2003-05-30 / Sports

With Yanks Skidding, King George Rages On

Baseball Columnist
By Bryan Hoch
With Yanks Skidding, King George Rages On By Bryan Hoch Baseball Columnist


We know George Steinbrenner doesn’t like it when things get too stagnant around his Yankees. He likens the situation to sitting shotgun in a sailboat that’s stuck in the middle of a lake, a mile off shore without any gusts of wind to bring the vessel home.

Batten down the hatches, Auntie Em, because here comes a twister.

With the Yankees stuck in a snide that saw them drop 12 out of their last 15 games, including eight straight games under the hallowed home-field advantage of Yankee Stadium – the worst showing in front of the home faithful since a ten-game stinkfest in 1986 – Steinbrenner finally erupted.

The Yankees had wasted a picture-perfect opportunity to go along with the family treasures of Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle and Maris. There was Roger Clemens, pitching for his milestone 300th victory against his former club and the Yankees’ chief rival in the Boston Red Sox, standing atop the mound at the center of the Bronx flanked by a patriotic Memorial Day celebration.

George Steinbrenner was recently critcized by his comments from Yankee coach Don Zim­mer.George Steinbrenner was recently critcized by his comments from Yankee coach Don Zim­mer.

This was the reason Steinbrenner re-upped Clemens with a one-year contract, so he could weave another piece of Yankees lore into the scrapbook. Warm up the YES Network tapes, because this would be one of those hot-chocolate games you could show all winter long: Clemens, the old Red Sox stud, rubbing the big number 300 in the faces of Nomahhh and the Sox while Old Glory watched on approvingly from center field.

Steinbrenner’s Yankees don’t throw away chances like that to further flex their muscle on Cooperstown lore, but, in the greatest example since the Rally Monkey that God may not be a Yankee fan after all, this one inexplicably went by the boards. Clemens was worked over by the evil Bostonians and will instead try again for the historic win in front of about 10,000 disinterested Motor City aficionados in the wasteland of stench and losing known as Detroit’s Comerica Park.

What a waste. But forget that – with Bernie Williams out for four-to-six weeks after left knee surgery, Nick Johnson out nursing his busted right hand and reliever Steve Karsay possibly out for the year, here comes the deck of cards crumbling down.

Forget that hot 18-3 start. The Yankees’ season is over.

No? Well, it certainly seemed that way when Steinbrenner unleashed a tempered but unsubtle attack on pitcher Jeff Weaver, outfielder Hideki Matsui and hitting coach Rick Down.

King George made no secret of the fact that he wants Weaver and his 5.31 ERA the heck out of Dodge, replaced by the unproven but high-priced ($32 million) Jose Contreras in the starting rotation.

"I think that Weaver has gone to too much of a thrower right now," Steinbrenner said Monday. "He was great in the bullpen for us before. Contreras is not that type of a pitcher. He’s a starting pitcher."

Furthermore, he wanted to know why "Godzilla" Matsui was standing so far away from the plate – a question first raised by George’s legendary "baseball people" – and blamed the sluggish starts of both Matsui (.259, 3 HR) and Jason Giambi (.217, 9 HR) firmly upon the shoulders of the beleaguered Down, who knows his days in pinstripes are numbered.

"There will be changes," Steinbrenner said.

Manager Joe Torre accommodated one of Steinbrenner’s requests, as Contreras will get a start against the Tigers this weekend in place of the ailing David Wells, but firmly refused to jettison Weaver from his rotation. Thanks for checking in with the idea, Boss, maybe next time.

"Nobody’s ever told me what to do," Torre said. "People have hired me to manage, and they’ve allowed me to do that. Nobody’s ever told me what to do, and I don’t expect that to change."

Those read, and sound, like strong words for someone to volley toward someone with a trigger finger as agitated as the one possessed by The Boss, but stop the presses and don’t go warming up Bobby Valentine for his next gig just yet: Torre is no deer in the headlights. Unlike that of the non-descript Down, Torre’s job security is completely intact.

"Joe Torre is under no pressure, he is a great manager," Steinbrenner said. "He is still a great manager and I am totally behind him and [GM Brian Cashman]."

In truth, Steinbrenner knows better than to go after Joe Torre again, especially after he lost that public relations battle with his manager in spring training. That being established, the next best thing is to go after his underachieving, overpaid stars and fire a warning shot by pinning the coaches up against the concrete wall.

"He’s The Boss," Torre said Tuesday. "As far as I’m concerned, anything he wants to say, anytime, he has the right to do that." You can bet the farm on this – he will.

• Bryan Hoch appears weekly in the Wave. He can be contacted at bryanhoch@yahoo.com.

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