Yankees History: George Steinbrenner a Laughingstock When He Took over the Team

Harold FriendChief Writer IMay 27, 2012

TAMPA, FL - JULY 13:   Bobby Blish leaves after placing a flower outside of George M. Steinbrenner Field, after the death of George Steinbrenner on July 13, 2010 in Tampa, Florida. Steinbrenner, 80, the long time owner of the New York Yankees, died in Tampa Bay, Florida after suffering a massive heart attack.   (Photo by Tim Boyles/Getty Images)
Tim Boyles/Getty Images

On June 22, 1988, the New York Yankees had completed a nine-game road trip in which they lost seven games. Mr. George Steinbrenner fired manager Billy Martin for the fifth time.

The Yankees owner’s actions often made him the laughingstock of the sports world.

Martin replaced Lou Piniella as manager at the start of the 1988 season after Mr. Steinbrenner moved Piniella to the front office as general manager. Piniella had been Yankees' manager in 1986 and again in 1987.

One consequence of the disastrous 2-7 road trip under Martin was that the Yankees dropped out of first place. Guess who took over for Martin? Yes, Mr. Steinbenner moved Piniella from the front office back to the field.

Piniella, who should have known better, thought that he would be a long-term manager. He told reporters, "I am not an interim manager, that I can tell you. I wouldn't come back on an interim basis."

Piniella was the 16th Yankees manager in 16 seasons. Mr. Steinbrenner refused to tolerate anything less than excellence in anyone but himself. After all, it was he who hired the 15 managers whom he had to fire.

Mr. Steinbrenner wasn’t pleased with the way Martin had been managing. Cecilio Guante, not Dave Righetti, was Martin’s “stopper.” Today, a “stopper” is a closer.

Martin used Tommy John, who was 45 years old and was the first pitcher to undergo Tommy John surgery, three times in a five-day period. The Yankees had a seven-man pitching rotation.

None of that pleased the owner.

Off the field, Martin had been involved in a fight at a topless bar in Dallas. His frequent confrontations with umpires and use of his pitchers helped force Mr. Steinbrenner’s hand.

When Piniella took over, the Yankees were 40-28, two and one-half games behind the first place Detroit Tigers. Under Piniella, they went 45-48 to finish fifth.

Mr. Steinbrenner refused to accept a fifth-place finish. He fired Piniella and replaced him with Dallas Green for the 1989 season.

On August 18, 1989, Green was fired.

The Yankees were in sixth place. Bucky Dent was hired, which meant that the Yankees now had 18 managers in 17 seasons.

True to form, about one week before, Mr. Steinbrenner told reporters that he had no intention of getting rid of his good friend, Green: "I'm still supportive of my manager and have no plans to replace him."

Green was not as trusting as Piniella had been, saying: "Any management situation is liable to explode. I know it's part of the game."

When Mr. Steinbrenner refused to take advice from baseball men, the Yankees were no threat to win the division, the pennant or the World Series.