Tuesday, August 28, 2012

George Whinebrenner

A reality check from Uppity: My Untold Story About the Games People Play by baseball player/broadcaster Bill White:

George Steinbrenner's determination to control everything about the New York Yankees didn't end with the team itself. He not only wanted to control the Yankees, he wanted to control what was said about the Yankees – not just by sports reporters, who routinely found themselves frozen out when they displeased Steinbrenner, but also by broadcasters in the Yankees booth. Steinbrenner had a red phone installed in the broadcast booth so he could always be sure to get through when he heard something he didn't like. When that red phone rang, everybody knew it was Steinbrenner – and that he was [not pleased]. ...

Steinbrenner made no secret of the fact that he wanted "homers" [people with unquestioning enthusiasm for the home team] broadcasting his Yankees' games – and [my broadcast partner] Phil Rizzuto was a true homer, unable to hide his love of the Yankees and his joy when they won. I'm not criticizing Phil for that. That was simply the way he was, and it worked for him.

But I was another story.

Unlike Phil, I didn't have an emotional attachment to the Yankees, as a player or as a broadcaster. My job was to call the games as I saw them. If the Yankees played well I said so, and if they didn't, I said that, too. But Steinbrenner wanted something else.

"Why can't White be more like Rizzuto?” he would ask the broadcast producers. As diplomatically as possible – most of them were afraid of Steinbrenner's rages – they would explain that the broadcast needed straight play-by-play to balance Phil's homer-ish style. And in any event, they would say, “Nobody's going to change Bill White.”

Still, the calls from Steinbrenner to the broadcast booth came in during almost every game. A production assistant whose job it was to monitor the red phone would take the calls and write down Steinbrenner's demands and then pass the notes to whoever was calling the game.

If an umpire blew a call to the Yankees' disadvantage, Steinbrenner would want us to rip the ump. If a Yankees player who was in Steinbrenner's doghouse bobbled a play, Steinbrenner would want us to question his playing abilities and value to the team. With managers especially, if the Yankees were doing badly, Steinbrenner would want us to knock the manager's decisions on-air. Sometimes he seemed to think that such on-air critiques would actually be a motivational exercise, driving the player or manager to do better. At other times Steinbrenner, who was notorious for using the news media to communicate his displeasure with a player or manager, apparently wanted to use us to validate his intentions to get rid of a guy.

But whatever his motives, I wouldn't go along. The first few times I got the notes, I ignored them. Finally I told the young production assistant, 'Tell the Skipper I'm not even going to read this note.' Given Steinbrenner's temper, that probably wasn't fair to the production assistant.

The notes from Steinbrenner kept coming, and I continued to ignore them. Then suddenly one day they stopped. When I asked the production assistant why, he said, “Mr. Steinbrenner is still calling in the notes. He just told me not to give them to you anymore."

Truth is…some people whine and gripe and complain, not because it does any good, or even that they expect it to do any good, but because they like to whine and gripe and complain (…not that I’m complaining about that).

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