Proving that he is indeed a chip off the old block, Hank Steinbrenner stopped by the Yankees’ Spring Training camp in Tampa and immediately made his presence known. Speaking to an assembled pack of reporters, the elder Steinbrother sounded off on a variety of topics, including the Yankees’ growing revenue sharing bill as well as the viability of small market teams. However, the comments that raised the most eyebrows pertained to the perceived lack of focus by last year’s team, including those who were “too busy building mansions and doing other things, and not concentrating on winning”.
That last comment in particular, which was an obvious reference to Derek Jeter, was right out of the George Steinbrenner play book (in fact, the remark was a reiteration of his father’s December 2002 criticism of the distractions stemming from Jeter’s “bachelor lifestyle”). Predictably, Hank’s outspokenness was widely criticized in the mainstream media and around the blogosphere, but considering his bark is without bite, I am actually kind of glad he took the time to share his thoughts. Since George’s declining health forced him to recede from active involvement, Yankees Spring Training has missed some of the entertainment that the Boss used to provide. Of course, when his father sounded off, it was much more likely to have an impact on the team. With Hank, however, you get all the fun with little of the worry. As long as his comments don’t translate into the decision making, an occasional stream of consciousness from Hank isn’t so bad.
When the Boss was in charge, Spring Training always followed the same pattern. Steinbrenner would report to camp like a general inspecting his troops, vow that he would no longer meddle with the team and then usually break that promise before the end of spring (sometimes even before the end of the conversation). The Boss would also typically single out one of his players for a pointed comment or two, particularly if that player happened to sign a new contract at a displeasing level of compensation during the previous offseason. Listed below are some of George Steinbrenner’s more memorable spring salvos (followed by context).
If Sparky Lyle isn’t mature enough to understand that he has a contractual and moral obligation to the New York Yankees, we certainly are not going to waste one minute of our time in attempting to find out where he is.” – February 22, 1978, Modesto Bee
Sparky Lyle had made a habit of reporting late to Spring Training, but in 1978, he was particularly unhappy because of the exorbitant salaries paid to newcomers like Rich Gossage and Andy Messersmith. The Boss was unsympathetic to Lyle’s plight, but managed to keep a cool head and good sense of humor about the situation. When Lyle finally arrived, Steinbrenner had him greeted at the airport by a 100-piece high school band playing “Pomp and Circumstance” underneath a banner that read “Welcome to Fort Lauderdale Sparky – Finally”.
Every body says [Lyle’s] a buffoon. He’s not a buffoon, but he’s one of the least intelligent athletes I’ve ever met.”– March 16, 1979, Associated Press
While Lyle and Steinbrenner were trading barbs over his brief 1978 holdout, the reigning Cy Young award winner was also busy co-writing a book called the “Bronx Zoo”. By the spring of 1979, excerpts from the book had been released and, needless to say, the Boss wasn’t pleased. Before too long, Lyle was sent packing to Texas, giving further credence to teammate Graig Nettles’ pithy comment about the reliever going from “Cy Young to Sayonara”.
Frankly, I am upset, disappointed…hurt more than angry. It’s time Reggie Jackson learned he is not bigger than the Yankees.” – March 2, 1981, AP
As was often the case during his five stormy years in the Bronx, Reggie Jackson and Steinbrenner had been feuding over money and a potential new contract, with Reggie claiming that the Boss refused to address his concerns. Therefore, in order to get his attention, the outfielder decided he would report to camp a couple of days late. When he finally showed up in Fort Lauderdale for what would be his last season in pinstripes, Jackson was fined $5,000 and then greeted with talk about a contract that would make him a “Yankee for life”.
I don’t enjoy a young guy off one good year who was plucked out of Toronto showing so little regard for me. It’s not what I am looking for in my kind of guy. I don’t think Tommy John would do that, or Reggie Jackson or Lou Piniella.” – February 16, 1981, New York Times News Service
After finishing seventh in the MVP voting in 1980, Rick Cerone asked for a raise that would more than quadruple his salary to $440,000. The Yankees countered with a more modest increase to $350,000, but the arbitrator sided with veteran catcher. Following the decision, Steinbrenner lambasted Cerone for being disloyal.
So, he’s tired of being treated like a 19-year old? He deserves to be treated like a 19-year old. Lou Piniella needs to be coaxed and urged and sat on, and everybody in Tampa will tell you that.” – March 18, 1982, Associated Press
In 1982, Lou Piniella reported to camp seven pounds overweight, leading to $7,000 in fines ($1,000 per day until reaching the contractually stipulated weight of 200 pounds). In response to the Yankees’ harsh treatment, Piniella lamented about being treated like “Little Orphan Annie” despite his long tenure with the team.
One thing I learned in business is that there are two basic methods of getting your co-workers’ attention: reporting to work late and criticizing the boss. I don’t advocate either and I would tell Winfield that.” – February 29, 1984, Associated Press
Following the 1983 season, Rich Gossage decided to bolt the Bronx because of the distractions involved with playing there. The following spring, Dave Winfield criticized Steinbrenner for being the main reason the ace reliever left the team.
Who’s going to take a 36-year old outfielder with two gimpy knees making 960,000 a year besides me? The fact is no one wants Mr. Griffey”. – March 13, 1986, Associated Press
Unhappy with his role over the past two seasons as well as the expected amount of playing time going forward, Ken Griffey demanded a trade from the Yankees. The Boss was more than happy to oblige, but explained his predicament as only he could.
The monkey is clearly on his back…I’ll expect him to carry us to a World Series championship…He’s like all the rest of them now. He can’t play little Jack Armstrong of Evansville, Indiana. He goes into the category of modern-player-with-agent looking for the bucks. Money means everything to him”. – February 18, 1987, New York Times News Service
In 1987, Don Mattingly, who was coming off one the best seasons of his career, asked for a record salary of $1,975,000, which not only turned out to be the largest arbitration award to that point, but also the highest salary ever paid by the Yankees. Once again, the Boss was not happy about making history.
First it was a common-law wife and a child out of wedlock in December. Now, the team captain (Randolph) is saying Winfield lied in the book. It might just be the beginning. I hope not.” – March 24, 1988, Associated Press
Steinbrenner and Dave Winfield never enjoyed a cozy relationship, but years of hard feelings boiled to the surface in 1988 when the star outfielder released his autobiography, “Winfield, A Player’s Life”. In the book, Winfield heavily criticized the Boss, and attributed a quote to teammate Willie Randolph stating that a black player could never be regarded as a “true Yankee”. Randolph denied making the comment, adding fuel to the Steinbrenner’s burning rage over the contents of the book. In an attempt to get the upper hand in his feud with Winfield, the Yankees owner would later pay money to an ex-con and known gambler named Howie Spira in exchange for information pertaining to illegal dealings at the outfielder’s charitable foundation. Although the Winfield Foundation would eventually be cited for wrongdoing, Steinbrenner’s involvement with Spira culminated in a second suspension from baseball.