Not for nothing are the New York Yankees of George Steinbrenner known as the "Bronx Zoo."
Today, in the continuing saga of a tormented soul who has been booed unmercifully by New York fans, pitcher Ed Whitson "broke into a cold sweat" about 45 minutes before game time, was suffering diarrhea and was scratched from his scheduled start against the Cleveland Indians by perplexed and angry Lou Piniella, the Yankees' manager.
What's more, Piniella, brought in by Steinbrenner as a calming influence in the wake of tempestuous Billy Martin, twice lost his cool today as the Yankees lost to the Indians, 3-2. Piniella was thrown out of a game for the first time as New York manager, and in his office afterward swatted a reporter's microphone when asked a question about Whitson.
And it's only April in the Bronx -- and the Yankees are in first place, at that.
Piniella simply does not know what to make of Whitson, who as a free agent signed a $4.4 million contract with the Yankees last year, but got off to a horrendous 1-6 start in '85, for which New York fans remain unforgiving. Asked when he would start Whitson again, Piniella said, "I don't know. I have no idea. I have no earthly idea."
Whitson himself isn't sure what happened to him today. He said that he was looking forward to starting a game at Yankee Stadium -- which he many times has declared a miserable experience -- because he won a game in Kansas City this week. So when Piniella reversed his decision to have Whitson start only on the road, Whitson said he was anxious to oblige.
The forlorn pitcher said that it wasn't his nerves that got to him but perhaps the ham in his ham and eggs this morning at home. He said he began to feel worse and worse as game time approached.
"I came in here this morning and I felt pretty good," said the Johnson City, Tenn., native in a quiet drawl. "But I broke out in a cold sweat. I've had diarrhea all day. I don't know what it was.
"It's not like I don't want to pitch, that's for sure. I don't know how it happened. I have a little soreness in the ribs, but that wasn't no problem." But when Whitson reported that he was sick, Piniella scratched him and dispatched him to the bullpen.
Noting the rib soreness, Piniella said: "We just didn't feel he could pitch" after he had heard of Whitson's upset stomach.
Ironically, had the Yankees been able to force an extra-inning game, Whitson conceivably could have gotten into it and won it. He was the last man left in the bullpen.
"We were out of pitchers," said Piniella. "If I had to use him , there was nothing else I could do."
Piniella then faced questions about another unpleasant experience: getting a quick hook from rookie umpire Tim Tschida, who was called up only Friday to replace crew chief Jim Evans, who has an eye ailment.
In the fourth inning, catcher Ron Hassey was called out on strikes by Tschida, and he turned in rage toward the umpire, appearing to bump him. Quick but not quick enough from the dugout in an effort to protect his catcher, Piniella began a jaw-to-jaw discussion with Tschida, circled behind the ump and appeared to bump him.
"He ran Hassey quickly," Piniella said. "He ran me quickly. Just too quick." Asked if he hadn't bumped the umpire, Piniella responded: "He stopped. I was just walking after him. I didn't make contact with him. He stopped. I just walked into him."
The questions about the incident with Tschida were touchy enough, but the ones about Whitson got to Piniella. "I'm tired about talking about the same thing all the time. That's all I get asked around here." Then, turning toward three reporters holding microphones, he waved his hand toward them and said, "Take those things away."
When Bob Shirley was announced as the Yankees' starter, scattered boos among the 20,195 fans who were expecting to see Whitson rippled through the stands, but soon many were chanting, "Eddie, Eddie," anxious to see Whitson or anyone else. Shirley failed to get anyone out except on a pickoff play, and he gave up all three Indians runs.
More cheers of "Eddie, Eddie" erupted in the top of eighth inning when Whitson began warming up in the Yankees' bullpen..
"I was hoping I would get a chance to get in," said Whitson. "I would have tried to come in and help. This was definitely not a day for something like this to happen. I was really looking forward to it."
This, he said, was because he had begun receiving some favorable mail, such as the letters that were contained in the two envelopes he has tacked above his locker. On both these envelopes, the letter writers put on the outside, "This is not hate mail."
He had disappointed Yankees fans last season. He had brawled with Billy Martin toward the end of last season. He was booed again in this season's second game here, and it appeared as if he would not be able to bring himself to pitch again at Yankee Stadium.
Bolstered by the victory in Kansas City, Whitson took heart again when Piniella tried to give him the ball this afternoon. "This really puts the damper on things," said Whitson. "Here we go again."