The last time the Los Angeles Dodgers visited Yankee Stadium, their road grays were soaked with champagne. After losing the first two games of the 1981 World Series, the Dodgers swept the next four, including the series finale in the Bronx. It was the end of an era for the Yankees, and the transition to the next was punctuated by an apology.
"What would George Steinbrenner do?" After recent pinstriped disappointments, that question has become a common refrain. More rhetorical than inquisitive, the musing is often as pejorative as the Boss' many outbursts, which, although scathing at times, were usually more overt when he tried to be subtle. In order to accomplish this passive aggressive effect, Steinbrenner used one his favorite weapons...an apology.
"I want to sincerely apologize to the people of New York and to fans of the New York Yankees everywhere for the performance of the Yankee team in the World Series." - George M. Steinbrenner, October 28, 1981
The corks had barely been popped in the visitor's clubhouse before Steinbrenner's printed statement was circulating in the press box. In addition to apologizing on behalf of his team, the Boss also made sure to damn his troops with praise for the opposition. "I also want to extend my congratulations to the Dodger[s]...a team that didn't give up...and to my friend Tom Lasorda, who managed a superb season, playoffs and brilliant World Series," the Boss' statement concluded.
Needless to say, the Yankees' players weren't thrilled with Steinbrenner's apology. "I don't apologize for anything," Reggie Jackson fumed, "I'm sorry we didn't win, but we tried out best." Conflict between Steinbrenner and Jackson wasn't new, but Dave Winfield was getting his first taste. After going 1-22 in the series, which would later prompt the Boss to call him "Mr. May", the Yankees' newest slugger stated, "I've got no reason to hang my head...I'm proud to be here". Eventually, that sentiment would change.
At times, the 1981 World Series seemed more like a soap opera than an athletic competition, but since Steinbrenner assumed ownership of the team, the Yankees had always thrived under the adversity. All that changed after the Dodgers' victory in the Bronx. It would be 14 seasons until the Yankees next played in October, including a stretch in the early-1990s that ranks among the darkest periods in franchise history. Although he didn't mean it at the time, the Boss' apology was more like a foreshadowing of the years to come, rather than a retrospective on the just completed World Series. Of course, talk is cheap. Restitution of the Yankee dynasty didn't come via an apology, but only after Steinbrenner learned a better way to take care of baseball's Mona Lisa.
The Dodgers return to the Bronx is rife with symbolism. Los Angeles' new ownership group has often been compared to Steinbrenner, especially because of its attempt to quickly rebuild a tattered franchise by buying up high-priced talent. With the Dodgers currently sitting 10 games below .500, the results have been somewhat reminiscent of the Boss' late-1980s ensembles. Meanwhile, several Yankees fans are probably wondering whether Hal Steinbrenner has forgotten some of the lessons his father learned later in his stewardship. In the middle of it all is Don Mattingly, the Dodgers' manager who is presiding over a current disappointment in Los Angeles, and whose tenure in pinstripes spanned the darker days before George Steinbrenner's enlightenment. Finally, although an apology is unlikely to result from this series, each team could be offering a mea culpa to its fans by the end of the season. Then again, maybe not. That's probably something only the Boss would do.