Back when he assumed principal ownership of the New York Yankees on January 3, 1973, Steinbrenner had said, "We plan absentee ownership as far as running the Yankees is concerned. I won't be active in the day-to-day operations of the club at all. I've got enough headaches with my shipping company.”
As things turned out, however, he was anything but hands off. That is, until July 30, 1990, when he was forced to surrender control of the Yankees. He was banned from baseball for life by Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent for alleged payments he made to a gambler in New York City seeking to gain damaging info on outfielder Dave Winfield.
When the news of the banning reached the fans that day in Yankee Stadium, they chanted: “No more George.” They had had enough of “the Boss” for a while. Denied access to his spacious office at Yankee Stadium where a favorite pillow proclaimed: “Give me a bastard with talent,” Steinbrenner in exile was “the Big Guy in the Sky,” the man who wasn’t there but who really was watching things play out through the 1990 season.
His presence or absence seemed to make little difference to the 1990 team whose season was largely a disaster. There were some high points like the time during an August 2nd game when rookie first baseman Kevin Maas hammered his 10th home run in just 77 at bats, the fastest any player reached that mark. The Stadium's short right-field porch seemed tailor-made for the southpaw swinger, and Maas finished 1990 with 21 home runs in only 254 at-bats. But he was the exception for that squad rather than the rule - -the team finished dead last in batting average, a pathetic .241.
The 1990 Yankees had but one starting pitcher who won more than seven games, nine-game winner Tim Leary. But he also lost 19 before Stump Merrill showed some pity and took him out of the rotation. When the season mercifully came to a close, the Yanks wound up 21 games behind Boston in the AL East, the first time during Steinbrenner’s time that his team finished in last place. One had to go back to 1913 to find a Yankee team with a lower winning percentage. Only the Yankees of 1908 and 1912 lost more games. Ironically, the Stadium box office registers just kept on ringing. The Bombers drew a healthy 2,006,436 to the big park in the Bronx.
A survivor, “Stump” Merrill lasted through 1991 as field boss of the Yankees. Among the dubious and memorable moments of the season was the 479 foot homer Seattle's Jay Buhner hammered over the left-field bullpen, the shelling of Oakland outfielder Jose Canseco by Yankee fans who pelted him with assorted objects like an inflatable doll‚ a cabbage head, and a transistor radio among other objects, and the honoring of Joe DiMaggio on the 50th anniversary of his 56 game hitting streak.
RICH MARAZZI: During the pre game introductions players were brought out to the first and third base lines, and I, as one of the four umpires working the Old Timers’ game, was called out to the home plate area. I remained there through the introductions. When the national anthem ended, I walked over to DiMaggio.
“Joe, thanks for the memories,” I said.
Whenever DiMaggio saw me with a press tag around my neck, he was tentative. But whenever he saw me in my umpire’s uniform, he would put his hand out to me, like we were old buddies. And that's what he did this day.
I met my childhood heroes - Ned Garver, Mickey Mantle, Mike Garcia -- the former top pitcher. I always wanted to meet Mike. I found him in a locker stall, giving himself dialysis treatment. He was half the size he was when he pitched. I had a nice interview with him.
I umpired second base most of the time but did get to umpire the plate three times. I made sure my son would warm me up during the week so my arm would not turn on me when I had to throw the ball back to the pitcher.
The 1991 Yankees finished with a 71-91 record, 20 games behind the Toronto Blue Jays, in fifth place. The team results were less pathetic than the ’90 season, but still underwhelming. Attendance at the Stadium dropped to 1,863,733, placing the Yankees 11th out of 14 American League teams. Average attendance per game was just 23,009.
By 1992, Stump Merrill was gone, replaced by 36-year-old Buck Showalter. He had progressed from “Eye in the Sky” to third base coach to hitting coach to manager. The losing ways continued for the fourth season in a row. Ten games below .500, the Yanks finished 20 games behind first place Toronto in the AL East, but there was some incremental progress - for the first time since 1987, they finished (tied) in fourth place. . . .
Harvey Frommer is his 33rd consecutive year of writing sports books. The author of 40 of them including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM, an oral/narrative history (Abrams, Stewart, Tabori and Chang) was published September 1, 2008 as well as a reprint version of his "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball.". Frommer sports books are available direct from the author - discounted and autographed. FROMMER SPORTSNET (syndicated) reaches a readership in excess of one million and appears on Internet search engines for extended periods of time.
Harvey Frommer "Dartmouth's own Mr. Baseball" Dartmouth Alumni Magazine/ HARVEYFROMMERSPORTS.COM
REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM (Definitive Book) "New & Notable" Amazon.com http://www.hnabooks.com/images/sites/9/redirects/yankees/
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