How did we ever survive without the internet?
That’s rhetorical, of course. People obviously survived without the Internet for centuries. How about a better, perhaps more poignant question: How awesome is the internet? The answer to that one is easy: incredibly awesome. For example, I stumbled across this fantastic story on the internet — reported by Fred Rothenberg of the Associated Press in June of 1976 — about a classic interaction between late New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and the late Jimmy Esposito, former head groundskeeper of the original Yankee Stadium.
Before we get into the story, let’s consider one point to set the scene: As I’m sure every groundskeeper for each of the 30 Major League Baseball organizations can attest, the relationship with ownership and management can, at times, be challenging and unique, in some form or another. I believe this is a fair assumption to make.
OK, back to the summer of 1976. The place is the Bronx, New York, and the original Yankee Stadium in all its splendor (have I mentioned I’m an unabashed, diehard Yankee fan?). A complete renovation had been done to the stadium that April, which included a new field and new grass.
Into our story comes George Steinbrenner, known for his outspoken, fiery and controversial personality and ownership style. Steinbrenner is deciding whether he wants to hold a June 15 boxing match between Joe Frazier and George Foreman at the stadium, specifically on the new field and grass. He decides to weigh the pros and cons and consults an expert opinion – his “gardener.” After this consultation, Steinbrenner decides the boxing match would do too much damage to the newly planted Yankee Stadium sod. How did he arrive at this decision?
“My gardener said so,” Steinbrenner matter-of-factly told the media.
Must be a talented gardener, right? Well, considerably so, yes. Steinbrenner’s “gardener” was actually Jimmy Esposito, head groundskeeper at Yankee Stadium. It’s not all that surprising Steinbrenner viewed Yankee Stadium as his personal garden; this fits the preeminent attitude he carried all his life about the Yankees – his Yankees. His stadium.
Back to Esposito. As you would expect from someone in his position, Esposito was an expert on all things Yankee Stadium. “I’m in a position where I know everything there is to know about my ballpark,” Esposito told the Associated Press. “That means the top soil, the grass, everything. I know how much my grass can withstand, and I know how much damage a fight in June would do to the field.”
Esposito went on to explain further why he didn’t want the fight to take place on his field: “It’s a completely new field. The chairs and [boxing] ring on the grass have got to do a lot of damage. There would be 10-15,000 seats out there on the field. And these will be fight fans. They don’t just sit in their seats and politely applaud.
“The sod is like a human being. It has to be fed and taken care of properly. What happens if the field gets in bad shape and one of our players gets hurt and it costs us the pennant? That’s what I have to worry about.”
So what happened as a result of the fight not being held at Yankee Stadium? It was held at Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. The fight promoter sent four tickets to Yankee brass – one for Steinbrenner, one for Steinbrenner’s toupee, one for the Yankee spokesman who denied Steinbrenner wore a toupee, and the fourth for, you guessed it, Esposito.
“He’s just mad because his fight won’t be [at Yankee Stadium],” Esposito said of the boxing promoter’s antics. “I don’t like fights. I like baseball. Strictly baseball.”
Well said, Jimmy. Well said.