August 25, 2013

MLB: Back to the ‘70s for Yankees

NEW YORK (AP) — Daily threats. Blaring headlines. Charges and countercharges.
The New York Yankees have been there before.

The latest actions of New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez remind many of the actions of former Yankees outfielder Reggie Jackson in the 1970s.

AP

And Alex Rodriguez vs. Pinstripes is nothing like the bad ol’ days of Reggie Jackson vs. Billy Martin vs. George Steinbrenner.

“I don’t even know where to start with you. It was just a different social time with my issues of speaking out,” Jackson said this week. “So to pick up the phone and compare it to the Bronx Zoo where it was when I played is such a lack of understanding.”

Mr. October is correct. For long-running soap opera, Rodriguez has a ways to go to match the Yankees of four decades ago, a tempest that prompted this observation from Graig Nettles: “When I was a little boy I wanted to be a ballplayer and join the circus. With the Yankees I’ve accomplished both.”

But for a two-month summer miniseries, A-Rod has made a quick impact — and even helped boost ESPN’s baseball coverage and the Yankees’ YES Network to their highest ratings this season. One could even call it “Real Ballplayers of the Bronx.”

Thirteen other players accepted their drug suspensions quietly and are serving their penalties. Rodriguez appealed his 211-game ban, then appealed to fans in a public-relations battle against the Yankees and Major League Baseball.

The sniping began June 25, when Rodriguez tweeted that his surgeon, Dr. Brian Kelly, gave him the go-ahead to play injury rehabilitation games. Feeling the third baseman was challenging the team’s authority to set the schedule for his return, general manager Brian Cashman told ESPN “Alex should just shut up,” underlining his comment with a profanity.

That was just the start. Two months later, Cashman and Rodriguez won’t even have a substantive conversation without lawyers.

Rodriguez challenged the team’s diagnosis of his quadriceps injury, retaining a doctor to say he wasn’t hurt — even though the physician never examined him and gave his opinion solely on the basis of a scan. He twice went on WFAN radio, intimated that Yankees President Randy Levine and Major League Baseball were in cahoots to keep him off the field and hired a blustery attorney to go on national television and accuse the team physician of misdiagnosing his hip injury
Makes the conflicts of 1970s seem downright pedestrian.

“This is uncharted territory. That was baseball. Whether you liked it or not, it was all about winning and what it took to win,” longtime Yankees broadcaster Suzyn Waldman said. “George and Billy fought because Billy didn’t win — or Billy did win. Or Reggie and Billy fought. It was always baseball. Nobody signed up for this.”

Lou Piniella says his 1970s Yankees didn’t have this kind of prolonged quarrel between a star and management.

“I’ve never heard of a situation where a player is playing on the field and the team he’s playing with, they’re bickering back and forth,” said Piniella, now a team broadcaster. “We had some problems here and there, but no, this is a totally different story.”

Martin and Jackson nearly brawled at Boston’s Fenway Park in June 1977 when the outfielder didn’t hustle after Jim Rice’s bloop that became a double, and Martin replaced him immediately with Paul Blair. When Jackson got back to the dugout, the two jawed at each other, and coaches Yogi Berra, Elston Howard and Dick Howser were needed to separate them.

Thirteen months later, they were at it again. Jackson bunted against Kansas City when told to swing away, and the Yankees suspended him for five days. By the end of the week, Martin had uttered the famous line about Jackson and Steinbrenner, “one’s a born liar, the other’s convicted,” and the first of his five terms as Yankees manager ended the next day.

(Continued on page 2)

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