Ah, baseball in the Bronx. It's comforting to know that some things in this crazy world never change. As the New York Yankees wrapped up dress rehearsals and took their sideshow north for the opening of the 1988 campaign, all your favorite characters were already in midseason form. At center stage was the Boss. George Steinbrenner. and his $1.9 million nemesis, Dave Winfield. Willie Randolph was thrust reluctantly into the spotlight, too. Billy Martin chirped in with a brief lecture about ethics in literature, and Don Mattingly joined the chorus, crying foul. Howard Cosell gave an unforgettable performance, posing as a journalist. All this, plus a supporting cast of dozens, from Mr. October to Hitler and Mussolini to the late Roy Cohn.
Yes, sports fans, another season of mudslinging and enmity is here, with probable arbitration ahead. And you thought arbitration was a winter game. Not in the twin bigs—leagues and Apple—where the fun, fun, fun goes on all year.
It started with the publication of Winfield's autobiography, Winfield: A Player's Life, which in reality is the latest chapter in a continuing 7½-year feud between the owner and the outfielder. The hostilities date back to the day after Winfield signed with the Yankees on Dec. 15, 1980. That's when Steinbrenner reportedly realized he had miscalculated a cost-of-living clause in Winfield's 10-year, multimillion dollar contract. Other highlights of their acrimonious past:
October 1981—Steinbrenner gets upset when Winfield makes a joke out of his World Series slump by asking for the ball after a harmless single, his only hit in 22 at bats.
May 1982—The David M. Winfield Foundation files a lawsuit against Steinbrenner to collect back payments that the Boss must, by the terms of the player's contract with the team, contribute annually to the charitable organization. They settle for in excess of $100,000.
July 1982—Steinbrenner says Winfield "isn't a winner, the way Reggie Jackson was. Winfield can't carry a team."
October 1983—The Winfield Foundation files a second lawsuit against Steinbrenner to collect more back payments—this time settling for more than $300,000.
September 1985—During a critical loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, Steinbrenner asks reporters, "Does anyone know where I can find Reggie Jackson? I let Mr. October get away, and I got Mr. May, Dave Winfield. He gets his numbers when it doesn't count." Earlier that night Winfield had driven in his 100th run of the season to become the first Yankee to get at least 100 RBIs in four consecutive years since Yogi Berra did so from 1953 to '56. Winfield reached 100 again in '86 and settled for 97 in '87.
December 1987—Steinbrenner offers Winfield to the Detroit Tigers for Kirk Gibson. The Tigers decline.
On the whole, Winfield's book is mild enough. Oh, there are references to Steinbrenner's "chubby" face, to reporters following him around "like so many ducklings waddling behind the mother duck" and to Steinbrenner's lawyer, Roy Cohn, "Senator Joe McCarthy's man in the fifties," who, as Winfield also points out, was eventually disbarred in New York. There are also a few accounts of sexual escapades involving unnamed teammates that—coming 18 years after publication of Ball Four, former Yankee Jim Bouton's revelatory book on life in the big leagues—seem fairly tame.