Maddon hopes feud ends soon
Manager wants to avoid getting in battle of words with Yanks
TAMPA, Fla. -- Rays manager Joe Maddon hopes the spring feud between his club and the Yankees is over so that his team can concentrate on getting ready for the regular season.
"I did talk to our guys [Friday]," Maddon said. "I said, 'It's over, let's move on. Let's play baseball as we like to play it.' That was the message."
Fireworks were ignited a week earlier, when Tampa Bay reserve Elliot Johnson steamrolled New York catcher Francisco Cervelli at home plate, breaking Cervelli's right wrist in the process. The Rays maintained that the play was simply "hard-nosed baseball," while the Yankees considered the play too intense for Spring Training.
On Wednesday, the Rays and Yankees met again, and tensions escalated in the top of the second inning, when New York's Shelley Duncan slid with spikes high into Tampa Bay second baseman Akinori Iwamura. Subsequently, right fielder Jonny Gomes charged in to tackle Duncan, both benches then emptied, and, apparently, at some point in the action, Yankees outfielder Melky Cabrera hit third baseman Evan Longoria in the head.
On Friday, Gomes received a two-game suspension, along with a $2,000 fine, while Duncan and Cabrera each received fines and three-game suspensions. New York manager Joe Girardi, third-base coach Bobby Meacham and hitting coach Kevin Long were also fined for their roles in the incident.
Among those standing up for the Yankees was Hank Steinbrenner, the Yankees' general partner, who told the New York Post: "There are going to be problems, especially if they go after our stars. It's not going to be tolerated. We never have done it to them. It's just not going to happen anymore."
Steinbrenner added: "I don't want these teams in general to forget who subsidizes a lot of them, and it's the New York Yankees, the Red Sox, Dodgers, New York Mets. I would prefer, if teams want to target the Yankees, that they at least start giving some of that revenue sharing and luxury tax money back. From an owner's point of view, that's my point."
Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg did respond with the following statement: "Off the field, we are partners in trying to strengthen and grow the game of baseball. On the field, we expect our teams will compete with energy and passion, and none of us -- whether as an owner, a player or a fan -- would want it any other way."
Maddon was asked if he perceived Steinbrenner's comments as threatening.
"Honestly, he's the owner of the ballclub, so he has the right to say whatever he wants," Maddon said. "I really don't want to go back and forth with him; that's his comments, that's his perception of the situation, and I respect that."
As for the comment about revenue sharing...
"Again, I cannot speak for how he wants to present things," Maddon said. "That's his right to say what he thinks, how he wants to say it. Obviously, I wouldn't go anywhere near that. I'm the manager of this ballclub. I'm concerned about the Tampa Bay Rays and that we do things right. Appropriately so, I just stand by everything I've said to this point. And in regard to whatever else anybody else may want to say from the other side, I have no comment on that. That's their right to interpret things as they wish."
Maddon allowed that "Shelley Duncan does play the game hard" and noted that he had once spent several weeks instructing a baseball clinic in Europe with Duncan's family, though Shelley was not on that trip.
"They're a great family, and I do know Shelley because of that," Maddon said. "I know he's a wonderful young man. It's just one of those incidents. Knowing the family background, I know he's a very good person."
Meanwhile, Cabrera told the New York Daily News that he "never punched anybody."
"Bernie [Castro] was holding me back the whole time," Cabrera said. "I was trying to get into the fight, but he was holding me back."
A New York reporter asked Maddon, "What did Melky do?"
"Did you see the video?" Maddon said. "Just look at the video."
Another reporter asked if Cabrera had punched Longoria.
"Yes, that's what I heard happened," Maddon said.
And while Maddon is ready to put the incident in the rearview mirror, he isn't ready for the Rays to change their brand of baseball.
"We want to play the game one way every day," Maddon said. "And that's really the objective I've had since I arrived here. We don't have banners hanging from our ballpark. We haven't even been a .500 ballclub. We have to play the game hard every time.
"We can't play with an on-off switch, regardless of where the game is played or regardless of what the date is. This has been my objective since I've been here -- to get our guys to play hard and right according to what we perceive to be hard and right. And that's what we're doing."
Major League Baseball added Jerry Crawford to Saturday's three-man crew in hopes that the veteran crew chief might curb any further trouble.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.