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Archive for Sunday, March 25, 2001

Henson drops football for Yanks

Quarterback/infielder leaves Michigan for six-year, $17 million contract

March 25, 2001

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— Drew Henson went with his first love, baseball.

The Michigan quarterback, in line to be the top pick in next year's NFL draft, agreed Saturday to a $17 million, six-year contract with the New York Yankees and is giving up football.

"To me, there would be no greater goal than to help win a World Series for the New York Yankees," Henson said. "I will keep memories of the University of Michigan close to my heart."

Henson, 21, is to report to the Yankees on Monday and will likely spend much of the season at Triple-A Columbus, Ohio where Michigan defeated Ohio State 38-26 last November in what Henson called the highlight of his college career.

Walking away from his senior season as the Wolverines' quarterback for a chance at becoming the Yankees' starting third baseman in 2002 was "the biggest sacrifice I will ever make," Henson said.

"I wanted to prove I could be a great quarterback, and to this point I have," he said. By focusing on one sport, Henson said, "it'll be easier on my body, it'll be a little easier on my mind. My goal is to get to New York as soon as possible."

The Yankees drafted Henson in 1998 and signed him for a $2 million bonus. Under the new contract, he is forbidden from playing football.

"We got back at the NFL from taking (John) Elway away from us years ago," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said, referring to a former Yankees farmhand who became one of pro football's greatest players.

Henson played in the Yankees minor league system until he was dealt to Cincinnati last July in a trade that brought Denny Neagle to New York.

Convinced they couldn't sign him, the Reds traded Henson back to New York on Wednesday along with outfielder Michael Coleman for outfield prospect Wily Mo Pena.

Asked if he would have returned to Michigan this fall if he were still in the Cincinnati organization, Henson said, "I don't know."

Comparing the Yankees with Michigan's powerful football program, he said, "Why not go to the team with the most tradition, with the best chance to win? I couldn't hold out any longer. I was ready to go."

Henson had a chance to be selected by the expansion Houston as the top pick in the 2002 NFL draft and would have received more money up front, probably a signing bonus larger than $10 million.

His contract with the Yankees calls for a $1 million signing bonus, salaries of $1 million in each of the first two seasons, $2 million in 2003, $2.2 million in 2004, $3.8 million in 2005 and $6 million in 2006.

New York was reluctant to part with Henson last year but made the trade as part of a midseason roster overhaul. It turned out to be successful because the Yankees won their third straight World Series and fourth in five years.

Henson led Michigan to a 9-3 record and No. 11 ranking last season after missing the Wolverines' first 3 1/2 games with a broken foot.

Henson hit .266 with nine homers in 308 at-bats last season, mostly in Double-A. He struggled after the trade, hitting .172 in 16 games for Double-A Chattanooga.

New York now has two potential replacements at third base for Scott Brosius, whose contract expires after this season. At the start of spring training, the Yankees signed Cuban defector Andy Morales.

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