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Jewish World Review June 29, 2000 / 26 Sivan, 5760

Mile Lupica

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Consumer Reports

Deal with it, Bombers will -- THE YANKEES apparently want Sammy Sosa and wanted Juan Gonzalez the way Steve Phillips of the Mets wanted Ken Griffey Jr. You know how that worked out. Phillips thought he had Griffey in center at Shea and batting behind Mike Piazza -- and then Griffey said, "I don't feel like it.''

Why? Because he could. Phillips did not just feel as if he'd had his heart broken, but his arms and legs as well. It was a crash course in making big deals in modern baseball, heavy on the crash.

Phillips talked about that as the Yankees kept talking to the Cubs about Sosa and to the Astros about Moises Alou. A nation waited. It's starting to feel as if scientists broke the genetic code faster than this.

"In the old days,'' Phillips said, "it was just about value for value, this player for that player. Now that's just the beginning of the conversation. Then come the contract issues, the money issues, the no-trade clauses. Pretty soon you've got a situation like the one in Houston where Moises Alou is controlling what Gerry Hunsicker (Astros GM) can and can't do.''

Hunsicker would like to trade Alou, get rid of his contract, get some kids in return, same as the Tigers wanted to do with Gonzalez. Only Alou has a no-trade clause. Why Moises Alou has a no-trade clause is something much more complicated than those spaces in DNA. But he does. And he is saying that he might not want to go to New York or anywhere.

While all that goes on, the Yankees talk to the Cubs about Sosa. They make their way through the same maze they did with Gonzalez. They deal with the Cub demands knowing Sosa's demands will follow immediately. He is signed for $11 million this year, same for next year. It isn't enough, not after 150 home runs the last 2 1/2 seasons. He can't wait to become a free agent. He wants a new contract right now, with all the trimmings, so this time nobody can ever think about trading him ever again. But where would he be going, anyway? The Yankees can't trade with the Yankees.

"The risks these days are so ... substantial,'' Phillips said. "Say there is a player you want and you end up paying him $15 million a year or $18 million a year, whatever the number is. Then on top of all that money, he wants a no-trade clause, too. You know what that means? That if things don't turn out the way you hope, you're not allowed to cut your losses.''

Phillips almost managed a laugh here, but it seemed to die around the warning track.

"Of course the barometer for success in New York isn't ever about making profits and losses,'' he said. "It's `Did you win?' That's how they grade you.''

The Yankees might make the trade for Sosa and not win because the pitching might not come around. Or Sosa might help carry the Yankee offense until the pitching does come around. Before the Mets started to hit, Phillips says, he and the people who make baseball decisions for the Mets had the same debate the Yankees are having these days within their own CBC (Crack Baseball Committee): We'd love to have a big pitcher, but if we can't have one, should we go for a big hitter?

"There's no monster pitcher out there,'' Phillips continued. "And that's why you constantly ask yourself, if you're looking to upgrade, if you should go for the monster bat instead, if a monster bat becomes available. You do tell yourself that maybe a monster bat can help you while you wait for your pitchers to step up.''

The idea that Sosa or any hitter can make this Yankee team right all by himself is ridiculous. The idea that Sosa won't help make this Yankee team better, whatever the pitching needs are, is equally ridiculous. The idea that you can't fit his ego or his stardom through the doors of the Stadium is barely conversation. A couple of years ago, there were plenty of people who didn't want to trade Boomer Wells away. Nobody talked about Roger Clemens being too expensive, too big a star. Only Sosa.

All over town the last couple of weeks, on the radio a lot, in the papers, the notion that Sammy Sosa, home run star, is somehow all wrong for the Yankees, as if they are better off with Shane Spencer and Ricky Ledee. Phillips was asked what he thought.

"I'll talk about numbers, not specific names,'' he said. "Let's just say that anybody would love to have 66 home runs and 140 RBI.''

Finally Steve Phillips was asked if he thinks the Yankees are going to do something soon.

"They'll probably do something,'' he said. "They're the Yankees.''

They're the Yankees. George Steinbrenner's barometer is the same as a guy in the bleachers: Did they win? He decided the cost of renting Gonzalez for three months was too much, and passed on Gonzalez. He might decide the cost for Sosa is too much, especially when he finds out exactly what kind of contract extension Sosa wants. But if he isn't worried about the money, why is everybody else all of a sudden?

One last time: When did Yankee fans and sports writers suddenly start worrying this much about George Steinbrenner's bottom line?

"The risks are always going to be there,'' Phillips said yesterday. He said he meant for the player and for the organization. "It's always the same: Am I making a mistake? We took a risk when we made the Piazza trade. The Tigers took the same kind of risk when they traded for Gonzalez. Now people ask, Why did the Tigers do it? I'll tell you why. Because they thought it was the right thing to do at the time.''

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.


06/19/00: Sosa whine is not fine
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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