On the other side of town in Fort Steinbrenner, The Bronx, no one ever claimed that this was "baseball the way it oughta be." The Yankees were the tabloid warriors, and their managers were as disposable as Handi-wipes.
It was just a decade ago that those Reggie-Billy-George Yankees were the last club to win back-to-back world championships, and one of the key veterans on that team was Lou Piniella, who now, in his second season as manager, has New York in first place in the American League East. "We didn't have the most talent," Piniella recalls, "but we had two outstanding characteristics: We were the toughest, and we had the most usable parts. I see the same things in this team."
Except for the turmoil. "We're as quiet as a church mouse," says reliever Dave Righetti, exaggerating just a tad. Adds Mattingly, "No one on this team is looking to do anything but play baseball. Nobody's doing any books. We don't have a lot of guys doing commercials. We don't have any controversial personalities. I'll admit that we also haven't won anything, so we have one single purpose—winning. But no one here needs any other kind of publicity."
This is not a team lacking for marquee stars, with Mattingly, Righetti, Rickey Henderson, Dave Winfield and Ron Guidry. But, Piniella points out, "with the exception of Willie Randolph, no one's having a great year." Indeed, Mattingly (injured disks) and Henderson (pulled right hamstring) missed almost all of June, and Guidry is just getting back to normal after serving his failed-free-agent penance. Even Righetti, with nine blown save opportunities, is struggling.
"Yet, no one tries to make excuses for injuries," says veteran outfielder-DH Mike Easier. "When Henderson and Mattingly were out and then Claudell Washington got hurt, this team said nothing and went out to get it on."
Captain Randolph and Winfield took over as leaders during that potentially disastrous period. Winfield, Steinbrenner's favorite target for abuse, batted .342 with five homers during the Mattingly-Henderson absence and—mirabile dictu—even earned veiled praise from his boss. The two injured stars were together for only four games of a vital 26-game stretch against AL East clubs, and the Yankees still went 16-10. On Sunday, New York led the Blue Jays by five full games.
But it hadn't been easy. On June 26, the Yankees beat Roger Clemens and the Red Sox, 12-11, after trailing 9-0. In Toronto last week, in the opener of a three-game series, they blew an 11-4 lead, then trailed, 14-11, and finally pulled it out 15-14 on Winfield's grand slam homer.
"The way this team played," says Easier, now in his second tour with the Yanks after returning from Philadelphia last month, "is a reflection of the manager, both in terms of thought and temperament."
Make no mistake, it's still Steinbrenner's ball club; the phone lines to the manager's and general manager's offices are as hot as ever. But, says Mat-tingly, "the players know that Lou takes the heat for us, and we appreciate it. Never does he bring anything but the desire to win out of his office into the clubhouse."
"George beats and wears down his managers," says one Yankee insider. "But it doesn't bother Lou. He won't let anyone beat him. Lou wants to be great, and he's never afraid."