This year in the Yankees' training camp:
Reggie Jackson and Thurman Munson are on speaking terms and, on request, will sit pretty for the TV cameras. Nobody, not even melancholy Mickey Rivers, has threatened to walk out of camp, even once. Billy ("I am the manager") Martin isn't mad at anybody. A jealous word has yet to be heard from a now-overcrowded bullpen bulging with newly bought superstar relievers, all of whom are hankering to pitch a lot. The presence of club owner George Steinbrenner pervades the scene and he loves everybody. In a loud voice.
It's an uneasy peace.
They're still the greatest collection of combustible egos ever assembled as a baseball team. They won the AL pennant last year and the World Series, but Billy Martin wasn't really managing a ball club. He was managing a mine field.
There still are enough short fuses lying around among the Yankees to trigger the same kind of in-house wars they had to rise above last year - when Munson wouldn't speak to Jackson, and Jackson upstaged catcher Munson; when Martin and Jackson were at each other's throats in the dugout; when Jackson pouted because they didn't bat him cleanup until mid-August, and when there was much resentment among other guys because of the $2.9 million contract Jackson got, and he a not-so-great outfielder who never batted 300 in his life, besides.
The $32,500 each Yankee received from the World Series was supposed to soo he some feelings, but Munson and that magnificent relief pitcher, Sparkey Lyle, both say they still want to be traded away from this outfit. They're pained about their paychecks, compared with Jackson's, and with those of some other new Yanks like Rich Gossage, who had a $2.7 million package and isn't even a starting pitcher.
The Yankees brought it off big towards the finish when they stepped away from the Red Sox and Orioles and then destroyed the Dodgers in six games.They were saving the job of Martin, who was on a day-to-day basis with Steinbrenner, who never thought Martin was winning the pennant soon enough with all that expensive material he gave him.
Steinbrenner is the big man in this camp. He hangs around the batting cage and rejoices at the barracks banter and the swats of his Yankee athletes. He is a warm guy out there and is trying hard to be one of the boys, but his image of boss man is hard to shake. He funded the whole thing with his big money and some vision, too, and took a Yankee team that had been without a penant for 12 years and regenerated them into their old, important image as baseball's most hated-admired team and the best and biggest box office attraction in the majors.
When the courts began creating all those free agents two years ago, Steinbrenner said, "I called my front-office together and said, 'Boys, it's a new ball game, and the name of it is money. Money is as important as the balls and bats they play with, and we're going to spend big and get the best players and win pennants and make a profit'." It happened that way.
First, it was Catfish Hunter in a $3.5 million deal, then a $2.9 million package for Jackson, and last winter $2.7 million for relief pitcher Gossage and $1.1 million for Rawley Eastwick, another releiver, and then Steinbrenner took over the million-plus contract of Andy Messersmith from Atlanta.
"The two sore-armed guys, Messersmith and Eastwick, are my own gambles," Steinbrenner said. "At the major leagues in Honolulu in December, Messersmith told me in the hotel lobby that the Dodgers wanted him on a look basis and that they'd give Atlanta $100,000 for him if they liked his looks in spring training." Steinbrenner gave him a $100,000 firm without any conditions.
As for Eastwick, the Dodgers, Phillies and Pirates were bidding for that fe llow when Steinbrenner met him and his agent at Washington National Airport last winter. "I hadn't thought about the Yankees," Eastwick told him. He thought about the Yankees for $1.1 million, on the spot.
Steinbrenner, in addition to having all the money as a Great Lakes shipbuilding, is, lets face it, a jock. He played college football and was an assistant coach at Purdue. He lost a bundle trying to finance the defunct Cleveland Pipers basketball team, and is still a director of the Chicago Bulls. He owns some class thoroughbreds and always has the Kentucky Derby in mind.
It's been great to be a Yankee owner these last two years, with two pennants in a row and a World Series. They have back their famous image. They've reclaimed New York for the American League, leaving the Mets and the NL desolate. On the road, they drew 2,057,941, thus spreading the wealth around to other grateful AL clubs.
Reggie Jackson is a genuine folk hero after those three home runs on three consecutive swings in the sixth World Series game. In Florida, no other club commands the presence of an ABC television crew plus Barbara Walters in jeans for a network special this spring.
Withal, the Yankees are not the highest-paid team in the majors.
"Third or fourth," Steinbrenner said. "The Phillies" payroll is bigger than ours; so is the Reds' and, maybe, the Dodgers'. We're not the richest kids on the block. They only write it that way."
But the prospect of trouble continue to hang over the Yankees. Lyle, their Cy Young Award winner who pitched in 72 games and wants at least as much work this season, now has a disinguished bullpen companion. From the Pirates came free-agent Gossage who makes more money than Sparky and also relieved in 72 games last season and wants steady work again. Two 72-game pitchers in the same bullpen in which before there was only one, and each wanting more work, is hardly the scenario for peace. Especially with Lyle so verbal.
The ferment out there could be even greater with the addition of the high-priced Eastwick and the presence of Dick Tidrow, who also wants more work.
Martin says he is scheming to give them all a piece of the action by lifting his starting pitchers after six innings or so, after they've given it all they've got. Then he'd wheel in one of his magnificient relievers. "Maybe we have arrived at a new way of building a staff," said the innovative Martin, "by starting with a bullpen and getting starters to work less."
A dangerous piece of business, that.