Before inter-league play, the New York Yankees played the New York Mets in an annual exhibition game for the Mayor’s Trophy. The proceeds went to charity, usually sandlot baseball.
Players on both teams didn’t care much about winning the game. It was, after all, merely an exhibition game, but for the fans, it was much more, especially for one Yankees’ fan.
George M. Steinbrenner became the principal owner of what had become New York’s “other” team in 1973. His primary goal was to change that, which meant the Yankees had to be better than the Mets.
From 1974-76, the Yankees won the game, but the Mets won in 1977.
The 1978 game was played on April 27, at Yankee Stadium, before 9,792 fans who braved temperatures that dipped below 50 degrees.
It wasn’t fun for the players, who just wanted to get the game over, but Brian Doyle, a little second baseman who would become crucial to the Yankees in the World Series, was trying to make an impression on Yankees’ manager Billy Martin.
Doyle might have been the only player who didn’t care how the game ended, as long as it ended quickly.
Twice, with the bases loaded and one out, Doyle made great diving stops of ground balls and turned each into an inning-ending double play.
“I was trying to show everybody I could play. I was giving 110 percent,” Doyle told reporters.
“After my first play, nobody congratulated me. I thought, well, I’m just doing my job. But after the second one, all the guys were just ragging me. It was pretty funny.”
Not to George M. Steinbrenner, and the players knew it, especially Brian Doyle.
“That game meant as much to George as the World Series and he was up in the box.”
The game was tied, 3-3, when Mets’ catcher Ron Hodges hit a ground ball to third.
Graig Nettles, considered by some to be the best of all Yankees’ third basemen, fielded the bouncer but threw the ball about 10 feet over first baseman Chris Chambliss’ head. Hodges wound up at second when the ball went into the stands, but the Mets couldn’t score.
Sparky Lyle, in The Bronx Zoo, claimed that Nettles deliberately messed up the throw to first, an accusation that Nettles denied.
The Yankees finally won in the 13th inning when Fran Healy pulled off a successful squeeze play, scoring Jim Spencer.
George Steinbrenner cared. Most of the fans cared. Brian Doyle’s motivation was self-interest.
Admittedly, self-interest is probably the most powerful of all motivating factors, but so is pride.
The late New York Yankees owner had pride in his team. He had pride in his players, although some players lacked pride in themselves and their team.
When Brian Doyle saved the game twice, the players were disappointed. What a disgrace.
Forget that it was an exhibition game. It was a game against the Mets. That made it worth winning.
A few short years ago, the Yankees opened up the spring exhibition season against the Boston Red Sox. The game was sold out, and some fans had to pay many times face value to see an exhibition game.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a game that doesn’t count in the standings. When a player takes the field, he must care and try his hardest.
Joe DiMaggio said it best.
“There is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first or last time, I owe him my best.”
The Yankees owed their fans and George Steinbrenner their best.
Post, Paul and Ed Lucas. “Some Major Leaguers Recall Embarrassing Moments.” Baseball Digest, Nov. 1999.
Sporting News, Apr. 4, 1951.