This isn’t another ode to George Steinbrenner about the days when he was running the Yankees, the George Old Days romanticized so frequently around here, even more frequently lately. But this is about something that happened once with him and Reggie Jackson, something worth remembering now because of what just happened with Anthony Rizzo.
It was back in another baseball August, in 1981, and even though the Yankees were on their way to another World Series, no one had any idea that might happen at the time. And in the middle of it all, because he was always in the middle of everything, in good times and bad, was Reginald Martinez Jackson. Himself.
Reggie was hitting .212 in August, with just six homers and 28 RBI. So here is what the owner of the team up and did: Made him go through a day-long series of tests at the New York University Medical Center.
“I ordered the examination for Reggie’s good and for my edification,” George said at the time. “But mostly for Reggie’s good. The eye exam and the reflex test were especially important.”
It turned out that Reggie’s problems weren’t physical. He picked it up the rest of the way, had a .300 average and famous Game 5 against the Brewers in the playoffs, then batted .333 against the Dodgers in the World Series before leaving town for the Angels.
Reggie always thought that the owner of the team was just looking to embarrass him with the physical. But in the end, the slump that sent him to the hospital was just a real bad slump for a 35-year old slugger, and he didn’t need his eyes examined.
It brings us to Rizzo who, two months after a nasty collision with Fernando Tatis Jr. that snapped his head back and sent him to the bench with a sore neck on May 28, now goes on the injured list with concussion-like symptoms that have finally been identified.
The manager of the team, Aaron Boone, said that Rizzo, all this time after the collision, had a “likely” concussion, which sounded a little bit like someone talking about a woman being a little bit pregnant.
You know what’s more than likely? That the Yankees should have been looking a lot closer at Anthony Rizzo over the past couple of months, for their edification. For sure, concussions affect all people differently, and sometimes mysteriously. The Yankees put him through league-mandated testing after the condition. Rizzo himself didn’t finally complain about “fogginess” until last weekend. But how come nobody around the Yankees was really seeing what was happening with the second-best hitter on the team after Aaron Judge, and making the connection to that collision with Tatis Jr.?
This isn’t about willful negligence on the part of the Yankees or anything of the kind. In retrospect he absolutely should have said something sooner about waking up hungover after going to bed sober, and about his eyes playing tricks on him at the plate. But game after game, the people in charge were seeing all those at-bats where Rizzo was missing pitches he used to hit by a mile.
Listen, players play through things all the time. It’s part of their code. These weren’t the symptoms of a high-ankle sprain or sore pitching shoulder, easy to identify Still: Rizzo had been a .300 hitter in May, he had 11 home runs in his first 52 games this season, coming off a year when he had hit 32.
Then from when he was back in Boone’s batting order and back at first base on June 2 and through the point where they put him on the IL, he hit .172 over his next 46 games with one home run and 9 RBI. So a guy who had been hitting .300 hit 130 points less over a quarter-of-a-season’s worth of games.
I was talking to the best Yankee fan I know, and one who misses very little with his team, about Rizzo during the Baltimore series last weekend, before the announcement about Rizzo going to the IL. And my friend said, “He’s not picking up the ball. I’m telling you, there’s something wrong with him.”
Now all Yankee fans have a right to wonder why nobody associated with their team picked up on all of this sooner. After all, this is an organization that still seems to think it’s better than everybody else, at almost everything.
Here’s what Rizzo himself said at the Stadium on Thursday night, as we was trying to describe symptoms that he was told must have slowly “cascaded” on him since May 28:
“I would swing at a pitch middle-away, and I thought it was three feet off the plate. Things like that really started making me concerned.”
And he said this:
“I don’t consistently miss these pitches that I’ve been swinging at and missing — really just blatantly missing, big time, not even coming close. I can’t put a stamp on when that happened, but the last few days, I’ve voiced it a little more.”
Maybe the people in charge simply did what everybody has been doing with the Yankees, simply lumped him in with all of their other under-producing stars, and kept talking in a blue-sky way about them turning it around the way the manager does. It was Rizzo, though, whose batting became a slow-moving, two-month long train wreck.
After the collision with Tatis Jr. and until he went on the IL, Rizzo managed that one home run, during a 4-for-4 game against the Royals. Five of the RBI that he had over that stretch of time came in just two games, against the Royals and Red Sox. In the other 44 games Rizzo, who has been such a rock for the Yankees, had no homers and four RBI.
There has been a lot going on with the Yankees this season. Judge got hurt in Los Angeles a couple of days after Rizzo returned to the lineup and the Yankees were a sub-.500 team without him. Then there was the troubling situation with Domingo German, now in treatment for alcohol abuse after a bad scene in the clubhouse.
That was a big deal, of course. So, too is Rizzo, one of the best guys they have. This is about more than him gamely playing through the fog, keeping his growing concerns about himself to himself; about more than his concussion symptoms being atypical or not. This is about the plausible notion that maybe it’s not just the players who have been under-performing around the Yankees so far this season.
Knowing what we know now about Anthony Rizzo, maybe there’s some people around the Yankees who ought to have their eyes checked. We hear all about analytics with the Yankees, all the time. Look how long it took them to process the numbers with Anthony Rizzo.
COHEN MADE RIGHT CALL WITH METS, DON’T BLAME BUCK & DITCH THE TANKING TALK …
It always comes down to this in sports:
You have to trust that the rich guy who owns your team knows what he’s doing.
So it is now with Mets fans and Steve Cohen, who just turned August and September into a teardown.
Did he do the right thing once he decided he had a nowhere team being paid an historic amount of money?
He did the right thing.
This was a version of someone telling himself the truth — about his own product, in this case — as a last resort.
Now they’re talking about 2025 at Citi Field, and 2026, and that is all well and good.
But what about people who bought tickets to games in August and September thinking there was still going to be a baseball season at Citi Field?
Where do they go to get their money back?
There is one more question about the Mets right now?
Billy Eppler is the one who pulled the plug on the season here, with Cohen’s consent.
But is he going to be the one making the big baseball decisions for Cohen going forward, or is it going to be the next president of the Mets, whomever that is?
Here is the first paragraph of a news story in the Des Moines Register the other day: “The Story County Attorney’s Office has filed a criminal complaint against Iowa State University quarterback Hunter Dekkers, charging him with tampering with records related to the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation’s probe into sports gambling.”
My pal Barry Stanton, a former sports columnist himself, is right about something:
This is a bill being presented to sports, college and professional, for genuflecting at the altar of legalized gambling in this country.
You know what separates these games from pro wrestling?
That what we’re watching is on the level.
The second season of “Lincoln Lawyer” is even better than the first, which is saying plenty.
You want to know what a wrong turn the Mets took this season?
They got themselves into a dark place where we’re now reading stories about Pete Alonso being traded.
One more thing about this team:
If you think that this is Buck Showalter’s fault, you also think that pigs can fly.
The further we get from the 101 games that Buck won with pretty much this same team a year ago, the more we’re going to realize that it was one of the great managing jobs the big city has ever seen in baseball.
Every time I hear that the Astros and Orioles got good through tanking, as if that explains why the Yankees don’t have enough good young players, I ask this question:
When did the Dodgers tank?
When did the Braves tank?
I just can’t believe all those cynical, woke people who act as if three indictments for a former president of the United States, with one more surely to come in Georgia, is a lot.