Controversy has become such a part of Yankee Stadium that it deserves to be commemorated in Monument Park, say with plaques displaying the New York tabloids' most inflammatory back pages or the bronzing of the manager's red telephone that former Yankees skipper Lou Piniella ripped from its mooring after one too many calls from the boss upstairs. Ruth may have built the house, but under principal owner George Steinbrenner, ruthlessness provided the renovations.
That's why the events preceding the New York Yankees' game last Saturday with the Baltimore Orioles at first glance appeared to be as familiar in the Bronx as the arched facade. In one Yankee Stadium clubhouse the franchise player, having already placed a telephone call to the loose-lipped owner who had zinged him the day before, brandished faxed copies of newspaper articles as he scolded reporters for igniting the latest brushfire. The league's top home run hitter, working off another faxed clip, quizzed the manager about comments the skipper made regarding a lineup switch. Meanwhile, the mood in the other clubhouse was so warm and fuzzy that Kevin Costner was in there giving tips to one player about how to turn his life story into a Hollywood movie.
However, a second look was required to realize that this was man-bites-dog stuff. It was the Yankees, with hardly a peep of protest on a team loaded with humble, hardworking, homegrown players, who looked good enough for the big screen. Turns out the smoke alarms were going off in the visitors' clubhouse. That was none other than Cal Ripken Jr. responding to verbal shots from Orioles owner Peter Angelos. And it was Brady Anderson seeking out manager Davey Johnson, who had implied in print that Anderson was unhappy about being moved out of the leadoff spot.
The Orioles have become a familiar flammable cocktail of garrulous owner, contentious manager and ill-fitting roster of star players better equipped to win a Rotisserie League than the American League. In short, the Orioles have become the Yankees—minus the tabloids. The Broadsheet Bullies.
The four-game series last weekend in New York played out like the answer to an essay question: Compare and contrast Baltimore and New York. The Orioles did win the finale on Sunday 9-1 behind a four-hitter from lefthander David Wells, another ruffled Bird who refused to speak to the media, but the victory merely salvaged a split for the Orioles. They failed to gain ground on the Yankees and remained 4½ games behind the American League East leaders. Worse than that, the Birds failed to resemble a cohesive unit in sync with their manager.
On the other hand New York continued to prosper quietly despite injuries that have put 12 players on the disabled list, including ace pitcher David Cone, who had surgery to repair an aneurysm in his pitching shoulder. "They're more like the Yankees than the Yankees," Cone said of the Orioles. "Our clubhouse is full of great human-interest stories."
One of those stories belongs to Dwight Gooden, who last Thursday huddled with Warner Brothers moguls about filming his life story, especially the part about overcoming cocaine and alcohol abuse to throw a no-hitter. Two days later Gooden sought advice from Costner, who had stopped by the Yankees clubhouse before the game. "I'm still hoping they get Denzel Washington to play me," said Gooden.
Both Baltimore and New York have new managers, though the Yankees have had an easier time adjusting to Joe Torre, who gives the appearance he's your Uncle Leo babysitting for the weekend. "Don't be fooled, though," said Gooden. "He doesn't miss a thing." After a trip to Chicago last month Torre told Gooden, "You owe me." Two days earlier Gooden had failed to be on the dugout steps for the playing of the national anthem, costing him a $100 fine.
Johnson would love to have such trivial problems. He spent most of his time before the game last Friday explaining his gerrymandered lineup. He moved Anderson, who was having one of the best seasons ever by a leadoff hitter, into the number 2 hole and replaced him with Roberto Alomar, the erstwhile number 3 hitter who was in an 0-for-14 slump. Ripken, used in the sixth spot most of the season, batted third. Johnson also returned rightfielder Bobby Bonilla to DH, where Bonilla had so convinced himself he couldn't hit (he was batting .213 at week's end as a DH, but .347 as a position player) that Johnson named an affliction after him. When Luis Polonia also struggled as the DH, Johnson said, "Maybe he's got Bobby Bonilla disease."
When asked to explain Bonilla's return to DH, Johnson cracked, "I figured if I ticked off everyone else, I might as well tick him off, too."