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Like Posada, Munson, Nettles sat after spat

Undated file photo of Thurman Munson.

Undated file photo of Thurman Munson.

Jorge Posada is not the first beloved Yankees catcher to sit out a game because of a spat with team management. Thurman Munson did it in 1978, according to Sparky Lyle's iconic tell-all book, "The Bronx Zoo.''

Lyle wrote that Munson and Graig Nettles were "so angry" about a $500 fine by the Yankees that "they refused to play against the White Sox today."

"Today" was April 15, 1978. And neither player appeared in the Yankees' 3-2 victory at Yankee Stadium.

Munson and Nettles were in the original lineup posted by manager Billy Martin, according to a Newsday account of the game, just as Posada was in Joe Girardi's lineup a week ago Saturday against the Red Sox.

Posada asked out because he was miffed about batting ninth in the order. He originally cited a tight back but later admitted that was an "excuse" and apologized.

Munson and Nettles apparently asked out because they were among five players fined by the Yankees for missing a charity "welcome home" luncheon the day before. They learned of the fines when they arrived at the Stadium. Lyle, Mickey Rivers and Roy White also were fined $500, although the Yankees later rescinded White's.

Nettles, a future Yankees captain, said he had the flu. He was replaced by Mickey Klutts. But Nettles admitted the next day that he was just angry about the fine.

Munson, the Yankees' captain at the time, was battling a sore right knee and wasn't speaking much to the media. He always played hurt, but on this day he decided not to. Cliff Johnson caught Ed Figueroa's 12-hit complete-game win.

In a series of telephone interviews with Newsday this past week, Nettles, Lyle, 1978 team president Al Rosen and Munson biographer Marty Appel all said the details of the event were difficult to recall. But none disputed the basic facts.

"Every day there was something," Lyle said. "Whatever did I guess was something they felt they had to do."

Lyle, 66, the manager of the Atlantic League's Somerset Patriots, said: "I know it was in my book. I haven't read that book since '78 and I vaguely remember that. But I really couldn't tell you what the hell that was about now."

Nettles, 66, called sitting out the game "silly" and "stupid" Friday -- although he said he didn't remember doing it.

"If I did, that was a silly thing to do, to sit out a game for a reason like that," the six-time All-Star third baseman said. "But I can honestly tell you I don't remember it. If I did, that was a stupid thing to do."

Appel, a former Yankees public relations director, said: "It's hard to imagine they pulled essentially a one-day strike. They were really such gamers."

But he added, "If that's what Sparky wrote, I have no reason to doubt Sparky."

The public reaction at the time was not as immediate as it was with the Posada incident -- no one tweeted in 1978 -- but the players were painted as the bad guys in some corners.

For example: Newsday columnist Bill Nack wrote that Munson and Nettles "malingered" and were guilty of "goldbricking." He also called Munson "baseball's most miserable millionaire."

At the time, Rosen said he didn't think the players would skip a game because of a feud with management (Munson and Nettles were among the Yankees who felt they were underpaid, especially compared with Reggie Jackson).

"It was upsetting to management, obviously," Rosen, 87, said Friday. "I think I'd be upset today if I was still active because it's one thing to be upset. It's another thing to not do what you're paid to do."

Oddly, George Steinbrenner was not a major player in this drama -- at least not publicly. Perhaps that's why it died down: The Boss didn't get involved, probably because of his affection for Munson.

"I don't recall his reaction per se," Rosen said. "I'm sure he was upset just like I was upset. Just like the players were upset."

But it didn't last. The players returned to the lineup the next day, Munson as the designated hitter. He went on to hit .297 in 154 games. Nettles hit 27 home runs in 159 games. The Yankees overcame a 14½-game deficit in the AL East, beat the Red Sox in the Bucky Dent game and won the World Series for the second consecutive year.

The events of April 15, 1978, had no effect on Munson's legacy. Time will tell if Posada's legacy will be similarly spared after the events of May 14, 2011.

But the standing ovation and cheers of "Hip, Hip, Jorge!" he received at Yankee Stadium when he pinch hit the next night probably answer that question.

New York Sports