Forgive me. I did something last night that I really shouldn't have done. I fell asleep. Only for about six hours. I was up at dawn. But on the Yankee beat, six hours can be a lifetime.
Do me a favor. Catch me up.
Has Billy been fired yet?
What's taking George so long?
That was a real shocker on Sunday, wasn't it? Yogi getting fired, and Billy getting rehired.
I mean, who would have suspected that a calm, patient buckaroo like George would fire his manager 16 games into the season? Okay, George has a tendency to change managers occasionally. Okay, regularly. Okay, frequently. Okay, the man changes managers more often than Midas changes mufflers; this is the 10th time in the last eight seasons. (But who's counting?) Anyway, since when does George have such an itchy trigger finger? (Since 1982 to be precise, when he fired Bob Lemon 14 games in.)
And I mean, who would have suspected that Yogi was in jeopardy? Okay, there was a slight rumor to that effect. But it's not like everyone heard it; I'd bet Margaret Thatcher hadn't. Okay, Yogi had heard it himself. Once or twice. Maybe even more than that during the last week. ("Every day," Yogi said.) Okay, every day. But why give a fig about rumors when your boss has pledged his solemn word that no change would be made. In spring training, George said, "Yogi will be the manager this year, period . . . . A bad start will not affect Yogi's status." I mean, it's not like George has gone back on his solemn word recently. (Not since 1982 to be precise, when he guaranteed Lemon would have the job all season.)
And I mean, who would have suspected that Billy would be brought back again for, what is this now, the fourth, 14th or 24th time? It's not like Billy is an an intemperate lout, or a noxious swine, or a sadistic bully; you haven't heard anything like that, have you? I trust you are all familiar with that commercial in which Billy says, "I didn't punch no doggie." I believe him. I think he shot the doggie.
Anyway, it doesn't matter who manages the Yankees; whoever has the job, two things are true:
Over the last 10 years, with George and with or without Billy, the New York Yankees have the second-best winning percentage in baseball; only the Baltimore Orioles' is better. After you've dredged up every humiliation, the real and the imagined, that Yankees players have suffered at the hands of an imperious owner and a weasel of a primary manager, you're left with that. They win. And for all who say they win despite George and Billy, why is that any more reasonable than to say they win because of them?
Other than Billy and Yogi, can you remember the other Yankees managers over the last 10 years? Dick Howser won 103 games and a division title in 1980. Gene Michael won enough games in the first half of the strike season, 1981, to boost the Yankees into the playoffs. But he had long since been fired by the time the playoffs began, and Bob Lemon successfully managed the squad through two rounds and into the World Series. (The next year Michael displaced Lemon. George is bullish on ecology; he likes to recycle his ex-managers whenever possible, and with so many of them still on the payroll, it's always possible.) That was Lemon's second term. Previously, he had taken over for Billy and won the World Series in 1978, only to be canned in 1979 and replaced by -- who else? -- Battling Billy, who was himself fired after that season and didn't show up again until 1983, replacing Clyde King, who served as interim manager for the last 62 games of 1982. George started Lemon, but pulled him after 14 games, bringing in Michael. Michael lasted 46 games before tiring, and gave way to King. The Yankees finished fifth, but presumably George learned the difference between his managers and his bullpen. King, incidentally, is now the Yankees' general manager. If George gets the urge, King can be in the dugout between pitches.
Boy, that was a long paragraph. Probably took almost one minute to read. So much can happen in a minute.
Billy been fired yet?
Not to worry. It's coming.
Billy's been down this track before. In lots of cities. He is going for the record, closing in on double figures in firings. He has gotten the axe so often he registers in hotels as Lizzie Borden's Dad.
George will probably do it over the phone. He'll prepare a statement saying that he agonized over the decision for a suitable period of time -- longer than it takes to order takeout at a Chinese restaurant and shorter than the War of The Roses -- and he'll have someone read it after a road game. King read the one about Berra. Somebody more in keeping with Billy's personality should read his. Maybe Louie DiPalma.
George will say it's for the good of the team.
He'll explain that the Yankees had lost six of 11 and needed a change.
He'll say publicly that he'd rather have fired the 25 players. But everyone who's heard this song before will know that he did just what he wanted: he kept the Mets off the front page, and he had some fun.
And there will be a new Yankee manager.
Maybe Lou Piniella. Or Reggie Jackson. Or Bucky Dent. Or Bobby Murcer. Or Catfish Hunter. Or Dale Berra. Or Lemon, or Michael. Or Leroy Neiman.
Why not Yogi?
He took his firing like a man.
He said it was George's team, and George could do as he pleases; George likes that in an employe.
You can say Yogi was fired. I say he is on hiatus. He'll come back. On the Yankees, they always do.