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by Editor Rick Cabral

Leon Lee

Sidebar: The St. Lucie Hotel Incident

As Leon Lee begins to tell his version of the Hotel Incident story, he adds “I don’t mind talking about it because it was something that really didn’t happen.” 

This is what reportedly happened, according to the New York Times story that summed up the situation one year after it occurred in April 2004: 

According to court records, five women who were part of a group staying at the Holiday Inn last year told the police that Lee exposed himself to each of them individually in the fourth-floor hallway on April 5 and 6. Four of the women said in their statements that Lee tried to engage them in conversation while naked. Two told the police that he fondled himself in front of them. 

On the night of April 6, the police were called to the hotel. On the morning of April 7, the Mets dispatched Rob Kasdon, their director of security, to Port St. Lucie. By April 8, Lee had been arrested and said that the Mets had forced him to resign, long before he had managed his first game in Brooklyn.  

Here is Lee’s version of the story.

Leon_Lee
Leon Lee

 

Lee had spent seven weeks in the hotel with his future rookie team players, Brooklyn Cyclones. Brett Butler, manager of the Mets’ Gulf Coast League rookie team, lived offsite with his family, but members of his club lived in the hotel as well. 

Lee lived in a suite that also served as the team’s meeting room, complete with ice chest stocked with cold drinks and a video machine so players could watch their practice performances. Players frequently came in and out of the room, according to Lee, who usually didn’t lock the door.  

On the evening of April 5th, a large group of young men and women checked in to the hotel on the same floor where Lee and his ballplayers were staying. The group’s partying grew louder and around 1 a.m. Lee says he asked a few of the men in the hallway to please keep the noise level down to allow his players—who were on curfew—to sleep. Women, Lee alleges, had been going up and down the hallway knocking on the doors to some of his players’ rooms.  

In response to the request to quiet down, some men cursed him with “F-bombs,” while holding as many as four bottles of beer in each hand (Lee mentions this point as he had never before seen anyone accomplish that bit of dexterity). 

Leon called down to the front desk. He cited the group’s actions and asked if they could be moved to another floor in the hotel. By this point, he was on very good terms with the front desk, as Lee was then on his second month at the Holiday Inn. He also called security to lodge a complaint. 

The next day, Leon’s team wasn’t scheduled to practice, so he went out to watch the Mets Gulf Coast League rookie game. When he returned late that afternoon, “all these people were gathered around the room (Lee’s suite). The police were there along with the hotel manager. One of the party crew guys saw Lee approach and told the police, “There he is.” 

Lee responded, “Yeah, I’m here. What’s going on?” The police pulled him off to the side and informed him a couple of young women reported that they saw Lee standing in the hallway that day “with no clothes on.” One also reported that Lee chased her down the hallway, naked, until she escaped into the elevator. And another reported she saw him ejaculating in the hallway. According to Lee, the hotel manager, still standing nearby, told the officer this was nonsense; these people had been running around partying late into the night and because Lee had tried to quiet them, had filed these complaints in retribution.  

The police asked if he had been opening his door. Lee confirmed that he had the night before to ask for the group to quiet down. “Security supported that.” He also told the New York Times reporter in 2005 that once he opened the door just after taking a shower, with a towel draped around him. 

Police asked Lee who had access to his hotel room in his absence. “’I don’t know. I can’t tell. There’s lots of guys who could have been in and out of my room.’ But I’m not going to point my finger (at one of his ballplayers),” he notes in retelling the story. “I didn’t want to get someone else in trouble.” 

Don Lyle, a scout with the Cleveland Indians, backs up one part of Lee’s story. “In my seven years in the (Reds) minor league system, especially in spring training, we would have girls come to our hotel rooms, knocking on a door until they find a ballplayer.” 

Leon managed to warn his high-profile son Derrek ahead of time before he was confronted by the sports media. Derrek Lee was entering his eighth year in the majors but the first with his new team—and Leon’s former employer—the Chicago Cubs. Ironically, that evening DLee got his first hit as a Cub when he homered in the 9th inning against the Reds.



The following day the Mets dispatched Ron Kasdon, their head of security, to meet with Lee. He presented Lee with a resignation letter severing ties with the organization but granting him severance pay.  Failing to sign the release agreement would result in termination.  

