Work in Sports
Phillips bows down to The Boss
Updated: Friday October 27, 2000 8:50 AM
By Jeff Pearlman, Sports Illustrated
NEW YORK -- Over the past six months, nobody has ignited the Queens-Bronx war more than Steve Phillips, the nattily dressed Mets GM who enters every Yankee-related press gathering with a dagger in one hand, a machete in the other.
Last July, after Roger Clemens beaned Mike Piazza with a bullet to the skull, Phillips was quick to respond. No Yanks in the Shea Stadium weight room. No Mets on the Yankee All-Star Game charter. No acceptance of any apologies. Most important, no mercy.
"We're mad," he said at the time. "We take this personally."
It was amateur-hour stuff -- a young major league executive behaving like he belonged not with the Mets, but the Memphis Redbirds or Durham Bulls (or Mahopac High School Indians). Some Mets players were annoyed. Others just ignored the whole show.
Few found Phillips' bully impersonation convincing -- just a GM on a power stroke.
Nonetheless, as days grew longer Phillips seemed to enjoy the role of pot stirrer No. 1. This wasn't Claudell Washington facing Luis Tiant in the Mayor's Trophy Game. This was two teams that, Phillips' crinkled nose and snap-quick responses revealed, genuinely disliked one another. Truly, honestly, nothing would've made Phillips happier than a World Series dismantling of the arrogant, holier-than-thou neighbors.
Which makes Phillips' act early Friday morning all the more impressive.
As many of the Mets made their way out of the stadium and some more solemnly cleaned their lockers and a couple took late showers, Phillips -- sans dagger, sans machete -- left the home clubhouse and journeyed into the Yankees' massive infield celebration.
Players ran to and fro with bubbly and beer. Wives hugged wives. Media types scurried. Bobbing and weaving through the crowd like an alley cat through a dumpster, Phillips finally found the man he was looking for: The BIG fella, George Steinbrenner.
Stein was holding court with Channel 9 -- walking along with the cameraman and reporter, praising "Paulie O'Neill!" and "Bernie-Bernie!" and dynasties and Bronx beauty and Giuliani and everything dark blue and pinstriped.
Phillips, head down, walked in Stein's shadow, sadly following the masses, a stranger in a strange land. He was, in all aspects, a puppy trailing the master. Finally, as Steinbrenner's interview ended, Phillips violated Rules 1 through 987,099,877,276 and tapped Steinbrenner on the left shoulder. Stunned (You touched ME!?), the Boss turned toward the Mets GM, who immediately introduced himself.
"Mr. Steinbrenner," he said. "I just wanted to congratulate you."
For a millisecond, Stein was baffled. This was Hatfield-McCoy. Army-Navy. Ali-Frazier. Backstreet Boys-'NSync. French fries-potato puffs.
Finally, he spoke. "You gave us all I wanted and more. The whole team was treated beautifully by your fans. We really were."
With that, the two shook hands. Phillips, humbled by baseball humility, strolled back to the Mets dugout, again unnoticed, again head down. His hands were in his pockets. His face looked sad.
It was a classy act at a difficult time.
For the world, there is hope.