George M. Steinbrenner III's remedial school for Yankees in Disgrace is in session here. Has been for nearly two weeks. Will be for another six.
When last seen, the New York Yankees were stinking out the World Series, losing the last four games to the Dodgers in a hail of popped-up bunts, errors, base-running boners and managerial mistakes. A disgrace to New York, said Steinbrenner, who vowed that his wealthy waywards would reform.
This is their penance--eight weeks, all expenses paid, in Florida.
There's more bunting in Fort Lauderdale this spring than at a national political campaign. The symbol of this Yankee spring is Phil Rizzuto, summoned out of retirement by Steinbrenner to be professor emeritus of the dead-mackerel sacrifice.
Anyone seeking omens should note that, as overseer Steinbrenner stood beside the hallowed bunting cage this week, Rizzuto's hand was struck and broken by a pitch." . . . I was showing a little extra hustle, trying to make points with the boss," Rizzuto explained to reporters the day it happened.
"My whole spring is ruined," laments Rizzuto, his hand now in a cast. Occasionally, the TV ham embellishes his tale by adding, "I broke it in an elevator."
The elevator joke--a reference to Steinbrenner's World Series mishap last year--plays well with the Yankees. Boss Steinbrenner pays a nice wage, but his experiment with the longest spring training in years--anywhere from 10 days to three weeks more than the average veteran would expect--doesn't please the veterans.
"It's too long. We're here much too early," says Dave Winfield. "Man, we've got to play almost 200 games (counting spring training and exhibitions). An everyday player doesn't need the extra wear and tear. The old way, with six weeks, was too much for me."
"It doesn't take Willie Randolph eight weeks to get in shape," says Randolph.
"I thought we'd do something different instead of just doing the same old things longer," says veteran Rudy May, who arrived Feb. 8.
"Yeah? Well, what else is there?" asks Goose Gossage.
"I don't know. Maybe some new drills, a little variety. I was just told to be here. I wasn't given any choice," responds May. "All I know is my wife's back home with the kids (in school) and she doesn't like it at all."
"This could slow us down in September and October," frets Graig Nettles, who has just become the third captain in Yankees history, following Lou Gehrig and Thurman Munson. "Nobody knows yet if we'll have more injuries than normal, or less. But we could fall into bad habits from boredom.
"The only good thing is that we might get off to a good start . . . I just hope this doesn't backfire."
Even Manager Bob Lemon admits that, as a pitcher, he wasn't a fanatic about early workouts. Nevertheless, he figures, "we got some guys who might want to get started on redeeming themselves."
The Yankees may need extra time together because, for defending league champions, they have been drastically rearranged since last October. Instead of the power-hitting team of 1981, which was second in baseball in homers (100), but an atrocious 11th in the AL in runs scored, the Yankees--by Steinbrenner edict--will now be a speed and place-hitting club like the '76 Bronx Bandits of Billy Martin.
Seldom has a lineup promised more bizarre chemistry than the new Yankees now that Reggie Jackson has been replaced in right field by Ken Griffey and Dave Collins is scheduled to play extensively at first base ahead of Dave Revering. Last year, in 756 at bats in Cincinnati, Griffey and Collins combined for only five homers. Also, their respective stolen base totals of 12 and 26 weren't terrifying.
Left-handed designated hitter Oscar Gamble is now the most serious home-run threat (per at bat) on the team. It is true that five potential regulars--Griffey, Collins, Winfield, Randolph and Jerry Mumphrey--are all swift in a foot race. However, none of the five has won a stolen base title. It's impossible to tell whether the Yankees will steal 100 bases this season and be a flop, or grab 200 and be a terror.
In their long idle hours here, the Yankees ponder. One of their devil's workshop conclusions is that they work more days a year for Steinbrenner than they ever realized. As one veteran points out, a Yankee now works a full six weeks more in a year to earn his salary than many 9-to-5 workers. (Of course, the average Yankee also earns slightly more than $350,000.)
The Yankees had 103 days off between the end of the Series and the opening of camp. So, a Yankee now has a 260-day work year; an office worker with a month off and two weeks sick leave would put in about 225 days. Of course, the Yankees aren't exactly in the salt mines here, although their nearly three-hour workouts in mid-February are unheard of by baseball standards.
Naturally, Yankee ingenuity is on display. All players split their time equally among three fields, one of which is out of sight of the manager's seat in the dugout. A spot inspection of this field today--on a morning when Steinbrenner was out of camp--revealed 11 Yankees sitting or lying in the shade talking and one rookie hitting nonchalantly against a pitching machine.
While George is away, the millionaires will play.
You may lead a Yankee to Florida, but you can't make him bunt.