The words rushed out of Don Mattingly.
He was angry and saying, although with a sense of futility, what he felt had to be said. This rush of words came moments after the latest New York Yankee loss, their 15th defeat in their last 23 games. Still, Mattingly's despair had little to do with Sunday's loss, 4-2, to the Seattle Mariners.It wasn't just the defeat that was eating at him. He was reacting to another harsh season, made unbearable by the goading style of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. It was evidence of Mattingly's lost pride in being a Yankee and his distaste for the owner.
"I think there are a lot of unhappy players," said Mattingly, who signed a three-year, $6.7 million contract in the off-season. "There's no respect. They give you money and that's it. That's as far as it goes. They think money is respect. Call us babies, call us whatever you want. If you don't treat me with respect, I don't want to work for you."
He stopped short of saying that he didn't want to remain a Yankee. Mattingly has been slumping. Since hitting two home runs in a game against the California Angels last Tuesday, he is 4 for 23. Sunday, he grounded into his third double play in that unproductive stretch. There have been three strikeouts from a player who usually averages one in close to every 20 at-bats.
His one hit Sunday was a flare to left. "It didn't look like he wanted to be at the plate," said winning pitcher Scott Bankhead. "He wasn't swinging the bat like Don Mattingly; he was swinging it more like Wade Boggs does, trying to flick singles."
"It's hard to come to the ballpark when you're not having any fun," Mattingly said. "This is the first season I've had to fight myself to play the game every day."
The slump is grating, coming at a time when the Yankees have plummeted six games behind the Detroit Tigers in the American League East standings and are now closer to fourth than first. But it's not just Mattingly's recent slump that provoked his torrent of words. He was speaking out against all that he and his teammates have endured.
His mind flashed back to the All-Star break, when Steinbrenner said of Mattingly, "He's been awful. The most unproductive .300 hitter in baseball." He also said Dave Winfield's appearances promoting his autobiography and for charities had affected his play and that Rickey Henderson should have stayed in New York for treatment of an injury rather than go to the All-Star Game.
"Rickey Henderson gets dogged for going to the All-Star Game," Mattingly said. "He's a great player. Why shouldn't he be there? Do you think the Seattle Mariners dogged Harold Reynolds for making the All-Star team?"
The situation reached its apex in Cincinnati the night of the All-Star Game. Here were the best from both leagues gathered for baseball's summer festival. Their American League teammates shook their heads in disbelief as Mattingly, Henderson and Dave Winfield tried to answer the vented spleen of their owner.
Last Wednesday a groping Yankee team climbed to within 21/2 games of the Tigers with a win over the Angels. "I can't imagine any other team three games back or 2 1/2 games back treated like they're not even in the race," Mattingly said. "It was like we were 30 games back or 20 games back. No other club would be treated like we're treated. It's just not right.
"It's not the way to play. It's going to be treated as me complaining. But losing is not the problem. It's how we lose. We don't come out and play with excitement. The problem is there is no respect ever here.
"They talk about you, belittle your efforts, belittle your performance. They give you the money and it doesn't matter. They can do whatever they want to beat you. Then they send you out and expect you to play hard. And you're supposed to go out and have fun?"
Asked if he was concerned about Steinbrenner's reaction, Mattingly said, "I'm not worried at all. I don't care what anybody says. To tell you the truth, I can play. I'm going to have fun playing somewhere, I can guarantee you that."