Reggie In Time-Out

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One amazing thing you’ll find about Reggie Jackson is how little he’s evolved from his playing days.

When looking for a Thurman Munson quote regarding Reggie’s famous “straw that stirs the drink” comment I found this William Nack Sports Illustrated profile from 1980 that is almost identical to the piece this week that’s gotten him placed into time-out by the Yankees organization.

The quote I was looking for, attributed to Munson, was an incredulous, “For four pages?!?” at the suggestion that Reggie’s “straw” comments in Sport Magazine were taken out of context.

When the latest Sports Illustrated piece came out, I wrote essentially that Reggie was Reggie before Manny was Manny (Manny Ramirez); that he was going to do what he would do, say what he would say and backtrack when faced with the consequences for his “candor”; that he was goaded into saying those things by the reporter.

Is his relationship with Alex Rodriguez damaged beyond all repair? Are the disparaged Hall of Famers and their families offended? Will he be allowed to hang around the Yankees again at his leisure?

Here’s the cold-blooded answer: what’s the difference?

A-Rod is very intelligent and calculating. He’s attention-starved and brings on much of his problems himself, but a large chunk of his issues stem from the hypocrisy he saw with Derek Jeter and Joe Torre among others. The “Jeter does no wrong” brigade is shocked when Jeter acts as if he was hit by a pitch when he really wasn’t and takes his base as the umpire instructs; the “St. Joe” label attached to Torre conveniently hid how calculating, money-hungry and manipulative the former manager could be. With A-Rod, when he used the gamesmanship of yelling “HA!!” in Howie Clark’s ear to distract him when trying to catch a pop-up, it was A-Rod being a bush leaguer; when he opted out of his contract—clumsily—it was A-Rod listening to his Svengali agent Scott Boras and being greedy.

I doubt A-Rod was seriously bothered or surprised by what Reggie said. He’s smart enough and cynical enough not to be offended by it long-term.

You might see Kirby Puckett’s and Gary Carter’s family reply to what A-Rod said; for Jim Rice to start his “why me?” act; but they’ll have their own reasons for doing so. In the case of Puckett and Carter the families will presumably reply to the question when it’s asked. With Rice, he’s still looking for validation that he presumably felt would fill that void when he was finally (deservedly) elected to the Hall. But he’s still hearing the same old debates about whether or not he belongs and now it’s coming from a peer and rival.

As for the “adviser” role Reggie has with the Yankees, his influence died with George Steinbrenner. Reggie’s position is similar to Johnny Pesky with the Red Sox when the club let him be involved without any real power other than that of a treasured former player—i.e. an old man who hung around. He was popular with the fans and wasn’t bothering anyone. Along with the Boss’s other circle of “advisers”—Billy Connors, Dick Williams, Clyde King, Dick Moss, Randy Levine, his sons, sons-in-law and whoever else managed to gain his ear for a period of time, it’s not the way it used to be with the Yankees. Gone are the days when Steinbrenner listened to the last voice he heard (validating a Boss rant with sycophantic agreement) and reacted by dumping a player the baseball people wanted to keep and getting a player that no one else would take.

Reggie’s mistake is that he is bothering the club by creating a controversy for no reason. It’s a hallmark of his life. Whereas it would once be brushed off and handled by the Boss, now with Brian Cashman in charge, Hank Steinbrenner effectively muzzled and subdued and the more thoughtful Hal Steinbrenner holding sway, how much of Reggie’s advice is actually taken? How much of it is listened to? How much is he even around and does anyone notice when he is or isn’t?

Notice.

That’s what Reggie wants. It’s always been that way and clearly from the latest SI piece and fallout, that’s never going to change.

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George Steinbrenner’s A.J. Burnett Missive From Beyond The Grave

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Is Billy Connors still a Yankees employee?

Or did his role as the organizational “pitching guru”—real or imagined though it may have been—die with George Stienbrenner?

One of the problems with the top down management style in which the GM is the boss is that there’s a continuity of strategy that can occasionally be debilitating when a different approach is needed.

Sometimes friction and undermining—on a limited basis—is useful.

Brian Cashman is in charge of the Yankees baseball operation…mostly. This holds true except when Randy Levine decides he knows more than Cashman does and signs a player like Rafael Soriano whom Cashman wanted no part of.

With that “almost” in charge responsibility comes the conscious decision to trust his manager and pitching coach in handling whatever comes up with the pitchers. That means manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild are entrusted with deciding what to do and how to fix—if he’s fixable—A.J. Burnett.

I don’t know what to do with Burnett; I don’t know what the Yankees are going to do with Burnett; I don’t know what the Yankees should or can do with Burnett. Having not seen his latest hideous start in which he allowed 9 runs in five innings to the Orioles, I can only go by the boxscore.

But that’s enough.

9 hits, 9 earned runs, 3 wild pitches and 2 homers in five innings is pretty much what it is—there’s no dressing it up.

Whether you believe Burnett’s story that he was cussing at the umpire and not Girardi upon his removal from his last hideous start (and I do believe him), the Yankees can’t keep trotting him out there if this is the performance they’re going to get; it’s every start now and it’s not fair to the rest of the team to play behind a pitcher who has become so thoroughly noncompetitive at the big league level that they’re going to either get blown out in the early innings or have to climb from a huge hole to win and burn out the bullpen to do it.

Freddy Garcia‘s cut finger bought Burnett some time and ended the Yankees six man rotation; but Garcia’s ready to come back. Burnett will again be safe because upcoming doubleheaders and an absence of off-days will require six starters; but once that’s done, how can they rightfully keep Burnett in the rotation when all returns to normal? What does it say to the rest of the team when someone is clearly holding onto his spot because of his paycheck, circumstances and the GM’s insistence that his signing was worthwhile?

And what would George Steinbrenner do?

If he was alive and at his bloviating peak, the first thing he’d do is scream like a raving maniac at someone about Burnett. It might be Cashman, Levine, one of his sons, an unfortunate secretary or a hapless assistant. But someone. The rant would resemble the following: “My GM tells me he’s getting me a great pitcher, I pay the guy $80 million *bleeping* dollars and he can’t even beat the *bleeping* Orioles!!!”

Then it would be leaked to the media that Steinbrenner’s not happy with Burnett; that he wants his manager Girardi and pitching coach Rothschild to do something about it. “It’s up to the manager and his experienced, veteran pitching coach—who has a long, respected history in the game—to figure out what to do with that struggling young man.”

Then he’d turn to a sycophantic member from the “Tampa faction” of the baseball ops, Connors.

This strategy’s logic is irrelevant; that’s what Steinbrenner would do.

Steinbrenner’s adherence to beliefs from his days coaching college football extended to his baseball ownership. For him, motivation emanated from fear and yelling. Sometimes it even worked. There have been times since his deterioration and passing that the Yankees needed a lightning rod to distract from issues that are now being taken up by Cashman; and Cashman has sometimes been tone deaf as to what he should and shouldn’t say. He’s not really suited to the role of organizational bad guy; Steinbrenner relished and cultivated it.

Would Connors or anyone else have success with Burnett? A bewildered shrug is the only answer I can formulate. I think former tennis star Jimmy Connors might be a viable choice to straighten Burnett out; if nothing else, he’d help with sour faces, carping at officials and showing some fire on the field while he’s on the field rather than when his manager inevitably comes to take the ball after another woeful start.

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