Lee was shocked by his employer’s response. He wasn’t even asked to explain his side of the story. He thought team management failed an old baseball axiom: if someone engages in a fight, the team has your back. The Mets obviously wanted no part of Lee’s fight. {Years later, Leon heard from someone inside the Mets organization that at the time of the incident team president Jeff Wilpon instructed his subordinates to “Get him (Lee) out of here. We don’t want to deal with it.” Their hasty reaction was due in part to having dealt with other similar off-field distractions. When contacted for their reaction this week the New York Mets emailed “We have no comment on the matter.”} 

Kasdon then drove Lee to the police station where he was booked on the two misdemeanor charges and released on bail. One officer told Lee he didn’t fit the profile of a flasher. Another, knowing he was the father of a famous ballplayer, asked for his autograph. Lee was equally encouraged and bemused by the policemen’s responses. 

Lee hired local Florida attorney Richard Kibbee who then hired an investigator who determined that the police failed to properly depose the accusers, who by that point had already returned to their home towns. Police initially took reports while the group was congregated in the hallway, which had the effect of influencing each other’s testimony. Reportedly one of them noted that this was “Derrek Lee’s dad,” Lee maintains. 

Others reportedly told the police, “We didn’t want it to go this far. We just wanted to get him (Lee) kicked out of the hotel.” 

Weeks and then months flew past as Lee awaited a trial date that would allow him to prove the charges false and clear his good name, which now was worse than Mudd in baseball circles. Berger, the assistant state attorney and Saint Lucie county prosecutor, offered a compromise solution that would drop the charges if Lee agreed to pay $500, perform 100 hours of community service, undergo a mental health evaluation and not be arrested in Florida for the next two years.

Lee refused to sign. “The only way to clear my good name was to win in court,” Lee says today. Twice, he flew to Florida with the anticipation the trial would happen, but it never transpired, leaving him dejected and unsatisfied.  

Leon discussed with his attorney the possibility of suing the New York Mets to clear his name. Kibbee responded “this is a real small matter. There’s nothing on your record.” When Leon protested, “Yes, but it never happened,” the attorney sagely advised him that small courts down in Florida could make it a big issue. He advised Lee to “let it go.” 

To ease the pain, Lee began playing golf regularly in Sacramento with Jerry Manuel, the former Cordova prep star and ex-major leaguer who had recently been fired as the manager of the Chicago White Sox (1998-2003). “That was like therapy for me. That’s when we reconnected, playing golf every day.”  

Although Lee had hoped to return to a position in organized ball, he never was hired again. “There was always that underlying, unspoken thing. You know you’ve been blackballed a little bit. It’s like when people say they “Googled you,” it’s old luggage.” 

Lee maintains if this incident had occurred while he was with the Cubs, “this never would have happened.” He believes their understanding of him as a person would have at minimum merited an investigation of the facts. “I’ve traveled all over the world and stayed in a lot of hotels. You would think if I was that type of person to do something like that it would have happened before.” 

At Lee’s suggestion, Kibbee and their investigator began building a public relations campaign soliciting statements of support and help from people inside baseball “That knew him and knew this could not be true. That speaks loudly for the wellspring of support he had across the country.” 

But the evidence and anecdotal support never publicly surfaced because the Saint Lucie prosecutor quietly dropped the case. Kibbee told BaseballSacramento.com “After a meeting with the prosecutor, it was decided that they would not proceed and the charges were dropped.”  

“The State of Florida realized they didn’t have a provable case. The evidence and testimony would not have stood up to scrutiny,” said Kibbee, who would have established that Lee’s character and motivation that night and afternoon “totally did not jibe with what the other side was (accusing him of).”

But Lee’s good name remained stained. “There would have been some benefit of taking the case to trial and winning,” Kibbee concedes. “But at the same point in time, the key was getting the case dropped and letting him move on with his life the best he could.” 

Asked if this could have been a case of mistaken identity, Kibbee replied “That was the weird part. Trying to establish what really happened was difficult and definitely would have been one of the explanations: he could have been away from the hotel when someone who looked like him (did the acts he was charged with). 

The other explanation: use of alcohol by some of the witnesses could have clouded their judgment, so that “they were just flat out wrong about some things.

“When you took it apart thread by thread so to speak it wasn’t there and he had no reason to do what they were claiming he did. Fortunately, the prosecutor kept an open mind and when we sat down and shared with him some of the material we had and were prepared to share with a jury, he realized that it wasn’t in the state of Florida’s best interest to put the court system, their office or Mr. Lee through a protracted trial when there was so little evidence to support it.” 

“I never knew Mr. Lee before this,” Kibbee concluded, “But he was a total gentleman from beginning to end and very creditable.”

Uploaded 7.1.13
All Contents © Rick Cabral 2013

 

 

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