ARLINGTON, Tex. — With the Cliff Lee free-agency sweepstakes set to begin, one of the Texas Rangers’ new owners launched a preemptive strike on Monday by criticizing Yankees fans for their “violent” and “apathetic” behavior during the American League Championship Series.
Chuck Greenberg’s comments during an interview with a Dallas radio station echoed remarks made by Lee’s wife, Kristen, who said she was treated rudely by the Yankee Stadium crowd, and seemed to be a calculated attempt to keep that incident from being forgotten as Texas tries to convince Lee that it would be a better fit in 2011.
Although Greenberg apologized hours later, first in phone calls to Yankee executives, and then in a public statement, the assertion he was making about behavior in the Bronx still remained. “I think our fans have been great,” Greenberg said in the radio interview on KESN-FM (103.3). “I think particularly in Game 3 of the World Series they just blew away anything I’ve seen in any venue during the postseason. I thought Yankee fans, frankly, were awful. They were either violent or apathetic, neither of which is good. So I thought Yankee fans were by far the worst of any I’ve seen in the postseason. I thought they were an embarrassment.”
Not surprisingly, Greenberg’s statements did not sit well with the Yankees, who nevertheless did not forcefully respond. But they held back only because they were adhering to longstanding guidelines from the commissioner’s office to not do anything to distract from the World Series, particularly on days when games are being played.
Hours after going on radio, Greenberg retreated, calling both Hal Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ managing general partner, and Randy Levine, the Yankees’ president, to apologize for his remarks.
Greenberg then issued a formal apology in which he stated that he “unfairly and inaccurately disparaged fans of the New York Yankees.’’
“Those remarks were inappropriate,’’ the statement added. “Yankees fans are among the most passionate and supportive in all of baseball.’’
Whether the Greenberg apology will be enough to appease the Yankees, and particularly, Levine, who is intensely protective of the Yankees’ brand and relishes the chance to defend it in public, remains to be seen.
For Greenberg, a Pittsburgh sports lawyer who took over the Rangers in August in tandem with Nolan Ryan, taking a swipe at New York was an easy way to enhance his status in Texas. If it also helps the Rangers’ cause with Lee, all the better.
The Yankees are clearly intent on signing the 32-year-old Lee, whom they nearly acquired in a July trade and who completely handcuffed them in Game 3 of the A.L.C.S. They hope to lure him to the Bronx with a lucrative multi-year deal that will almost certainly exceed $100 million.
Although the Rangers have made it clear they intend to do everything to keep Lee in Texas, despite the prohibitive cost of doing so, they are viewed as the underdogs in this battle.
But a battle it is, and with free agency set to begin just five days after the end of the World Series, the fight over Lee might end up being more entertaining than the A.L.C.S., which the Rangers won in six games.
“We’ve made it clear we’d like to have him back,” Rangers General Manager Jon Daniels said of Lee in a news conference before Game 5 on Monday night. “I know we’re not the only club that would like to have him. It’s a competitive market, as it should be, and we’ll see what happens.”