Owners band together in defense of team
A day after blood was spilled and raw nerves were exposed in one of the most acrimonious postseason games in Boston baseball history, there were signs yesterday of conciliation. Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer tearfully apologized for charging Pedro Martinez. Johnny Damon indicated he would apologize to Zimmer if he were Martinez. Both teams prayed in Baseball Chapel for peace, with each session centered on a common theme: "Band of Brothers."
"Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!" the Red Sox and Yankees read from Psalm 133:1.
Then the Sox brass gathered before the media, igniting yet another contretemps. Not long after commissioner Bud Selig asked both teams to refrain from discussing the ugly physical confrontation in the visitor's bullpen Saturday between Sox grounds crew worker Paul Williams and a group of Yankee players, the Sox owners angered the Yankees and Major League Baseball officials by conducting a lengthy give-and-take over Saturday's game during which they provided firm support for Williams.
Principal owner John W. Henry offered his public backing of the part-time worker after citing his reluctance to discuss the matter.
"Since there's a police investigation, I don't think I should comment," Henry said. "I think we should probably refrain from further comment. I think when the facts come out that Mr. Williams will be vindicated, but there were witnesses, including the Boston police force, throughout the game. So let's let the facts come out."
The Sox brass also criticized Yankees president Randy Levine, saying he made "irresponsible" and "inaccurate" complaints about Fenway security, and they defended Sox players against assertions by the A's and Yankees that they have behaved poorly during the playoffs.
No sooner did the Sox owners complete their media availability, however, than an MLB official confronted them about speaking publicly about issues they purportedly had agreed not to discusss. Sandy Alderson, vice president of baseball operations for MLB, also visited Sox officials afterward to reiterate the commissioner's stance against the teams publicly discussing the matter. And Levine issued a statement of his own.
Yankees spokesman Rick Cerone, in the Yankee clubhouse after last night's game was postponed by rain, read a statement from Levine that said the Yankees did not plan to say anything about the bullpen incident "until after we learned the Red Sox violated the agreement."
"Both I and the Yankees stand by our statements of [Saturday]," Levine said. "We'll have nothing further to say until" the investigation is complete.
Dr. Charles Steinberg, Boston's executive vice president of public affairs, said Henry, Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, and chairman Tom Werner gathered in the Fenway interview room simply to respond to an avalanche of interview requests.
"They didn't talk about things they thought they couldn't talk about," Steinberg said. "They observed those parameters that are normal and respectable and logical and appropriate."
He said the Sox and MLB officials resolved the "momentary misunderstanding" about the purpose and content of the media session.
Unresolved, however, was the dispute between the Sox and Yankees, particularly over security at the park. Henry said he called Levine yesterday in the hope the Yankee president would retract the remarks he made Saturday after Williams was pummeled in the visitor's pen.
"If something like this happened [at Yankee Stadium], if I was John Henry, I'd be on the phone apologizing to George Steinbrenner," Levine said. "To have an employee jump into the bullpen is beyond belief. If that was our employee, he'd be gone, or in jail."
Williams, by all accounts, did not jump into the Yankee pen but was stationed there, as he was the day before, to help groom the area.
Henry, asked if he were satisfied with Levine's response to his call, said, "No. I essentially asked him to retract his statements -- statements that I thought were irresponsible and probably made in the heat of the moment and he declined to do so."
Lucchino weighed in as well. "I think that once again, perhaps an incomplete knowledge of the facts, if I can put it diplomatically, might be at the root of Mr. Levine's comments," Lucchino said. "But we'll leave it to Major League Baseball to address the inflammatory comments."
The Sox owners, in Lucchino's words, said they were "fully supportive" of Williams. They praised the Fenway crowd, saying no arrests were made inside the park Saturday and only two outside. They expressed disappointment over the ugliness that erupted on the field and said they asked general manager Theo Epstein to advise manager Grady Little to urge the Sox to "turn the page and put the accent on positive things." And the Sox brass noted that Tim Wakefield had recorded a public service announcement that effectively would call for fans to join the players in behaving respectfully.
As for the Sox themselves misbehaving, the owners downplayed complaints from the A's and Yankees.
"I think those were isolated comments and I think that we have conducted ourselves quite well," Werner said.
Said Lucchino, "This is a band of brothers out there in this Red Sox clubhouse, and the fact that they stick together and play with intensity and great spirit, I think is to be applauded."
Still, Henry said he appreciated Zimmer's apology. "I wouldn't mind seeing the same thing coming from our side just as conciliatory," he said.
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