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Yankees Baylor Eyes a Sit-Down Session With Steinbrenner

December 20, 1985|CLAIRE SMITH | The Hartford Courant

NEW YORK — Don Baylor, who last week staged one of the loudest rebellions in recent Yankees history, has a proposition for owner George Steinbrenner.

"Let's talk," Baylor says. "There's no gag rule about an owner talking to his own player. So if George wants to talk to me about the situation, let's sit and talk.

"I don't hold anything against him. The only thing that I hold against him is that I want to play every day. That's where this whole thing started."

Steinbrenner's reaction? There was none. For the owner, who went underground at the winter meetings last week, remained unavailable for comment this week. The only word leaking out of the entire Yankees organization was a veiled threat to take Baylor before a grievance committee because of his refusal to approve a trade to the Chicago White Sox.

Baylor is not suggesting he stay with the Yankees. Nor is he reconsidering his position on the now-dead trade to Chicago, nor his standing trade demand. Nor is he pretending to be any less stubborn than Steinbrenner.

"I would rather hear from him than picking up a newspaper and reading about it," Baylor says. "But I'm not going to call him and ask for a meeting. I'm just not going to. Just like he's not going to call me. I made it known that I was unhappy by going to his office and talking to Clyde (General Manager Clyde King). So, if he wants to talk to me about it, let's have at it."

And, if the owner declines and makes Baylor sit until the team reaches the end of 1986?

"I can live with whatever decision he makes," Baylor says. "The only thing I can't live with is not playing every day. There's a possibility that might not happen until Aug. 1. But I don't think they want to see me around until Aug. 1."

That date, Baylor believes, could secure free agency, since it is the time the Yankees have to decide whether to exercise the option for 1987.

Even though he is still combative, Baylor insists he wants to end the bitterness. And he believes that entails getting the middlemen out. "What happens a lot of times when a relationship goes bad," he says, "is that you have too many men in the middle, too many stories to tell."

There are teams Baylor says he would like to play for. And the asking price for waiving his no-trade clause wouldn't necessarily be as high as the one that killed the Chicago deal (a $250,000 signing bonus to buy the no-trade, plus guaranteeing his entire 1987 salary of $875,000. The way the contract is structured, Baylor already is guaranteed $375,000 in 1987).

Baylor favors clubs that employ people who helped mold his career, those he calls his baseball "stepfathers." They include Milwaukee GM Harry Dalton, Boston GM Lou Gorman and Manager John McNamara, California owner Gene Autry and Manager Gene Mauch, and Baltimore Manager Earl Weaver.

Baylor says the discussions concerning such teams could go smoothly, "if I thought there was interest there to pursue. If he (Steinbrenner) says 'I tried them and there's no interest at all,' then I say 'what do you suggest?' It wouldn't take a long time to do it. But I don't know if players and owners have that type of relationship."

At this point, Baylor and Steinbrenner certainly do not. Baylor's peace offer came soon after the White Sox deal died, a trade that had the potential to bring catcher Carlton Fisk to New York. It came one day after the Yankees were reportedly ready to file the grievance that could jeopardize Baylor's 1986 salary ($750,000), the 1987 monies and deferred payments. (No such grievance has been filed yet.)

Why did Baylor, one of the most reserved of the often volatile Yankees, rebel so openly? Even he admits it is out of character. "I've never wanted to go out with a bitter taste," he says. "You build a reputation all these years and all of a sudden, you have one bad incident. It's the last thing people will remember."

Then why?

"Pride," he says. "Ninety-nine% is pride."

And that pride was wounded when the Yankees chose to dismiss Baylor's 23 homers and 91 RBI and instead point to his .216 batting average against right-handers and .233 average overall in 1985 as reason to relieve him of his starts against right handers. "When they say you're facing just left-handers, there's only one thing left--the streets and 'see you later,' " Baylor says.

Baylor does not understand that attitude, which would have him sit against more than 80% of the league's starters. Especially when he knows he hit 12 homers and drove in 52 runs against righties and hears elsewhere that he is an everyday player. (Tony LaRussa promised as much when discussing Baylor's proposed White Sox duties.)

"Opposing players, coaches and managers marvel that you're not in there," Baylor, 36, says. "They say, 'You kill us. Why aren't you playing? We're glad to see you on the bench.' Some other teams look at the run production and see I was second to (Don) Mattingly in RBI per at-bats (Mattingly drove in a run every 4.5 at-bats, Baylor every 5.24, Dave Winfield every 5.55).

"At the All-Star break, I had 60 and he (Mattingly) had 69," says Baylor, who had 67 less at-bats at the break (337 to 270), but 205 at the end of the season (652 to 477).

"I don't think it's so bad that a player wants to play every day," Baylor says. "If a guy wants to play 20% of the time and make X amount of dollars and live with himself, let him do that. But I don't want to."

It's possible the situation can get better. Baylor is also aware things can get a lot worse.

The grievance hearing could be only the beginning. Baylor laughed at that ploy, pointing to his contract stipulation that calls for "written consent for a specific assignment," which means written approval to any other club. As for what else may lie ahead, he says he is braced for the worst.

"I know it can get nasty," he says. "But it's not going to be on my part. It's going to be on their part. And I have a long time before spring training to put my shell up."

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