The news George Steinbrenner makes is only part of the fun. We get more laughs trying to figure out what really happened.
Take the Sunday Night Fights.
Did he really punch out two young guys in a Los Angeles hotel?
Says he did.
Says he did it because they insulted New York fans and called his Yankees a bunch of chokers.
Says he left the two guys in a heap on the elevator floor. He's 51, older than Muhammad Ali, but he says he landed three punches, including a nice right-left combination.
Possibly broke his left hand, cut his right, got a swollen lip and a big lump on his head where one guy hit him with a beer bottle.
In this corner, wearing the pin-striped trunks, Kid Steinbrenner, the Bronx Bomber.
The curious thing is that no one in Los Angeles has come forward to claim credit for insulting Steinbrenner, New York and the Yankees. The sweet thought occurs to millions hourly. Yet all we have is Steinbrenner's story, which begins about 8 o'clock Sunday night after the Dodgers ruined the Yankee owner's day by beating his team a third straight time . . .
George said he was riding down from the 11th floor to meet his wife and friends for dinner when the elevator stopped at the seventh floor.
"Steinbrenner, huh?" one fellow said, according to George, who added that the fellow held a beer bottle and seemed to have been drinking a lot. The fellow's buddy held the elevator door open, Steinbrenner said.
"Yes," George said.
"Yeah, and you're going back home to those animal fans with that choke-up team of yours, aren't you?" the fellow said, according to Steinbrenner.
"I'm tired of all this stuff about New York, especially smart aleck remarks about my team," Steinbrenner said, quoting himself for the Associated Press, United Press International and New York reporters in an impromptu press conference at the hotel late Sunday night. Steinbrenner and the Yankees flew home Monday afternoon.
The fights started after the angry words, Steinbrenner said, giving this account . . .
"I hit him and he hit me on the side of my head with the bottle. I know he's missing three teeth and he's probably still looking for them. I hit him with the right hand and he went down.
"I guess the other guy then hit me, which probably accounts for my lip. But I hit him with a right and a left and pushed them both out the door.
"When I left them, one was laying down and one was sitting down. I then went to the bathroom to wash the blood off me and told security officials, but I guess they can't find the guys."
Hotel security and L.A. police said Steinbrenner made no report of the incident.
Maybe it happened exactly the way Steinbrenner told it.
It is a wonderful news story as is, full of outrageous irony.
Nobody, Steinbrenner said, can say smart aleck things about his team. Two weeks ago, he called the Yankees "overpaid fat cats" and threatened to back the truck up and carry away the garbage.
Only 10 days ago, Steinbrenner broke up a fight between his hired hands, Reggie Jackson and Graig Nettles. George screamed, "You're disgracing the Yankees." This is the same righteous Steinbrenner who fired Billy Martin after the manager punched out a sportswriter in Reno and a marshmallow salesman in Minneapolis.
For Martin, Steinbrenner created stone tablets on which he chiseled eight rules of conduct. "The Eight Commandments" declared that Martin, in Steinbrenner's words delivered from on high Feb. 25, 1979, " . . . has to act in a way befitting the Yankees."
Time changes definitions. Once upon a time, to be a Yankee was to move with dignity. Nowadays, to be a Yankee means to work on your jab. Maybe Ali could play center field next season.
Reporters went to other Yankee pugilists for comment yesterday. At the L.A. airport, Reggie Jackson said, "I don't know anything about it. Don't ask me." Relief pitcher Rich Gossage, who sprained his thumb in a clubhouse scuffle two seasons ago, laughed and said of Steinbrenner's broken hand in its cast, "George wouldn't punch anyone . . . He must have caught it in an elevator."
As Gossage implies of Steinbrenner's blow-by-blow account, entertaining though it is, the story leaves room for imagination. One might imagine Billy Martin, to pick a name, stopping the elevator at the seventh floor and seeing Steinbrenner on board.
"Want a marshmallow?" Steinbrenner says.
"New Yorkers, all smart alecks," Martin says.
" 'Thou Shalt Not Insult My Town' -- the sixth commandment, remember?" Steinbrenner says.
"George, bygones are bygones. Want a Miller Lite?" Martin says.
He raises the beer bottle overhead, at which point Steinbrenner, reaching for the elevator button, conks his forehead on the bottle and trips to the floor, falling face forward and screaming as Martin, jumping out of the way, lands on Steinbrenner's left hand, breaking it.
"Nobody's going to believe this," Steinbrenner says, wiping away blood.
"Just tell 'em two drunks cussed you out and you left 'em laying in a heap on the elevator floor," Martin says.
Steinbrenner says, "Billy, you're a New York kind of guy."