Somebody was going to throw a fit eventually, and who better to go nutzo than Popeye Zimmer? Yankee bench coach, and manager Joe Torre's right hand man, Don Zimmer blasted his old pal George Steinbrenner yesterday. According to the Post:
"I hate to read the paper for 21/2 days that Torre is on the hot seat, that Torre is this and Torre is that and then for [Steinbrenner] to say that this is Torre's team and I have gotten him everything he wanted," Zimmer said in the dugout.
"What did Torre know about [Hideki] Matsui or [Jose] Contreras? I know Torre was probably instrumental in getting Todd Zeile here and he will be a good player. But now that we fail, it's Joe Torre's team. I think that's unfair.
"I don't care who knows it. We are struggling, and it's Joe Torre's team. For seven years it was [Tampa's] team. I would think we were all in this together, but you know that's not the way it is. He is the boss, but I ain't in prison.
"I never understood the split. I thought we were all fighting for the same thing. He is a big man but I was asked a question and I ain't going to duck it. I get tired of hearing it. I get fed up with the talk about the manager. He won four World Series in seven years. To me, that's a joke. But [Steinbrenner] calls the shots. We are struggling for two weeks and all of a sudden it's Joe Torre's team. For seven years it was their team."
..."We all know who the boss is, the world knows who the boss is. But what does that mean? That somebody can't say something," Zimmer said. "You are supposed to clam up like a mouse because he is rapping everybody?"
..."If he wants to talk to me I have been here [in the clubhouse]. If he wants to talk about that, we will talk about that," Zimmer said. "I respect him as the boss but does that mean we have to back off?"
..."He put the heat on the hitting coach, but this guy is here every day at noon and works his [butt] off," Zimmer said. "I don't know if he is a great hitting coach or not but he ain't going to cheat anybody."
Bill Madden, who collaborated on Zimmer's autobiography, reports that the rift between Popeye and Boss George has been brewing since early this year:
"I don't know what happened," Zimmer told me recently. "I've been friends with the man for 25 years. We live in the same town, I've worked for him three times. We've been on trips together and we've been at the track together hundreds of times. Then, all of a sudden, I see him at the track last winter and he walks right past me, refusing to speak to me."
Then when Zimmer got to spring training, he was informed he was not going to be issued a car as was the standard for all the coaches. A day later, that order was rescinded, but Zimmer had gotten the message and told Yankee officials what they could do with the car. Being equally stubborn, neither Zimmer nor Steinbrenner saw fit to seek the other out and mend their friendship, making it inevitable that it would come to this.
Ah, just another day of modern maturity in the Bronx. Still, since Torre isn't about to go after the Boss in such a blunt tirade, it proves that Zim does more for the Yanks than sit on his ass and whisper in the managers' ear. After all, what does he have to lose? He's too old to care. Madden concludes:
In the past, when Steinbrenner has sought to get at his manager by firing one of his coaches, the deed was done without much protest, and everyone moved on until Steinbrenner got the manager as well. I can't say with certainty that Torre would walk if Zimmer were fired, but I do know the loyalty and, yes, love that exists between these two men, and that's not something anyone should ever take lightly.