reportedly extremely hung over. In the early innings of the games, he napped in the bullpen, trying to sleep off his hangover.
During the top of the 9th, Henley called down to the bullpen and ordered Sheen to warm up. Bullpen coach Tommy Clemons went over to rouse Sheen, who had dozed off. When Sheen came to, he immediately threw up all over his jersey. A flustered Clemons called Henley and told him that Sheen was unavailable. When Henley asked why and Clemons said that Sheen was hungover, the manager became furious. “He damn well better get his [expletive] in the game. I don’t care if you have to carry him in.”
To spare Sheen the embarrassment of appearing in a stained jersey, Sircy offered his shirt to the closer. So out came Sheen, wearing Sircy’s jersey. To his credit, he managed to pitch a scoreless inning – lowering his ERA to 9.26, and collect his fourth save of the season. After the game, Henley held a closed-door meeting with Sheen that lasted over a half-hour.
Trouble with alcohol has been a constant of Sheen’s brief career, dating back to spring training of his rookie season, when he was arrested after being in a bar fight. He clashed on several occasions with the late Lou Hayes, Jackson’s manager last season, over his penchant for drinking and partying. At the team’s insistence, Sheen went to the Betty Ford Clinic in the offseason. But as his season got off to a rocky start, he took to the bottle again.
“Look, I like Rick,” said Henley. “I hoped it wouldn’t come to this. But I’ve got a ballclub to run, and we’ve got to win games. And right now, Rick’s not helping us do that.”
Henley said that Bobby Boniface will take over as the Hammerheads’ closer. Sheen will be relegated to mopup duty until he can straighten out his pitching and get his drinking under control.
To soften the blow, Henley and Jackson owner/whiz-kid GM Steven Butler reportedly took Sheen out for an evening on the town, enjoying a fine meal and a night of gambling at the casino attached to Orlando’s stadium. “Rick may not be our closer any more, but he’s still part of the family,” said Butler. Rumors that the evening came to a premature end when the owner/whiz-kid GM took a swing at another patron are unconfirmed.