So the New York Yankees’ situation has moved to its inevitable conclusion. With the poverty of talent abruptly and so cruelly exposed, owner George Steinbrenner has asked for help.
He has hired Syd Thrift to save the organization. You can close your eyes and cover your ears and still not shut out the thunder and lightning of the building ego wars.
But it makes sense. For 10 years Steinbrenner has been saying he wasn’t going to depend on the high-priced marketplace forever because he was going to raise his own talent; we’d see. There never was anything to see. He kept the Yankees close with what he could buy, but they couldn’t win.
All winter, Dallas Green, the new manager with the experience as general manager listed in darkest print on his resume, insisted the future of the Yankees was in player development. When Green saw what he actually had this spring, he pushed for trades that would help.
The Yankees couldn’t get Dale Murphy. If the Mets couldn’t get him, how could the Yankees? Green lamented, “We don’t have the ammunition.”
He wanted Lenny Dykstra to play center field in Yankee Stadium, but the Yankees didn’t have anything to trade that the Mets wanted.
Dave Winfield’s back injury will keep him out of action for half of the season, and at age 37 there has to be some question whether he can ever come back. And there is no replacement.
Since 1981, five teams have won the American League East Division title, and the Yankees aren’t one of them. Now the outlook is the bleakest it’s been for a long time.
And here comes Thrift, who rebuilt the Pittsburgh Pirates from the ashes to contender in three seasons. If there is any method in which Steinbrenner truly believes, it says get it done yesterday.
Aesop told about this a long time ago in the fable of the dog with a bone in his mouth walking across a bridge. He sees in the water the reflection of a dog with a bone in his mouth. The dog on the bridge tries to snatch that other bone and loses the one he has.
Steinbrenner wants what Thrift did in Pittsburgh, which was a remarkable thing. And there are those who would say it’s never too late to do the right thing.
But look at what the heedless headsman has done. Now he has six men with general manager credentials on his payroll, and that doesn’t count himself; he always counts as the deciding vote, his one over six. What kind of turmoil has he inflicted on himself? Who is in charge?
There is Bob Quinn, who is listed as general manager, but he didn’t get enough done; he didn’t transform the Yankees over the winter. Clyde King, a baseball sage whose advice Steinbrenner seeks, was a general manager. Charlie Fox, a member of the coaching staff, was a general manager. Lou Piniella, listed as a broadcaster, was a general manager. And Green, whose true love is player development.
Beyond that, Steinbrenner, Green and Thrift each has a monumental ego. Call it independence or strength of will or whatever, it comes out the same. Last season, which should have been Thrift’s moment of triumph, he was involved in his second power struggle in three years with the Pirates.
He succeeded in forcing out Mac Prine as team president in 1987; last year’s president, Carl Barger, and the chairman of the board, Douglas Danforth, threw out Thrift.
The board of directors -- mostly corporate executives like Steinbrenner -- voted 16-0 against Thrift, even though he had transformed the Pirates into a money-maker, guided them to their attendance record and built them from last place while cutting the payroll in half.
Barger said Thrift’s inability to work with other executives and his reluctance to share the credit for the Pirates’ resurgence overshadowed his baseball accomplishments.
Can you imagine anybody not sharing credit with Steinbrenner? In the last two months of last season, Thrift would sit in the office of Manager Jim Leyland, whom Thrift hired, and answer pregame and post-game questions directed to the manager. At one point, Leyland got up and walked out of the room.
In the last month of the season, the Pirates were playing the Mets in a crucial series, and Leyland and his coaches were going over the Mets’ players before the opening game. Suddenly, Thrift interjected his observations about the potential of a Class A player -- batting .219 at the time. Leyland fumed.
Word comes from Pirates players that Thrift often phoned Leyland in the dugout to second-guess his moves. Can you guess what Green’s reaction would be to that?
But don’t overlook what Thrift did after a nine-year absence from baseball. He traded catcher Tony Pena to the St. Louis Cardinals for center fielder Andy Van Slyke, right-hander Mike Dunne and catcher Mike LaValliere. That made the team.
He traded pitcher Jose DeLeon to the Chicago White Sox for third baseman Bobby Bonilla and -- this one hurts in the Bronx -- pitcher Rick Rhoden to the Yankees for pitchers Brian Fisher and Doug Drabek in a six-player deal. Anybody who can do that, Steinbrenner wants.
Ultimately, this will get down to who’s in charge. Why not? We’ve seen the star wars between the cast of players Steinbrenner had 10 years ago. This is moving the scene of combat upstairs.
But the bottom line is, Steinbrenner is in charge. And that’s how we got to this place in the first place.