Yanks do A-Rod an in-Justice
David Justice's pointed critique of Alex Rodriguez Tuesday night on the Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network was not a solo act.
A variety of moles, some embedded inside YES, said Justice, the network's pre- and postgame studio analyst, was strongly encouraged - perhaps even ordered - to criticize A-Rod, by YES brass, including the network's production boss, John Filippelli.
"It (Justice's A-Rod rip) was verbatim what they wanted him to say," one mole said.
The question is, did the order to verbally hit A-Rod come directly from the Yankees' high command?
Justice was not the only YES voice approached to put the wood to Rodriguez, who was mired in another slump until breaking out Wednesday with a game-winning home run. The three voices who worked Tuesday night's game on YES - Michael Kay, Jim Kaat, and Al Leiter - were also "encouraged" to come down on A-Rod. Saying Rodriguez was not the only problem the Yankees have, they flat out refused to single him out and trash him.
When asked about the situation, Eric Handler, a YES spokesman, would only say: "As always, there is a healthy give and take among production personnel regarding the direction of the show."
Apparently, this particular "give and take" lingered after Tuesday night's postgame show ended. After hearing Justice's spiel on A-Rod, the three voices were stunned by the length and intensity of the spew. "They (Kay, Kaat, Leiter) could not believe this ---," one source said.
"They were all still steamed when they came back to the Stadium Wednesday morning (to work Braves-Yankees game)."
The timing of Justice's soliloquy was curious for one reason: He had recently encouraged fans to lay off A-Rod and stop booing him.
And yet Tuesday night, Justice, in one of his more compelling moments as a YES analyst, delivered a measured but hard-hitting riff on Rodriguez. Even if it was scripted, it had impact.
"If the game is 9-2, he might make it 9-4. If the game is 7-1, he might make it 9-1. But when it is 2-2 late in the ballgame and I need a base hit to score a run, the numbers show he has not been getting it done," Justice said.
"... The one guy you need more than any of them (Damon, Giambi, Jeter), just because of his sheer talent and ability to carry a ballclub on his back, is not answering the bell and that is what is so frustrating to the fans. And I'm sure it is frustrating to him," Justice said.
"...Everyone says he is going to come around, but if he comes around in two weeks, where will the Yankees be between now and two weeks?" Justice asked.
To put this episode into historical perspective you must go back long before YES was in business. Ten years ago if a particular Yankee was slumping, and getting paid millions, George Steinbrenner would have called a baseball writer, blasted the player, and sent a harsh message in the form of a blaring back-page headline.
Now that Steinbrenner is not inclined to smoke players through the newspapers, maybe his people - perhaps Yankees prez Randy Levine - are doing it through their TV network.
"This is the same thing George used to do, but simply done differently," a source said. "Any number of people could have been involved in this, but everyone seems to agree David Justice didn't do this on his own."
And if the hit on A-Rod was not ordered by Yankees brass, it could be Filippelli again anticipating what Steinbrenner or Levine wants to see on the network - the kind of message he believes they want to send.
However, this all could simply be a case of Filippelli micromanaging his broadcast team. It is not uncommon, sources said, for him to telephone the booth multiple times during a game with instructions or suggestions for the voices. This habit apparently is wearing thin on the announcers and creating frustration.
Since he has come to the Yankees, A-Rod has been a lightning rod for controversy. Now, in a certain sense, he has created a storm in the broadcast booth. YES has always had its share of static - from Steinbrenner ordering a ban on Don Zimmer camera shots to the suits feeding Kim Jones questions to ask Joe Torre - so this A-Rod episode is not unusual.
Still, by the reaction of YES broadcasters to this Justice/Rodriguez thing, one must wonder if they are getting tired of what passes for business as usual at YES.
On Wednesday afternoon, during the seventh inning, Kay, Kaat and Leiter were discussing how umpires are affected by QuesTec.
"This is like Big Brother looking over your shoulder," Kaat said. "Nobody likes to do their job with somebody standing behind them trying to influence how you do your job. You hire a guy, you ought to give them the right to call 'em as he sees 'em." Considering this latest YES flap, one wonders if Kaat was only thinking about umpires.