Rotten to the core
The Big Apple is the showcase for bad management
Posted: Tuesday November 20, 2007 3:43PM; Updated: Tuesday November 20, 2007 5:48PM
There's no bigger sports stage than New York, and if you love a good farce with tawdry overtones, there's always one playing on Broadway.
The ongoing harassment trials and Isiah Thomas tribulations of the Dolan-owned Knicks and Rangers (who are being sued by the former captain of their cheerleading squad) are just a part of the city's glorious tradition of spectacular team mismanagement that goes back 40 years. Every New York team in the four major pro league sports has staged its own heap big production, and not just losing has been involved. There is something about the Big Apple spotlight and pressure to win NOW that drives grown men mad, making them prone to big, brash ego moves and petty power struggles with all the cheesy fixins: backpage headlines and gossip column fodder.
Giants: In 1964, the once-proud NFL franchise rolled off the table into a 2-10-2 ditch. Only two winning seasons ensued until 1981, the years pockmarked by a bitter, paralyzing ownership feud. In this corner, the dignified patrician Wellington Mara. In that corner, his reputed playboy nephew Tim, about whom a family member once said, "When it comes to wine, women and song, his only fault is he can't carry a tune." After Wellington hired former Giants star Andy Robustelli out of the travel agency he'd been running for 10 years to be the new GM in 1973, Tim jumped in with both tassled loafers. The two men barely acknowledged each other while warring over lousy personnel moves and even worse drafts. The nadir came with the infamous Fumble against the Eagles in 1978 and an open fan revolt.
For the good of the team, Commissioner Pete Rozelle stepped in the way many hope David Stern will do with the Knicks, ordering the Maras to choose from a short list of competent football men. Ex-Dolphins GM George Young took over in 1979 and by January '87, the Jints were Super Bowl champs.
Yankees: The most legendary show of all began in 1973 when George Steinbrenner bought the decrepit team from bumbling CBS. During the World Series championship season of 1977, the Boss seized center stage with daily backpage bluster and threats to roll heads. During the next 13 years, he hired and fired his manager 23 times. Pitching and batting coaches were burned like cordwood, along with futile mega-contract free agents and disastrous impulsive trades. GMs and PR flaks were publicly humiliated for any and all screw-ups. The postseason appearances stopped after the '81 Series and the chaotic seasons rolled by full of Billy Martin comings and goings spiced by brawls in bars, hotels and a strip club. The proud pinstripes were further sullied by The Tinkle Twins -- Don Mattingly and Dale Berra -- who were pinched for public urination in Kansas City in 1985, though the charges were later dropped. The whole grimy mess reached a stunning low in 1990 when the team finished last while The Boss was banned from baseball for paying small time gambler Howie Spira for dirt on sparring partner Dave Winfield.
Jets: The reign Leon Hess, who assumed sole ownership in 1977, was marked by a special brand of bitter futility. Among the six winning seasons in the next 22 years, the 1982 squad lost the AFC Championship Game to Miami 14-0 on a pair of interception returns in the mud. Then they sank into it. Star defensive end Mark Gastineau made Page Six his home with an October 1983 arrest for brawling at Studio 54 with quarterback Ken O'Brien and later posing in Playgirl, not to mention his separation from wife Lisa and dalliance with actress Brigitte Nielsen. Gastineau quit suddenly in the middle of the 1988 season and wound up under a steroid cloud. In 1995, Hess went out of his way to personally hire hapless Rich Kotite, who produced a 4-28 record over two seasons, including 1-15 in 1996. Even after Woody Johnson bought the team in 2000, the fun and games continued with Bill Belichick accepting and then resigning the head coaching job from Bill Parcells on one crazy day.