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Commentary : Rickey Being Rickey Can Sometimes Be a Pain

Newsday

Rickey was being Rickey, they said when Rickey Henderson arrived to camp later than the rest of his teammates.

Rickey is Rickey, they said.

Rickey is Rickey, he said.

But when does being Rickey become a pain in the sensitive places?

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This matter of Henderson’s claim that the New York Yankees drank themselves out of the pennant last season may fade, but it will never be forgotten. Those things never are.

Remember, he pointed his finger. He said “they,” not “us.” He separated himself from the rest.

That was Rickey being Rickey. But it was a cut into the one-for-all and all-for-one attitude the new manager has made the reason for his existence.

And the accusations came from a player whose own credentials are questioned, leaving himself vulnerable. People who live in glass houses

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“Liquor does not leave you overnight,” Henderson said.

“Rickey drinks. Ask him if that’s why his leg blows out every year,” Dave Righetti responded Tuesday.

Henderson is a stunning factor in the Yankees’ playing well. He missed 67 games and 22 games the last two seasons, and he was missed. Also suspect.

“If I get hurt, I get hurt because I’m busting my ... ,” Henderson said. “They feel I’m jaking.”

Outfielder Gary Ward, who tries to guide Henderson, said he’d suggest Henderson speak to his teammates in private. Henderson said he’d do no such thing. “Some of them are angry,” Henderson said. “The truth hurts. If it wasn’t the truth, it wouldn’t hurt.”

Truth comes in several shadings, and sometimes it comes in pinstripes. First of all, players are angry because Henderson violated the privacy of the inner sanctum, the most inviolate of places.

Second, this was not a team of rowdies and bad boys, especially after Billy Martin left. Lou Piniella did rule out hard liquor on the team flights the last half-dozen trips of the season, which is Dallas Green’s policy for this season.

Henderson’s case in point was the airplane flights, and owner George Steinbrenner was often in the back of the plane. Drinking was not one of the things he complained about.

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Ballplayers live a nocturnal existence. They do not unwind and go to sleep directly after a game. When they get out of work, there are few museums or movies open, and they haven’t eaten in 10 hours. So they go where they can eat and drink, and some of them don’t do much eating.

Drinking has a traditional place in the lore of the game. It is an unfortunate fact of life that some of its finest players would have been that much better if alcohol had not played such a part in their careers.

Don Larsen admittedly got to bed shortly before dawn before pitching his perfect game. “The imperfect man pitched a perfect game,” one paper put it.

Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle were both famous and notorious for their late-night exploits, sometimes with Martin. In the days of train travel, Monday often was a day off. “Sunday night was your time on the town,” Ford said. “By Tuesday you had recovered.”

The Yankee teams in those days were so good they could win anyhow. Most of them knew where they had to draw the line, especially Ford.

The 1974 team was neither so talented nor so slick. The Yankees were a game behind in the last week when they flew from Cleveland to Milwaukee and a fight broke out in the lobby of the new hotel.

Surly third-string catcher Bill Sudakis had been bullying young second-string catcher Rick Dempsey all season, and especially hard that day. Players said Sudakis had been drinking in the bullpen.

When Dempsey and Sudakis scuffled in the hotel lobby, a chrome flask fell from Sudakis’ pocket. Bobby Murcer, playing peacemaker, got his hand stepped on and his finger broken. The next night Piniella, playing right field in place of Murcer, dropped a ball, and a victory was lost. And so the pennant was gone.

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In a time when cocaine is the visible curse of sports, alcohol is often overlooked. However, the fact is that if all the players went out for a few beers and a sandwich -- or a steak and some wine -- after a game, it would be acceptable. If they all went out and did coke, it would not.

The issue in this case, as some of the more sober Yankees see it, is more Henderson than it is excessive drinking. Rickey is Rickey means “somebody who doesn’t realize what he’s saying,” Ron Guidry said.

Henderson plays an enormously physical game. “I take a lot of pounding,” he said. “Making the team go, I have to steal bases.”

He doesn’t understand that on those days he can’t run well enough to steal, he can still hit a double and win a game. Over the course of 162 games, everybody has times he can’t do it all. Even if he can’t steal, he’s usually better than the man who plays instead. “He doesn’t see that,” Ward said. “If he can’t do it all, he thinks he can’t play.”

His teammates aren’t saying that Henderson wasn’t hurt, but that he didn’t want to play hurt. The great ones are willing to play when they’re less than their best. “They find ways to keep going,” Guidry said.

The manager said he would say nothing to Henderson. The manager would like the whole thing to quietly die. It can only be hidden.


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