New York Yankees principal owner George Steinbrenner, who earlier this year pledged that Manager Yogi Berra's job would be safe this season, fired Berra today and replaced him with Billy Martin, who will be taking over the team for the fourth time.
"The action was taken by the Yankees and we felt it was in the best interests of the club," Steinbrenner said in a statement after the team lost, 4-3, to the Chicago White Sox, the club's third straight loss and 10th in 16 games this season.
Yankees General Manager Clyde King read Steinbrenner's statement. King added that Steinbrenner "would rather fire 25 players than to fire Yogi, but we all know that would be impossible."
Steinbrenner said during spring training that "Yogi will be the manager this year. A bad start will not affect Yogi's status. I put a lot of pressure on my managers in the past, to win at certain times. This will not be the case this spring."
There had been rumors last week that Berra, 59, would be fired, and Steinbrenner called King in the seventh inning of today's game and told him of his decision.
"I didn't know where he was calling from and I didn't ask him," said King. "I don't think these three games had anything to do with it at all. George even said he hoped Yogi would go out with a winner."
"He's the boss," Berra, after learning of his dismissal, said of Steinbrenner. "I had an inkling when you hear it every day.
"This weekend? I don't think it had anything to do with it. What can you do when you lose three one-run games? This is a good ball club. They'll get it together. They'll be all right. Did I have a chance? He (Steinbrenner) must have thought so." Berra's firing marks the 13th managerial change orchestrated by Steinbrenner in his 11 years as Yankees owner.
Rumors of Berra's firing began circulating early last week, when the Yankees lost games Tuesday and Wednesday at home to Boston.
The speculation intensified prior to Thursday night's game against Boston, when it was rumored that Berra would be fired if the club did not win. The Yankees beat Boston, 5-1, Thursday night.
There had been talk last season that Berra would be fired as the Yankees fell far behind the eventual World Series champion Detroit Tigers.
But on Oct. 25, Steinbrenner ended that speculation when he announced Berra would return in 1985. "The Yankees will not be making any changes for 1985. Yogi Berra's contract will be honored," Steinbrenner said.
"I just can't understand all these teams changing managers the way they do. The lack of stability is alarming . . . it's startling to me how many teams changed managers this year . . . it's getting so that you can't even make news any more when you make a change," he said.
Martin had been working as a scout for the Yankees before he was named manager today.
Martin becomes the first person to manage an American League team four separate times. Danny Murtaugh managed Pittsburgh 1957-64, in 1967, during 1970-71, and then again from 1973 to 1976.
Martin has already managed 728 games for Steinbrenner, the most ever during the owner's tenure.
Steinbrenner said last week that while he and Berra disagreed on the philosophy of how a club should be run, that would not affect his job. "He's going to live on his job with his performance. He knows that, and I know it."
Berra earlier had said Steinbrenner "must think we don't have feelings. We don't like to lose, either."
The two disagreed on discipline -- both on and off the field. Steinbrenner felt Berra was not strict enough. He was upset when only a few players showed up at an optional workout last Monday, a Yankees' day off. Steinbrenner felt the workout should have been mandatory.
The Yankees' clubhouse was gloomy as Berra went around to each player, saying his goodbyes.
Infielder Dale Berra, Yogi's son acquired from Pittsburgh in the offseason, visited his father's office upon hearing the news and came out crying. "That's the way the game is today," said Dale Berra (who earlier in the day learned he had a broken finger). "Sixteen games. What happens if Billy goes 4 and 12?"
Joe Cowley, the losing pitcher in today's game, said, "Yogi showed he had a lot of confidence in me. He made me a better pitcher. I'm going to miss him. Shame, isn't it?"
Ozzie Guillen drew the bases-loaded walk from Cowley in the ninth to give Chicago a sweep of their three-game series.
Greg Walker opened the ninth with a single and Carlton Fisk sacrificed. Ex-Yankee Oscar Gamble, who hit a game-tying two-run homer in the seventh inning, was walked intentionally. Daryl Boston flied out but pinch hitter Jerry Hairston walked and so did Guillen.
After the game, the Yankees took a flight to Texas, where they will start a series Monday night against the Rangers. The players were quiet as they checked into their Arlington, Tex., hotel, although a few of them shouted "Back off! Back off!" to reporters in the hotel lobby.
And Martin, asked tonight about Berra's relationship with the players, said, "Yogi's a nice guy and he's been my friend for 35 years. If all the guys liked him so much, why didn't they win for him? If you're a true Yankee, why are you in last place? You've got to win to be happy."