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Jewish World Review July 27, 2000 / 24 Tamuz, 5760

Mile Lupica

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Consumer Reports

Bombers pass on small change -- BY THE TIME the Yankees make it to October, they will have turned over more than a quarter of their roster and added millions to their payroll. They don't care how they win again, or how much October will end up costing them.

"We didn't make the rules,'' one member of the Yankee high command was saying the other day. `We just play by them.` True enough. The only thing that matters is that the Yankees win again, three World Series in a row, four in five years. Too many Yankee fans are exactly like George Steinbrenner now. They don't care who is in pinstripes, they just want to know what the record is.

This has been a Yankee team to remember, all the way back to 1996, a lifetime in modern sports. It has been built around people we know and care about: Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams, Paul O'Neill and Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and David Cone and Tino Martinez. They are still here. Now they are joined by David Justice and Denny Neagle and Jose Vizcaino and Glenallen Hill. Rondell White is supposed to be on his way. Name another Yankee team in all of Yankee history that had to make this many changes to stay on top.

In the old days, the Yankees would add a player or two, sometimes a name player, for the stretch run. Now, before the 2000 Yankees are through, they will have added a new ace of the pitching staff, a new designated hitter, a new second baseman, maybe a new left fielder before the week is out. Why? Because they can. They have the money. For now, they still have the farm system. The Yankees didn't make the rules, they just play by them.

The Yankees seem to bring in a new player a week as a way of staying in first place. Neagle was the ace of the Reds staff. Justice had 23 home runs for the Indians at the time he was traded. Whatever it takes, whatever it costs.

If baseball had been run this way in 1949 when Joe DiMaggio went down with a bad foot, there would have been no need for the Yankees to overcome anything, even if the way they played without DiMaggio is now a proud part of the legend of the team. They would have moved Charlie Keller or Tommy Henrich over and tried to swing a deal for Ralph Kiner off the loser Pirates.

Sammy Sosa was supposed to be too expensive, even as the Yankee payroll for this season goes past $110 million. When Neagle gets his contract extension, he will make $9 million or $19 million next season. Justice is already on the books for $7 million. Roger Clemens apparently is promised $15 million. Rondell White, if Rondell White is on deck, is making $4 million. On and on it goes. Soon Jeter and Rivera must be paid small fortunes.

You think the Yankees aren't going to make a play for Alex Rodriguez, to move him to third base next to his buddy Jeter? Right. And this new television network, the money it can generate, isn't important to Steinbrenner at all.

The Yankees continue to live big, and baseball dies a little bit at a time, even as this as treated like some kind of boom period. If you even suggest that there is something wrong with the assembly line we see working at Yankee Stadium, you're just anti-Yankee. More and more the Yankees are treated, especially by the local media, like the company in a company town.

They keep spending. The Mets spend, just not as much. So do the Braves. A couple of other teams. That's it. Level playing field? The Yankees are playing in a whole different ballpark. Yankee fans don't care. They'll learn to love the new guys, as they're constantly told how beautifully the new guys have fit in.

Shane Spencer goes down with an injury, Ryan Thompson gets an audition to replace him. Thompson can't cut it. Go get Rondell White. If David Cone has one more bad outing before the trading deadline, people will be screaming for Curt Schilling again. No one will worry about Schilling's salary. We've established the rules now. Sosa was too expensive, but everyone else is in play.

An expensive patch here for the pinstripes, an expensive patch here. The owner is already making off-stage noise about Cone's lousy record. The owner blows his top after the bullpen gives up all those runs to the Devil Rays on Saturday. Maybe he wants to buy more relief pitchers, too.

The people who run the Yankees do nothing wrong, they just want to win and still have the means to do it. They lost Darryl Strawberry and lost Roberto Kelly from their bench, lost Spencer, have seen pitchers go down. They go out and buy the best replacements they can. Even when the farm system is completely gone, when they have traded away this kid Soriano too, they will buy more replacements, until there is a real salary cap in this sport, real competitive balance.

Other great Yankee teams kept getting hurt and kept going. Age and injury are supposed to be the natural order of things in baseball. That is part of the human element of sports, the drama of sports. Just not here.

Again: No great Yankee team has ever had to do this much. These Yankees are still fun to watch. Just not as much fun as they used to be. And not as special. All these moves, all this money spent, and they still don't pull away from the rest of the pack. The owner and the front office are having a more interesting year than the baseball team. They are still the Yankees, just not the Yankees we have known. And Yankee fans who say any different are kidding themselves.

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.


07/12/00: Dealing from strength, bombers laugh last
07/12/00 Under Rocket fire: Too high & tight for Bombers
06/29/00 Deal with it, Bombers will
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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