Phillies give Tyler Houston the boot Management considered the team's top pinch-hitter to be a negative force in the clubhouse.

Posted: August 31, 2003

NEW YORK — In a move that shocked the Phillies clubhouse and left at least one player believing the team had been weakened in the middle of a pennant race, the club yesterday cut loose its best pinch-hitter.

Tyler Houston was designated for assignment. General manager Ed Wade, who made it clear that he and manager Larry Bowa believed that Houston had become a divisive force in the clubhouse, has 10 days to trade or release the player.

"The feedback I was getting was Tyler wasn't happy with his role," Wade said before last night's game against the New York Mets at Shea Stadium. "Because of the situation, we thought it would be best to move him out of the environment, so we did.

"In his role, Tyler did his job. I wish he was accepting of his role. The fact that he wasn't happy was impacting negatively in the clubhouse."

The Phillies recalled infielder Nick Punto from triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to replace Houston on the 25-man roster.

The move surprised most players, and one of them, catcher Mike Lieberthal, voiced the opinion that Houston's release could be detrimental to the team. Houston, a lefthanded hitter, was 13 for 29 with eight RBIs as a pinch-hitter.

"I think it makes us worse," Lieberthal said. "We lost a good lefthanded bat at this part of the season. It surprised me, unless you're adding something that would help us. When I heard it this morning, I was like 'Did we get a pitcher?' "

Houston's release was the latest of a series of dramas that has surrounded the team in recent days. On Thursday, Bowa blew up at the team and pitcher Brett Myers had a heated argument with pitching coach Joe Kerrigan.

"I don't know what's going on around here," Lieberthal said. "I just come play. I really don't understand all this craziness."

Bowa indicated that Houston had recently grumbled about a lack of playing time. Houston left the team hotel late yesterday morning and was unavailable for comment.

"He was a guy who would speak his mind," Lieberthal said. "But if he was a detriment in the clubhouse, I didn't see it."

Wade agreed with Lieberthal's assessment that the move weakened the team on the field. But Wade, after attending a meeting requested by Bowa and the coaching staff after Friday night's game, decided that cutting Houston was the right thing to do.

So why was Houston let go? Clearly, if the Phillies wanted Punto so badly, they could have waited until Monday when rosters expanded to 40 and he could have been added in a bloodless transaction.

There were indications last night that Bowa and the coaching staff - as well as some players - were furious with Pat Burrell's behavior after he homered in the second inning Friday night. Burrell took a noticeably circuitous route back to the dugout and did not shake Bowa's hand.

Burrell denied snubbing Bowa a day after the manager unloaded on the team. Bowa yesterday said he didn't notice what Burrell had done, and Wade said it was not an issue.

However, there were indications that Bowa and the coaches were upset enough about Burrell's actions - unwitting or not - that they suggested to Wade that Houston, a close friend of Burrell's, had become a bad influence on the underachieving slugger.

Houston was on a one-year contract. Burrell signed a six-year, $50 million contract this winter. There's no way Burrell was getting released.

Some players privately believed Houston's release was management sending a message. Management says it was improving the clubhouse environment.

Whatever the case, Houston is gone and the Phillies' pinch-hitting force is down to Punto and Tomas Perez, both switch-hitters, lefthanded-hitting Ricky Ledee, and Jason Michaels and Todd Pratt, both righthanded hitters.

"I'm not worried about it," Bowa said of Houston's loss. "We've got people."

Extra bases. Wade said he is working on a trade, possibly for a reliever, and the deal could be done today, the final day to make players outside the organization eligible for the postseason. . . . Reliever Mike Williams was activated from the bereavement list and Geoff Geary was sent to the minors. Geary can rejoin the team tomorrow. . . . With lefty Tom Glavine pitching, Bobby Abreu got the night off and Michaels started in right field.

Contract staff writer Jim Salisbury at 215-854-4983 or jsalisbury@phillynews.com.

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