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Jewish World Review June 19, 2000 / 16 Sivan, 5760

Mile Lupica

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Consumer Reports

Sosa whine is not fine -- IF THIS WERE ANY OTHER TEAM, there wouldn't be this almost whiny litany of complaints about Sammy Sosa, from the media and from smug Yankees fans who seem to be under the impression that they are the Yankees, as if the act of rooting for them somehow makes them smarter than everybody else.

No one would question the size of his strikeout total or the size of his personality or the size of his contract, any more than they did 25 years ago when Reggie was available. But this is another time in New York. And not just another team. This has not just been one of the special Yankees teams, it has been one of the special sports teams of all time.

Maybe that is why Sosa is treated as some kind of threat. Suddenly people act as if bringing him in from Chicago is the same as the Bulls once bringing Dennis Rodman to Chicago.

It isn't the same, of course, or even close. But it is worth remembering that the Bulls changed the way they had been doing things by bringing in Rodman to get his rebounds. What didn't change was this: They kept winning. The Yankees will keep winning if Sosa hits home runs for them, unless the Red Sox beat George Steinbrenner to the punch.

Change is clearly hard now for the Yankees, and their self-important fans, even if we are talking about the kind of numbers Sosa has produced the past few years. For now, the funniest objection to Sosa remains the one about the Yankees making room for him in their clubhouse. You know, the old chemistry thing. People who have no idea what goes on inside the Yankees clubhouse apart from what they read in the newspaper still want to act like bouncers at the clubhouse door.

"Is Sammy a good fit here?'' the Red Sox' Mike Stanley said at the batting cage Wednesday afternoon. Then he laughed. "Let me ask you a question,'' he said. "Where isn't he a good fit?''

The manager of the Yankees is tough to read on this one, which is not surprising, since by now Joe Torre knows how to handle himself in the clinches at Yankee Stadium. After Wednesday's game he was asked if he has given a flat no to any of the potential deals presented to him lately. "Sure,'' he said.

Then Torre talked about how he gets presented a lot of things, presumably from the hundred or so members of the Yankees' high command. "More than you ever hear about,'' he said.

Finally Torre said, "All I can talk about is whether or not they improve the ballclub.''

Another solid starting pitcher does that, no question, especially with Roger Clemens on the disabled list and beginning what you know will be a summer-long opera now that he has injured his groin. But you tell me which big starter is a sure bet to become available this summer. You tell me how many big starting pitchers become available to teams trying to win the way David Cone did in 1995 It happens. Not nearly as often as you think.

But now Sosa is available. Despite the shriek of these Yankees fans who act as if Sosa will come here and try to steal the plaques in Monument Park, Steinbrenner better think about getting him.

And if the cost doesn't scare off Steinbrenner, why does it scare off sports writers and broadcasters and fans so much? How come these same people aren't worried that Steinbrenner has apparently committed another $30 million for the two seasons after this to somebody like Clemens?

Maybe the thought that Sosa might end up hitting between Nomar Garciaparra and Carl Everett should scare people around here at least a little bit. It should. Last October, the Yankees and Red Sox were closer than you think. They are still close.

There hasn't been a debate like this around the Yankees for a long time. This is like the old days, when the debate used to be about whether or not Billy Martin should stay or go. Except these are not the old days. These are not the George-Billy-Reggie Yankees. And anything but just another championship team.

Neither were the Bulls, who decided they needed to change things and went and got Rodman and kept winning.

On Wednesday, the only person I found who seemed to be willing to smile about Sosa was Stanley, one of the Yankees who started forming the character of the current team back in the early '90s. Now he's on the other side, on a Red Sox team that would get a lot better with Sosa on it.

"Do you think I'm too much to give up for Sammy?'' he said.

Torre doesn't seem crazy about the idea of Sosa coming here; too many people around the Yankees are trying too hard to make that clear. When I asked Jimy Williams, the fine Red Sox manager, about Sosa, he said tersely, "Sammy Sosa is a Cub. If you want to talk about Sammy Sosa, talk to Dan Duquette (the Red Sox general manager).''

Sosa is a Cub, not for long. As long as the Yankees struggle to score runs on a consistent basis for the pitchers they have -- if they had scored more for David Cone, his record wouldn't be as bad as it is, even with that earned run average -- there is a chance that he will end up with the Yankees. The silly debate about whether he is worthy enough for Yankees fans will continue.

Or whether he is too expensive. Budget-conscious Yankee fans. Maybe that's the funniest part of all. It's the phoniest, anyway.

JWR contributor Mike Lupica is author, most recently, of Summer of '98: When Homers Flew, Records Fell, and Baseball Reclaimed America. To comment, click here.


06/16/00: Even for Sammy, can't afford to throw this one away
06/15/00: Go for gold, George. How does Sosa help Yanks? Let us count the ways
06/12/00: Thirty-three is the loneliest number
06/12/00: For starters, Yanks up in arms & age

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