The concept of pitching around a batter is familiar to every baseball fan. When a player is too dominant, or too hot, a pitcher would rather face a less formidable alternative than give him a chance to win the game.
George Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankees, this year is attempting to pitch around the top run producer in the major leagues _ David Mark Winfield, an all-star ballplayer and a class act enjoying the finest season of a 14-year career _ by making him a non-person.
Why is Steinbrenner doing this? It's partly because he has met his better. Dave Winfield has beaten him in the courts and won't sink to the ill-spirited name-calling that characterized the Yankee owner's feuds with that gifted but emotionally vulnerable giant of the game, Reggie Jackson. Winfield is in a class above most, while Steinbrenner sinks in the mire.
Winfield, instead of batting in a power position, third, fourth or even fifth, was forced to the back of the batting order at the beginning of the year, usually to sixth, the position designed for a weaker hitter who introduces the bottom third of the batting order.
This indignity, at the hands of Steinbrenner and his rehired and now refired pawn, Billy Martin, was handed to a star who has batted in more than 500 runs in the last five years, tops in the league. A man who is playing close to the top in all offensive categories. Off the field, the attempts to humiliate Winfield flow strongly and without end. Winfield is banished from public view by a corporate structure that is bullied into submission by Steinbrenner.
In his autobiography, Winfield recalls his bitter victory in 1985 over Steinbrenner in a court case in which the greedy egotist refused to pay $300,000 as promised to the Dave Winfield Foundation, a charitable organization that helps out inner-city kids. In the book, Winfield concludes that he'll never figure Steinbrenner's gripe. "Part of it, I think, as a frustrated athlete with marginal ability, George wants to `own' his players, wants them up on their flippers barking for fish like trained seal. And from the beginning, I refused to bark."
Ultimately, the insult that Winfield faces is compounded by the real possibility that his story will not get out. Steinbrenner so bullies and controls his players, coaches, managers, broadcasters and even reporters that Winfield is shunned.
We need to look to the admiral of a rusted-out frigate for the answers to what's wrong with this faulty fleet. Steinbrenner, the Cleveland shipbuilder, isn't playing baseball; the game is essentially a convenient medium for his ego and greed.
This is a man who sullies the game, but one whom we can challenge in at least one way, suggested by Kenneth Paul of the New York Observer: "In making a contribution to the U.S. Olympic Committee, I wrote on top of the return form: `Please fire Steinbrenner.' (Steinbrenner was brought in to help motivate and instill a winning spirit among American Olympians!) Unless they return the check, I expect them to comply."
I agree. Steinbrenner won't get away with pitching around Winfield, and we shouldn't pitch around Steinbrenner. We should take him on.