The popular Yankee player was no fan of the manager. Tired of the way he was being used, upset at seeing his role diminished after having done so much for the team, the popular Yankee popped off. He dropped a four-letter word or two.
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Ruth was such a standard bearer for the franchise and the whole sport that it was only natural that he would be the first Yankee to experience a bitter sunset. Many have followed him down the road of hard endings, making pointed comments that did not sit well with management. Welcome to the Doghouse That Ruth Built.
Although Posada has since apologized and had a few hits this week, it seems he is on his way to a bumpy finish. And who knows what hard feelings await Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera?
Fact is, not everyone can be Don Mattingly, who left on his own terms. “My decision was made because of my kids, period,” he said during a visit to New York this month. Nor can everybody be like Paul O’Neill, moved to tears by fans serenading his name while the team still cherished him.
“Paul O’Neill had the best exit: A great last game. He wasn’t even formally retired, he hadn’t said anything, but the fans just got it,” said Marty Appel, the former Yankees public relations director and author whose next book is a team history due out next year.
Those are the exceptions. It generally gets sticky when a beloved player, with championship rings, starts to slip. This happens all over. John Hart, the former Indians and Rangers general manager, has been quoted as saying, “Don’t let a falling star fall on you.” Cardinals great Ozzie Smith still is unhappy over his farewell season under Tony La Russa and has kept his distance for 15 years.
The Yankees, with more stars and more success than anyone, have had more than their share of hard goodbyes.
But not all Yankee partings have had such jagged edges. The club, starved for attendance, desperately wanted Mickey Mantle to keep playing in 1969, even though he hit only .237 in 1968. Mattingly retired in 1995, not because the Yankees wanted him to or because his back couldn’t take it, but because he couldn’t stand being away from his Little League-aged sons. “I still felt like I could play,” he said. “I would have loved to have been here for the championship, but honestly, it was a good decision.”
In most of the cases, there was a happy ending after the sorry ending. Phil Rizzuto started broadcasting a month after his release and stayed on the job nearly 40 years. On top of that, having dignified champion players on the roster is a nice problem to have.
Still, it is a problem. “How would you like to be the poor guy,” Pepe said, “who has to move Jeter off shortstop?”
On his way to batting .288 with 22 home runs in 1934, he told sportswriters he had no use for Joe McCarthy. “I still say he’s a lousy manager,” Ruth said. During the World Series, which he attended as a visitor, he told writers, “I’m through with the Yanks. I won’t play with them again unless I can manage.”
This 1967 breakup best parallels Posada’s situation, according to Appel, who started working for the Yankees in 1968. “Posada comes from that same lineage of great catchers,” the historian said. Also, Howard was part of a championship core that grew old together, suddenly.
Howard, batting .196, was shipped to the Red Sox and helped them win the pennant. He was promised a job as a Yankees coach when he retired (which did happen). “It was a beautiful exit, but Arlene was very vocal about how poorly the Yankees treated him,” Appel said. Since then, others have speculated that the former Most Valuable Player, like Ruth, wanted to manage.
The popular Hall of Fame catcher was named player-manager on May 24, 1946 when McCarthy stepped down for health reasons. But Dickey eventually insisted on a contract for 1947, general manager Larry MacPhail declined and Dickey quit on Sept. 12.
In 1965, four years after he broke the hallowed single-season home run record, and one year after helping the Yankees to their fifth straight pennant, Maris was stifled by a hand injury. “There was some suspicion that he was jaking it, even though that would have been out of character,” said Phil Pepe, author of the current book, “1961*” and a beat writer in the 1960s. “Medical technology was not what it is today.”
Maris went on his own for a second opinion, learned he had a broken bone and was furious with the Yankees. His relationship never was the same with the team, which traded him to the Cardinals for Charley Smith.
Another former MVP, the slumping shortstop was called into a meeting with Casey Stengel and general manager George Weiss on Old Timers Day, 1956. The bosses wanted his opinion on which player should be cut to make room for Enos Slaughter. He was devastated when he realized they wanted him to say “Rizzuto,” which is what they had decided.
Having lost some of his brilliance as a centerfielder, he was not thrilled about playing first base for one game in 1950. Nor did he embrace his heir apparent. Leavy writes in her book “The Last Boy” that when Mickey Mantle lay on the ground, seriously injured, during the 1951 World Series, DiMaggio said, “They’re bringing the stretcher for you, kid.” It was the Yankee Clipper’s first conversation with Mantle all year, DiMaggio’s last.
George Steinbrenner ruffled his slugger by sending him for a medical exam in 1981 and hurt Jackson more by not offering a free agent contract. The Yankees had Dave Winfield and no regrets about letting Jackson sign with the Angels. He rebounded from a poor final year as a Yankee (.237, 15 home runs) and led the league with 39 home runs in 1982.
His most potent shot came on April 27, 1982, off Ron Guidry at Yankee Stadium. Fans turned toward the owner’s box and directed a loud, crude chant at Steinbrenner. The owner later said that letting Jackson leave was his greatest mistake.
“As far as I was concerned, it was always the Core Five,” Appel said, adding Williams to the home-grown collection of Jeter, Rivera and Posada. Williams was content with his retrenchment as backup outfielder in 2006. But he wanted a guaranteed contract for 2007 and Yankees general manager Brian Cashman offered only an invitation to spring training.
Williams was so offended that he stayed away from the old Yankee Stadium until an emotional return on closing night in 2008. He still has not officially retired (agent Steve Fortunato did not return calls about Williams’ plans for filing papers).