Those were the days (cont.)
Posted: Friday March 2, 2007 11:15PM; Updated: Monday March 5, 2007 5:28PM
But even in Steinbrenner's first season with the team, there was commotion. In a scene directly out of The Ice Storm, pitchers Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich, the best of friends, announced that they were not only swapping wives, but entirely families too, right on down to their dogs. Said Yankees GM Lee McPhail, "We may have to call off Family Day."
Perhaps the most bizzare Steinbrenner spring came in 1982 when he decided to transform the Bronx Bombers into the Bronx Burners. "You can't underestimate the importance of speed," said Steinbrenner. After losing the '81 World Series to the Dodgers, Jackson was allowed to walk as a free agent, and Davey Collins was signed ostensibly to replace him. Harrison Dillard, a former Olympic hurdling champion, was brought into camp to teach the Yankees how to run. One day, the team was instructed to wear sweat suits instead of their uniforms and ran sprints in the outfield as Dillard took notes. Steinbrenner had run hurdles in college, prompting third baseman Graig Nettles to say, "They must have used ankle-high hurdles in those days." The speed experiment failed and the Yankees ended the season with their worst record since 1967.
As wild as Yankee springs in the past have been, they are not alone. From the mid-'80s through the early '90s, the Mets were the glamour team in New York and no strangers to controversy. In 1989, the tension between right fielder Darryl Strawberry and first baseman Keith Hernandez reached a boiling point. Dubbed "The Prince of Darkness" by Daily News columnist Mike Lupica, Hernandez had lobbied, off-the-record, for teammate Kevin McReynolds to win the 1988 NL MVP over Strawberry (Kirk Gibson won the award). When a reporter revealed this to Strawberry the following spring, the right fielder was primed for a confrontation. During the taking of the team photo, Strawberry -- who was positioned next to Hernandez -- said, "I don't want to sit next to no backstabber." Hernandez replied, "I'm tired of your baby crap." The two then exchanged punches in full view of TV cameras. Steve Wulf quipped in SI that Strawberry "finally hit the cut off man."
But the most vicious spring training fight came in '77. The Rangers made headlines when mild-mannered second baseman Lenny Randle attacked his manager, Frank Lucchesi, after being replaced by the rookie Bump Wills. Randle had never shown any signs of having a temper. He practiced yoga, was always accomodating with the fans and was the most popular player in the Rangers clubhouse. But when Lucchesi called Randle a punk for not handling the demotion well, Randle freaked and punched Lucchesi in the face repeatedly, shattering the manager's cheekbone. The Rangers suspended Randle for 30 days, fined him $10,000 and by the end of April, traded him to the Mets. Lucchesi, fired by Texas before the end of the season, sued Randle.
"It's not that I want a pound of flesh," Lucchesi said, "I want 175 pounds of justice." A year later, the two settled out of court and shook hands. "I hope he has 10 years of good luck in the big leagues," said Lucchesi. Randle played in the big leagues through '82, and then in Japan before retiring and trying his hand at stand-up comedy.