Print and Go Back Baseball [Print without images]

Thursday, July 20, 2006
Updated: July 21, 9:30 AM ET
Jays manager Gibbons challenged Hillenbrand to fight news services

TORONTO -- After Shea Hillenbrand wrote on the clubhouse bulletin board that the "ship was sinking," Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons challenged him to a fight.

"He challenged me to a fight, and wanted me to get up and punch him in the face," Hillenbrand told FAN 590 in Toronto.

There was no brawl, but the tense relationship between the two reached the breaking point during a team meeting Wednesday night. Gibbons was adamant that he would've quit if Hillenbrand wasn't cut.

"That's a fact. That's how the whole thing got started," Gibbons said before Thursday night's game against the Yankees. "I told him he won't see the field as long as I'm here."

The Blue Jays designated Hillenbrand for assignment during the game, giving them 10 days to trade, release or send him outright to the minors.

Hillenbrand was batting .301 with 12 homers, 15 doubles and 39 RBI. Known as an extremely intense player, he has moved from Boston to Arizona to Toronto. He had a $5.8 million contract for this season.

"I believe we'll have five or six teams interested in Shea," said his agent, Dan Lozano.

The Blue Jays, who spent millions in the offseason to build a contender, began the day six games behind Boston in the AL East.

Hillenbrand had been upset because he felt the Blue Jays were not sensitive that he needed several days to complete the adoption of a baby girl on the West Coast over the weekend. The designated hitter and corner infielder was not in the starting lineup when he returned.

Earlier Wednesday, Hillenbrand wrote "play for yourself" on a board the Blue Jays use to post batting practice times. He later wrote the "ship was sinking" and Gibbons confronted him.

"Gibby called a team meeting and then he stood up and reamed me out in front of my teammates," Hillenbrand told The Toronto Star. "I'm very disappointed about what he did and I find it very unprofessional."

Gibbons acknowledged he challenged Hillenbrand to a fight.

"He had a chance yesterday to defend himself in front of his coaches and his teammates. He chose not to," Gibbons said.

Gibbons said someone was done in Toronto -- him or Hillenbrand.

"If the front office felt differently than he wins and I lose, and I would be the one out of here," Gibbons said. "I mean it. It was either him or me."

Asked if Hillenbrand did it because he wanted out, Gibbons said: "I know he wanted to get out. That's no secret. To be honest I don't think he really wanted to be here for the last two years."

"You're either with us or you're not," he said. "He got his wish. It's that simple."

Said Lozano, the agent: "From everything Shea told me of the situation, I think it all could've been avoided had it been handled differently."

Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi was getting acupuncture treatment and had eight needles in his back when he learned what Hillenbrand wrote.

Ricciardi agreed that Hillenbrand had go to.

"We are a better team without him," Ricciardi said. "I would rather lose than sell myself out to have someone play here that says those type of things about organization."

Ricciardi objected that Hillenbrand said there isn't a winning atmosphere in Toronto. He added, "Gibby's job is more secure than it's ever been."

Ricciardi said he wasn't surprised by Hillenbrand's behavior -- Hillenbrand once called Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein a derogatory term for homosexuals.

"He made some pretty disparaging remarks when he left Boston. I don't think people forgot that," Ricciardi said.

"I don't think his behavior is inconsistent with what his reputation has been. People knew the deal," he said. "The cards are on the table, so if someone wants Shea Hillenbrand we'll try to make a deal. Enough clubs called today."

With the trade deadline approaching July 31, Ricciardi said he's looking for a pitcher than can help this year.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.