George Steinbrenner will turn 80 on July 4. Nowadays, you only hear about his health challenges. For those who covered Steinbrenner, the challenge was keeping up with him. We’ll reflect on some of the topics that surrounded the Steinbreinner regime as the owner approaches his landmark birthday. ?
In 1987, Jim Rice was the highest paid player in baseball with an annual salary of $2,412,500. [What a bench player makes today]. Don Mattingly went to arbitration in February, 1987, won his case for $1.975 million and Steinbrenner hit the roof. Steinbrenenr had embraced free agency, but always hated arbitration.
I spoke to Steinbrenner the day Mattingly won his case. I filed this report 23 years ago for Newsday:
Lift a glass, but not a stein, to Don Mattingly. He has become the Yankees' most valued player by winning his arbitration case for $1.975 million yesterday. Pardon Yankee owner George Steinbrenner if he does not join in the toast. Steinbrenner felt more like shattering the glass.
"I don't think any player is worth $2 million a year, I don't think any player is worth $1.5 million a year," Steinbrenner said from his office in Tampa. "I fully expect Don Mattingly to lead us into the World Series now and he better do it just like Gary Carter did after he got his big [$1.98 million] contract. "
It was the highest amount ever awarded in arbitration, surpassing the $1.85 million that Tigers pitcher Jack Morris won last week. If Mattingly does not produce an Octoberfest for the Yankees, he may end up with one of Steinbrenner's monickers, as in "Mr. May" for Dave Winfield. Winfield is now the second highest salaried Yankee, at $1.8 million.
"There's no bad feeling between Donnie and myself," Steinbrenner continued, "I'm not bitter. I'm a little disappointed [in Mattingly]. He said he was a kid from Indiana who just wanted to play baseball and that the money wasn't important. He's no longer just a little Hoosier from Indiana. I thought we were close to an agreement, then he came back and said he could not accept it. "
Steinbrenner said that Mattingly was leaning toward accepting his offer of a two-year contract for $3.5 million, but according to Steinbrenner , called back to say he "couldn't accept it because the union was putting tremendous heat on us [to go to arbitration]. " Jim Krivacs, Mattingly's agent, denied the charge. "That did not happen," he said. "The union did not put pressure on Donnie or us [agents]. Mr. Steinbrenner is a competitor and obviously doesn't like to lose. We wouldn't have liked to lose, either. "
Steinbrenner said he thought the arbitration award could be subject to a grievance if he could prove the union told Mattingly not to accept the $3.5-million offer.
Mattingly was heading back to his home in Evansville, Ind., and Krivacs said the player would not respond to Steinbrenner's remarks. "Donnie doesn't want to get involved in that," Krivacs said. "He doesn't want to stir up a fire. He wants to get into camp without incident. "
Krivacs walked out of Monday's hearing in Manhattan a confident man. The agent made his case a legendary one by comparing Mattingly not to his contemporaries - Eddie Murray, Jim Rice, Mike Schmidt - but to the all-time greats. "Historical comparisons were the only apt ones,"
Krivacs said. So he did some major name-dropping - Gehrig, Musial, Williams, Mantle, Mays. If Mattingly is not yet in their company for lifetime achievement, he certainly is a junior partner on the way up. The Yankees walked into the hearing as losers. Their sole point was that Mattingly should not be paid in the same category as Rice, Murray or Schmidt because he is so young, entering only his fifth major-league season. That might have been a good argument for juvenile court, but notin this case.
The Yankees, Steinbrenner said, were not confident. "I told my guys last week that we were going to lose," Steinbrenner said. "Arbitration is the cancer of baseball. I know nothing of this arbitrator, I don't know if he ever wore a jockstrap. I doubt it. Most just want to make a landmark decision. They love to get a big case. "
Top Salaries in Baseball (1987)
Jim Rice, Boston $2,412,500
George Brett, Kansas City $2,205,000
Eddie Murray, Baltimore $2,153,000
Mike Schmidt, Philadelphia $2,127,333
Gary Carter, Mets $1,998,571
Don Mattingly, Yankees $1,975,000
Ozzie Smith, St. Louis $1,940,000
Dale Murphy, Atlanta $1,900,000
Dave Winfield, Yankees $1,861,460
Fernando Valenzuela, L.A. $1,850,000
Jack Morris, Detroit $1,850,000