Down the rabbit hole we go. Once again, George M. (for Madness) Steinbrenner III has gotten the harebrained idea of hiring Alfred M. Pesano (a.k.a. Billy Martin) to manage the New York Yankees.
Steinbrenner fired Yogi Berra on Sunday, 16 games into the season, and hired Martin for the fourth—or is it the fifth?—time. The Yankee owner unfortunately fell two games shy of breaking his own major league record for impatience at a season's start, set on April 25, 1982 when he fired Bob Lemon and replaced him with Gene Michael, whom he had once before fired in favor of Bob Lemon.
Some people might be happy to know that Steinbrenner could hardly sleep on Saturday night. He came to his difficult decision while visiting Culver (Ind.) Military Academy, of which he is a graduate and trustee. Steinbrenner is something of an expert on discipline, and he was upset with what he saw as a lack of such on the part of the Yankees. After Saturday's loss to the White Sox, New York was 6-9 and in last place in the AL East. On Sunday morning he phoned Martin, who was advance scouting in Texas and asked him to re-re-return. Martin said yes.
"George told me he was making a change and he wanted me," the new manager said Sunday night. "He said, 'I want you to push them, get them back on top.' And I said, 'George, if that's what you want, I'm ready.' "
When general manager Clyde King, who once replaced Michael, only to be replaced by Martin, checked in with Steinbrenner during Sunday's game in Chicago, he was told to can Yogi. Berra had no idea, because after the game, which the Yankees lost 4-3 on a bases-loaded walk in the ninth, all he could talk about was the bad umpiring that had cost the Yankees the game. But 15 minutes after the loss, King brought the bad news.
King went into Yogi's office and closed the door. Then Joe Safety, the team's p.r. director, began distributing a four-paragraph statement. Some of the players took a peek at the press release, and the reactions were immediate.
Don Baylor, the DH and the leader in the clubhouse, kicked over a heavy metal garbage can, muttered, "Bull——, bull——, bull——" and stormed into the shower room. Pitcher John Montefusco stood with his mouth open in the middle of the clubhouse and said, "I don't believe it." First baseman Don Mattingly cursed Steinbrenner loudly and repeatedly and went into the trainer's room, where he hurled a metal container against the wall. The only player who seemed happy about the move was outfielder Rickey Henderson, who set the stolen-base record, under Martin while with Oakland. But Henderson tried to hide his smile from the glares of Mattingly, Baylor and Ken Griffey.
Later that night Martin said he didn't care about the players' reactions: "Guys were upset about Yogi and that's O.K. Yogi was their friend. Well, I've been Yogi's friend for 35 years, and the reason he had to leave was that they put him in last place. I don't want any friends like that. I want winners. If they don't like me, then they can't come over to my house for spaghetti."
Berra took the news well. "I had an inkling," he said, "so if it happened now or later, what's the difference? I still think this is a good club, and they're getting a good manager in Billy. George is the boss; he could do what he wants. Me, I'm going to play some golf."
Steinbrenner had assured Berra that he would be the manager the entire season, but he said the same thing to Lemon in '82. Yogi was lucky to last this long into the year. After the Red Sox blew away the Yankees in the first three games of the season, Steinbrenner talked to Earl Weaver about Weaver's managing the Yankees. Weaver apparently would rather play golf.