The Boss at eye of storm on dark night for baseball


NEW YORK -- The umpires started a game they needed to postpone before an inning was complete.

George Steinbrenner ripped American League president Gene Budig for being in Kansas City.

And instead of opening the biggest series of the season, the Orioles and Yankees left without knowing how many games they will play today.

Baseball fever: Catch it!

Only in this pathetically run sport could Steinbrenner become the center of attention on a night Mike Mussina was supposed to face David Cone.

Oh, Mussina and Cone started all right, but it's uncertain whether the two staff aces will pitch again in this series.

Cone said he would pitch "whenever they want me to go," while Orioles manager Davey Johnson said he wanted to see how Mussina feels today.

Whatever, the drenched fans at Yankee Stadium had to wait 2 hours, 45 minutes in the rain before learning the game was called.

The most likely outcome is a twi-night doubleheader tomorrow. The Orioles voted down a day-night doubleheader with separate admissions.

"I'm surprised we don't know what we're doing," Orioles second baseman Roberto Alomar said. "The Yankees left 45 minutes ago. We're still here. It seems like they know what's going on."

Not exactly.

"I think we're talking about one game," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "I told my players to call in the morning."

What is this, Little League?

Nope, just the major leagues, circa 1996.

It's no surprise Orioles resisted a day-night doubleheader. The Yankees resisted one at Camden Yards earlier this season.

The Yankees reportedly demanded $5,000 for each member of their traveling party -- the normal rate is $2,000 per player -- plus a contribution to a charity.

The teams wound up playing a traditional doubleheader instead, with the Orioles collecting one gate instead of two.

Now it's payback time, in every way.

Steinbrenner apparently was angry that the Orioles called off their game with Milwaukee so early yesterday, believing they were trying to save their bullpen.

Yesterday, he became his own weatherman.

Only Steinbrenner would meet with his manager for 90 minutes behind closed doors before the biggest game of the season.

And only Steinbrenner would trash the league president when no one from the AL office was present to help decide whether the game should be postponed.

Steinbrenner said the Yankees told the umpires a steady drizzle would fall all night, with strong wind and periods of heavy rain.

Yet, crew chief Joe Brinkman started the game on time.

"I thought we could play, keep it going," Brinkman said. "This field here is the best. We could get through a ballgame in the light drizzle we started with. But then it started to rain."

And the wind started to blow.

"You saw how bad it was," Orioles center fielder Brady Anderson said. "My first at-bat, I hit a ball that should have been 50 feet back in the stands. Instead, it ended up back on the field. The outfield was continually getting worse."

By then, Steinbrenner was fuming.

"Someone from the league office should be here at a series of this importance," he huffed.

And, standing in the back of the Yankee Stadium press box, The Boss made it clear who he thought that someone should be.

"Budig was in Kansas City yesterday to see the 3,000th hit of Molitor -- I can understand that," Steinbrenner said.

"But that was yesterday. This is today. He should be here."

Not so, responded AL spokeswoman Phyllis Merhige.

"[Budig] knew the weather was an issue. He was in constant contact with our office. He was in contact with the Yankees. He spoke to George tonight," she said.

"This game was in the hands of the umpires. They were instructed -- which we thought the Yankees wanted -- to do everything they could to get the game in.

"Beyond that, I don't know what he could have done even if he had been there."

Still, The Boss wouldn't forgive Budig.

"He's a good man. He could be a great league president. But he needs to get his priorities straight," Steinbrenner said.

Well, at least the owner gave Torre and general manager Bob Watson a night off, right?

Uh, not exactly.

Steinbrenner sat at Torre's desk until an hour before game time, outlining rainout scenarios and pitching possibilities.

"This is his chair," Torre said. "I'm just borrowing it."

Truer words were never spoken by a Yankees manager.

The pre-game scene was vintage New York panic. Reporters gathered outside Torre's office. Steinbrenner conducted meeting after meeting inside.

Cone, Watson and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre came and went. Torre broke open a bag of pretzels. And the Boss played Alexander Haig.

He finally emerged and strolled into the trainer's room, where he summoned Watson for another chat, while reporters filed into Torre's office.

"What's going on with all this?" was the first question.

"All this intrigue?" Torre replied.

Torre smoked a cigar, smiled at reporters, seemed remarkably subdued, considering the bizarre circumstances.

Did Steinbrenner fill out his lineup card?

"If he did, he took it with him," Torre said.

The rainout led to another meeting, and this time Steinbrenner emerged to say, "Please don't let me open the papers and see I ripped Budig. I'm not blasting him. I'm not ripping him. All I'm saying is I wish he had been here, and I still think he'll be the best league president we ever had."

With that, Steinbrenner left the clubhouse, trailed by a throng of reporters. Inside the stadium tunnel, someone cried "George! George!" but Steinbrenner marched on, believing it was just another media type.

It was Cone.

Back inside they went to settle the madness, as only The Boss can.

Pub Date: 9/18/96

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