Early last week, in the seventh inning of a game in Yankee Stadium, Reggie Jackson of the California Angels hit a titanic home run off the facade in right field. As Jackson admired this blast from the recent past, many in the crowd of 35,458 began to repeat the old familiar mantra "Reg-gie, Reg-gie." After Jackson had taken a bow from the dugout, the crowd turned its attention and vocal chords to the man who had effectively eighty-sixed 44.
"Steinbrenner creates a partial vacuum with his mouth! Steinbrenner creates a partial vacuum with his mouth!" approximates the chant that engulfed Yankee Stadium.
How could they say something like that? Hadn't George showered them with free agents and pennants and championships? Hadn't he given them the best years of his, their and Reggie's lives? Had they forgotten they were nothing before George arrived?
So what if, in the process, he had taken all the fun out of the game, robbed them of their pride in the Yankees and played them for suckers. How could they say something like that?
"I'm sorry, but what did they say?" asked Catcher Rick Cerone after the game. "I couldn't quite hear it."
"It was about the only fun I had all night," said Ron Guidry, who gave up the home run. Though Guidry later downplayed that comment, it upset George, who said, "I didn't expect that from a man I pay $750,000 a year, who gave up a homer to a lefthander who's usually kept out of the lineup against hard-throwing lefthanders."
These are not happy times for George. At week's end the team he rebuilt to win both the Drake Relays and the World Series was 9-11, fourth in the American League East. It was tied for 10th in the league in stolen bases and dead last in home runs. Even worse, the National League team from Queens had outhomered the Bronx Bombers 18-9 while outstealing them 19-10. If George rode the subways, he would see posters that say: NEW YORKERS ARE CONVERGING TO A NEW SOURCE OF POWER, with a picture of the broad backs of Dave Kingman, George Foster and Ellis Valentine.
George made his eighth managerial move in nine years after a win on April 25. He had promised Bob Lemon a whole season, but his promise fell short by at least 148 games. So Lemon, who replaced Gene Michael last September, was replaced by Gene Michael.
When the Yankees lost three of their first four games under Michael, George didn't panic. "You have to give Stick time," he said. Stop that snickering.
Some 200 years ago, George III of England used to fire his entire household staff two or three times a day. He once stopped a carriage to address an oak tree as if it were Frederick the Great. Late at night, George III was given to running through the castle and howling like a dog.