Fiscally, it has been a good spring for the corporate offices of major league baseball. The American League showed a clear profit of $5,000 by fining Billy Martin that sum. And Bowie Kuhn generated added income by slugging George Steinbrenner with a $50,000 fine.
The two actions stemmed from new demonstrations by the New York Yankees' two bosses of their distaste for umpires. Both men questioned the integrity of the men in blue, charging they were not true blue. This, in the view of AL President Lee MacPhail and Commissioner Kuhn, was inflamatory. It inflamed them.
Additionally, Steinbrenner included NL President Chub Feeney in his allegations, saying Feeney gives NL umpires the nod to "always give the close ones to the NL team in interleague games." Steinbrenner had been heard saying this in March during a Yankees-Montreal exhibition game at Fort Lauderdale, Fla., when he also called the NL umpires "homers," a fighting word.
Weighing the worth of Steinbrenner's statements, Kuhn considered 50 grand a fair appraisal. You can fume about the umpires, stomp at them, accidentally kick a little dirt on them and incite a crowd to a small bit of riotous action, but don't say they're dishonest. And don't include a league president in your nasty remarks.
Lee MacPhail was telling Martin much the same thing, but leaving Feeney out of it. He also dealt the manager a three-game suspension following Martin's third ejection of the season by an umpire. Previously, Martin had been warned to restrain himself in his protests or invite a suspension. "His restraint lasted only five days," MacPhail said.
Steinbrenner says he will pay the fine but, according to Sports Illustrated, does not consider himself guilty of anything. He said, "If in the reporting of the story the impression was given" that he was questioning the integrity of Feeney or the umpires, he regrets it.
So that was it: the reporters were wrong again, a familiar Steinbrenner bleat. Actually, he has compiled a season's record of O-3, winless in his accusations of misquotes by reporters, and it is only May.
Steinbrenner's losing streak against the press began in February when he said he was misquoted by reporters who said he told upper New York State audiences that outfielder Dave Winfield "just isn't the winner Reggie Jackson was."
Steinbrenner took refuge then in a press release, saying it was "a shame that a young writer would take my statements out of context just to get a sensational story." But, according to Sports Illustrated, writers for the Rochester and Syracuse newspapers and United Press International all wrote similar accounts of what they heard Steinbrenner say, and it was confirmed by a 50-year-old journalism graduate, an age not generally considered young.
Next was Steinbrenner's Fort Lauderdale caper. A half-dozen writers reported his remarks about Feeney and the NL umpires, made, they said, while the Yankees' owner talked with them during the game at a point behind the fence where he often likes to watch his team.
Couldn't have happened, said Steinbrenner, because he was sitting in the stands that day. When that alibi didn't hold up (0-2 for Steinbrenner), he said, Oh, well, he was speaking to a friend, and the reporters were "in a place they shouldn't have been."
Anyway, Steinbrenner said, he was speaking off the record. But all the writers agreed he had made no mention of that and was talking to the whole group and that he could see some of them penning notes in notebooks (0-3 for Steinbrenner).
In Florida, Steinbrenner, known for his intrusions into the clubhouse, had said, "If everything goes well they won't hear from me until the All-Star break."
The Yankees heard from him 2 1/2 months before the All-Star break, after they had lost two games in Arlington, Tex. Steinbrenner had previously warned he would make some moves, saying, "I can lose like this with the kids from Columbus (Yankee farm team)." Steinbrenner addressed his athletes for 18 minutes. Steinbrenner said he talked about facts and statistics. Martin said, "He was very positive." Others could suspect that Steinbrenner raised hell.
He apparently wasn't very positive, either, that Martin was doing things altogether right. According to the New York Times' man, Murray Chass, Martin had written the name of Rick Cerone into the catcher's spot in the batting order before he went into his own 21-minute meeting with Steinbrenner. When he came out, Martin erased Cerone's name and wrote in that of Butch Wynegar.
Martin said only, "We went over the stats. Our hottest hitter right now is Butch." It invites the question: Who told him that Wynegar was hitting .353 and Cerone only .157? Apparently it was made clear after Billy reviewed the subject with Steinbrenner.
Steinbrenner started messing up the Yankees' once-proud traditions long before the season started. He put pictures of Martin on the cover of their media guide and other publications, showing his manager snarling at an umpire and poking a finger in his face, thus hoping to excite fans about Martin's return to the Yankees.
The Yankees also started running television commercials showing Martin kicking and screaming at umpires, until MacPhail commanded them to cut it out because it was in bad taste.
Real Yankees didn't do things like that, Joe DiMaggio could have told 'em. He wrote the book, "Proud to Be a Yankee." Real Yankees used to have dignity to go with those pin stripes.
Last year, Steibrenner tried to remake the Yankees, legendary as a power team, into a go-go, hit-run-steal outfit. It was a disaster, with the Yankees narrowly escaping last place. This year he's back to a belief in home runs and other big hits, having signed muscular Don Baylor and Steve Kemp at fancy free-agent prices. So far, it hasn't quite worked out.
Martin's feistiness has been no substitute for the skills which the Yankees appear to be in need of.
Dave Winfield is still sore about what Steinbrenner said about him, Graig Nettles cannot have pleasant thoughts about Martin batting him eighth the other day, Cerone is unhappy at being platooned, and Steinbrenner is unhappy with things, generally. For legions of Yankee haters, it is a pretty state of affairs