Dislike between two men aids Red Sox
Payback is a hitch. A hitch in George Steinbrenner's plans to replace Roger Clemens with the very ace Clemens once saved from slackerdom, Curt Schilling, a soft, jowly underachiever until that day the Rocket lit his fire with a pep talk that would've made a proud general out of Steinbrenner's idol, George Patton.
As a new man who credited Clemens for selling him on a commitment to excellence, Schilling helped the Arizona Diamondbacks beat the Rocket and the Boss in the World Series. Fair enough. The New York Yankees already had their three-peat.
But naming your son Gehrig and then shaking hands with the Boston Red Sox while rejecting a chance to fill Clemens' locker and pull the Yanks from the rubble of the worst kind of three-peat — three straight years without a parade?
Something's terribly wrong there. Something that can best be explained by the mutual contempt binding two rich, powerful and competitive men.
Jerry Colangelo and Steinbrenner can't stand each other, and the sentiment runs far beyond the handshake deal Colangelo had with David Wells before Steinbrenner made like a long, lost love rising up from the back pew of a wedding ceremony to state his objection and ruin the day.
In peddling Schilling, Colangelo would not demand Alfonso Soriano and Nick Johnson — the Yankees' two best young players — and then accept from the Red Sox Casey Fossum, Brandon Lyon and a Pedro Martinez-autographed portrait of Don Zimmer eating the Fenway Park dirt unless he had reason to be so tough on one suitor and so tame on the other.
Colangelo now says this was straight-up honest business, a claim that isn't worth any more than that David Wells handshake.
This all goes back to the day Colangelo threw $7 million at Buck Showalter, whom Steinbrenner had run out the door following the 1995 season by demanding that he, the Boss, select the manager's coaching staff. Steinbrenner was hardly thrilled that Colangelo swooped in so decisively, and sent a message to the Diamondbacks' owner through White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, a message that effectively warned Colangelo he should proceed with caution when picking through King George's trash.
"Tell George he had his chance with Buck," Colangelo told Reinsdorf.
"Tell him to go stuff himself."
The divide between Steinbrenner and Colangelo deepened two years later when the Yankees' owner was willing to run with media reports suggesting that the Diamondbacks were tampering with Bernie Williams long before he hit free agency.
"I'm aware of all of (Steinbrenner's) comments and second-hand things out there," Colangelo told me in phone interview on Feb. 20. 1998. "But the funny thing is he's never said anything to my face. He sees me and just shakes my hand. I won't lower myself into the kind of contest I'm told he likes.
"When my name was mentioned as an expansion candidate, George...was a very strong proponent of mine. But as soon as I signed Buck, our relationship changed."
Colangelo was back on the phone three days before his Diamondbacks began playing the Yankees in the 2001 World Series, and this time he was claiming a bridge had been built between his world and Steinbrenner's. After the Yankees' owner actually said, "I love Colangelo; he's one of my favorite guys" and engaged the Diamondbacks' owner in a friendly pre-Series conversation, Colangelo was eager to play along.
"George told me he knew we'd play sooner rather than later in the World Series," he said then, "because he looks at me as the kind of competitor he is, and that's a nice compliment. I have a great deal of admiration for George and the winner that he is.
"On Bernie, there was never anything to that tampering stuff and I eventually told George just that and there were no hard feelings, Buck was a different story. George let Buck go and after the fact he had second thoughts. He wanted to get Buck back but he'd already committed to (Joe) Torre.
"So I didn't do anything inappropriate. Buck was in a free marketplace. Maybe George had a different idea about that then, but it's over with."
Oh no it wasn't, not by a longshot. When Wells left his Arizona recruiting visit following the 2001 season, he grabbed Colangelo's hand and agreed to agree on a contract. The signing was supposed to be a formality, at least until Wells broke bread with Steinbrenner and jumped at his former employer's offer to return to the Bronx.
Wells would explain his desert double-cross by saying he never signed any document. "That's kind of wishy-washy," Colangelo would counter. "But that's OK. He's got to live with it, not me."
That 'he' was meant for Steinbrenner, too. It took Colangelo two years to pay back Steinbrenner with interest, but Schilling represented the perfect vehicle of retribution. The right-hander wasn't just the man who helped topple Steinbrenner's dynasty, and wasn't just the man who could make the Red Sox the actual favorites in the American League East.
Schilling was also the man who said this of Yankee lore: "When you use the words 'mystique' and 'aura,' those are dancers in a nightclub."
Schilling delivered this priceless (if scripted) quote before Arizona made a little magic of its own. And now?
"He'll be a king and a hero if they can win a World Series in Boston," Colangelo said of Schilling.
Yes, Martinez to Schilling to Lowe could be Boston's answer to Tinker to Evers to Chance, a relay that will connect the last Red Sox championship in 1918 to the next one in 2004.
The Sox didn't lose out on Schilling like they lost out on everyone from Jose Contreras to Bernie Williams to Babe Ruth. Colangelo hand-delivered them a slam-dunk trade, gave them 72 hours of quality time with Schilling, and would've granted a half dozen deadline extensions to Larry Lucchino, an executive Steinbrenner loathed long before he called the Yankees the "evil empire."
"I guess I hate the Yankees now," Schilling said at his Friday night news conference.
The owner who traded him? The evidence suggests Jerry Colangelo doesn't hate the Yankees, just the man who owns them.