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Cheap Seats

Sun., Sept. 14, 1997

Why don’t you just fire yourself?

In a stunningly contrite moment, New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner offered himself up to blame for the $12.8 million waste of money that has been Japanese pitcher Hideki Irabu.

“I’m the one who signed him and I’m the one who went after him,” Steinbrenner said. “If someone made the mistake, it was me. If you blame anyone, blame me.”

Don’t worry George, they do.

Remembering Richie Ashburn

There wasn’t a funnier guy anywhere in baseball than the Philadelphia Phillies Richie Ashburn, who died early Tuesday at age 70.

He ran and singled his way into the Hall of Fame and then made a second career for himself in the broadcast booth with his homespun wit and blunt observations of today’s ballplayers and umpires.

But his stories also included ones from his days as a player, such as when it came to retelling all the tales of the misbegotten ‘62 Mets. Ashburn hit .306 that year, his last as a player. His reward was a boat.

“Just what a guy from Nebraska needed,” he said. “But even worse, when I docked it at a yacht basin in Ocean City, N.J., it sank. It took nearly five days to go down and then I had to drag it up, so I just sold it. Problem was, when I cashed the check the guy gave me, it bounced.”

Another story he loved to tell about himself was of the day he hit a woman in the stands with a foul ball. Then, as they were carrying her out on a stretcher, he hit her again. He was a pesky singles hitter, and proud of it.

Years after his retirement, Ashburn complained about being snubbed for the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers Association. His misfortune was to have been a singles-hitting center fielder in the same era as Mickey Mantle, Duke Snider and Willie Mays.

“Hell,” he grumped, “they wrote a damn song about them. How am I supposed to compete with that?”

He was chosen to join Mickey, Duke and Willie in 1995 by the Veterans Committee, but he still never got his song.

Bugel blows Taps

The Oakland Raiders last-second loss to bitter rival Kansas City on Monday night when Elvis Grbac threw a 33-yard scoring pass to Andre Rison with three seconds remaining left the Raiders winless under new coach Joe Bugel and struggling to deal with the disappointment of yet another close defeat.

On Tuesday, Bugel began a news conference with a long apology to reporters.

“I couldn’t even talk. I was beside myself,” Bugel said of his feelings after the game. “I went back to my office, and before I knew it probably half the night was gone. I was speechless. I don’t know if I had talked to the press if I would have been able to make any sense. I just hurt. I just hurt badly. It was a very empty feeling last night.

“The last time I had hurt like that was when my mom died. It was 59 minutes and 57 seconds of happiness, and then you just felt like someone cut your heart out.”

Hey, Joe, how about a little perspective?

The last word …

“The wind is blowing like Wrigley, and we’re playing like the Cubs.”

- Atlanta announcer Skip Caray as the Braves were being battered, 12-4, by Detroit on a blustery Wednesday in Georgia.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

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