Chalk-board message the last straw

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:50 AM ET

Team Turmoil will be back in action at the Rogers Centre tonight.

Oh yeah, and the New York Yankees will be there, too.

With the Texas Rangers in town last night, the volatility of the Cito Gaston-David Wells mound clash from years past came to mind, with Wells heaving the ball down the left-field line and Gaston confronting Wells in the tunnel.

The Blue Jays last night said goodbye to the Shea Hey Kid -- Shea Hillenbrand -- choosing to designate their designated hitter.

They have 10 days to trade him or release him, which makes him a free agent.

Hillenbrand flew to Los Angeles after last Friday's game as he and his wife were adopting a baby and returned an hour before Tuesday's game. He was not in the lineup last night and blasted management before the game.

"This had nothing to do with him adopting a baby," said Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi, who added that the breakup was due to, "irreconcilable differences."

It had a lot to do with Hillenbrand writing: "This is a sinking ship" on the chalkboard where batting practice times are written.

The team was having a players-only meeting, called by Vernon Wells, when in stormed irate manager John Gibbons.

According to one unnamed Blue Jay: "The manager said: 'You're gone! I'll be gone before you ever play another game in this organization.'

"It was as hot as I've ever seen (Gibbons) and that includes all of his ejections."

Hillenbrand was hitting .301 with 12 homers and 39 RBIs in 81 games. How easy is it to replace that?

"He was a cancer in this clubhouse," another player said. "Shea's day went the way the lineup card went. If he was in the lineup, everything was fine. If he wasn't he'd sulk. Sometimes he wouldn't even come out to hit."

Hillenbrand has a passion for being in the everyday lineup and most managers say there's nothing wrong with that. He made 17 starts at first base, 15 at third base and 43 as the designated hitter.

"I got along with him, but his sense of humour rubbed some people the wrong way," Wells said.

Hillenbrand's sense of humour included ripping the Canadian flag crest off the hat that the Jays wore Canada Day in a 5-2 win over the Philadelphia Phillies, according to a team official. Hillenbrand had been taken out of that game in the seventh inning.

Hillenbrand did have his supporters, such as Wells.

"From an outsider's view, some things he said could be taken the wrong way," Wells said. "Everyone in the clubhouse knew it was Shea being Shea."

By an outsider's view, Wells likely meant down the hall to the manager's office or up three floors to the GM's office.

The Rangers and the Minnesota Twins were interested in acquiring Hillenbrand. But the Jays are no longer dealing from a position of strength when it comes to dealing a player earning $5.8 million US this season.

"Hopefully, we can deal with this and move on," Lyle Overbay said. "We have a chance to do something really good here."

The question asked by baseball people as moves are made at deadline time is the same: Are we better today than we were yesterday? The Jays moved to within 11 days of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline not as strong as they were a week ago.

"I don't know if we're stronger," Ricciardi said, "but you learn as a little kid that you have to play as part of the team. Even if this hurts us, no one is bigger than the team -- you have to do what is right for the organization."

"I wouldn't say we're a better team now, but I also wouldn't say that we are a worse team," Wells said. "We have guys in here who can step up and play."

On Monday, the Jays were without Troy Glaus (back), Alex Rios (ankle) and Hillenbrand, but still scored 10 runs against Texas. Then they dropped the final two games of the series.

Earlier in the season, the Jays tried to deal Hillenbrand to the Los Angeles Angels for second baseman Adam Kennedy.

The Jays continue to look for set-up help to bridge the gap between their starters and closer B.J. Ryan, as well as a starting shortstop.

And now a DH, as well?


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