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Henderson replacing Down as coach for Mets

7/12/2007

NEW YORK -- Rickey Henderson will be the newest coach on the
New York Mets staff -- when he reaches New York.

Henderson was traveling Thursday as the Mets announced his
hiring and the dismissal of hitting coach Rick Down. It has not
been decided whether Henderson or first-base coach Howard Johnson
will replace Down.

"We don't know what his role will be yet," general manager
Omar Minaya said. "We have not defined who will be hitting
coach."

Johnson filled the hitting coach role in Thursday night's game
against the Cincinnati Reds.

The NL East leaders made two other moves, promoting 22-year-old
outfielder Lastings Milledge from the minors and designating
48-year-old Julio Franco for assignment. Franco, the oldest player
in the majors, turns 49 next month and has pledged to play until
he's 50.

New York also signed infielder Marlon Anderson to a minor league
contract. Anderson, who played in 123 games for the Mets two years
ago, was released by the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 9.

In a way, the firing of Down and the release of Franco were
related. As manager Willie Randolph's primary righty pinch-hitter,
Franco has struggled all season, batting just .200 in 50 at-bats
with one home run and eight RBIs. He was one of several Mets
hitters who have not performed as expected at bat this season.

"The offensive approach the last few weeks was not what I feel
it should be," Minaya said. "I feel we should be doing better
than we've done. It was the judgment of me and my staff that things
were not going well."

Going into the second half of the season, Mets had a team
batting average of .268, sixth in the league. They were 10th in
runs scored.

All-Star third baseman David Wright did not have a home run in
the month of April. All-Star center fielder Carlos Beltran was
hitting just .264. First baseman Carlos Delgado struggled through
most of the first three months and reached the All-Star break
batting just .242.

"Sometimes you've got to make changes and I felt this is the
time for us to make the changes," Minaya said.

The GM said he huddled with his staff and manager Willie
Randolph before hiring Henderson, who has worked in the
organization as a special instructor for the last two years. "It
would be a risk to bring in somebody the players don't know,"
Minaya said.

"Rickey is a future Hall of Famer, He's looking forward to the
challenge. We felt doing this move puts us in a better situation to
win games in the second half."

Randolph called the dismissal of Down "an organization
decision." The hitting coach had worked with Randolph in the
Yankee organization .

"I brought Rick here," the manager said. "He's my coach. He's
my brother."

Minaya said he believed Franco's 29-year professional career
would continue. "Julio feels he can play," the GM said.

Franco's professional career began in 1978. He has played all
over the globe, continuing his career in Japan, Korea and Mexico
after he seemed to reach the end of the line with Milwaukee in
1997. He came into this season with a career batting average of
299.

He was an important clubhouse and bench presence with the Mets
and batted .273 in 95 games last season.

Milledge has been the franchise's top outfield prospect and
batted .241 in 56 games with New York last season. But his progress
was delayed this season when he sprained his foot and spent six
weeks on the disabled list. He batted . 333 in 11 games at Triple-A
New Orleans and .435 in five games at Double-A Binghamton.

"It's good to come here and be back where you feel you're
supposed to be," he said.