"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Opening Day at the Bronx Zoo

Let the mishegoss commence. With Alex Rodriguez being introduced as a Yankee in the Bronx yesterday, the storylines are predictably plentiful in the New York papers this morning. Joel Sherman is gearing up for an eventful season:

No one covering the Yankees this year will ache for storylines. That is for the poor suckers assigned regularly to the Mets.

…We have come to think Joe Torre could extinguish any fire; however, this team is so big now that we are not talking blazes in The Bronx Zoo, but infernos in the Amazon.

Jack Curry reports that Joe Torre may consider sticking around after his contract expires at the end of this year:

“It certainly is a possibility,” Torre said. “I’m not closing the door to anything. I’m just not ready to commit to that. That’s the only thing.”

Interestingly, Torre’s value as a soothing manager who succeeds under stress and duress in the Bronx has surely been strengthened by Rodriguez’s acquisition from the Texas Rangers. Teflon Torre, who was bruised by Steinbrenner’s public criticisms last year, looks sturdier.

The Yankee front office didn’t include Torre in the Rodriguez deal. The manager was informed of the trade last Friday night:

Torre was not annoyed by the snub and showed that being humble, at times, has helped him thrive. When a reporter related that Cashman had said Torre would make the lineup decisions, an incredulous Torre said: “It’s my decision? Well, he’s playing third.”

Naturally, the “Who’s on Third?” controversy was a hot topic too. And it will remain one for a long time. Yesterday, Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus suggested that Rodriguez won’t play 160 games at third this season, but I’m not so sure. While moving Jeter may make the best baseball sense, I don’t think you can underestimate the human element here. It’s easy to say that Jeter simply needs to get over himself and relinquish his position, but as Jamey Newberg mentioned to me in an Instant Message this morning, playing shortstop is like being a quarterback. It’s a tough spot to walk away from. I think Jeter is smart enough to do what is right in the long run. It just may take some time.

Mike Vaccaro points out that it would behoove Jeter to move:

The burden of selflessness falls on Derek Jeter now. Soon enough, the cue cards will be shredded and life around the Yankees will go back to being strictly improv.
That’s when Jeter truly begins to earn his captain’s “C.”

Steven Goldman adds:

Everyone who swears fealty to Jeter at short is undoubtedly sincere, but the baseball season creates exigencies, moments where sentimentality and saving face comes second to winning. Jeter misses an inning or two, Alex Rodriguez slides over and makes a few good plays and voila, the truth will out. At least, this happens in principle. It doesn’t always happen on the Yankees, who sometimes — despite the franchise’s cutthroat rep — nurture players they like ahead of players who are good.

As has been written in this space many times, none of this should be construed to mean that Jeter is not an exceptionally valuable ballplayer. Even if he remains at shortstop, the singles that elude his glove are compensated for by the many singles that come off of his bat. A-Rod is no Ozzie Smith, so the difference between them may be small potatoes. Still, the best alignment should be arrived at through competition, rather than by fiat.

Until then, as the old Jellyfish song goes, the king is half-undressed. No longer the best shortstop in town, no more the biggest star — heck, Jeter plays in the same town as Mike Piazza, so for all we know, he might not even lead the league in SMATA (Stylish Man About Town Activities). What remains now is for the second-best shortstop to be the biggest man.

Still, so long as Joe Torre is the skipper, Jeter and Bernie Williams–who got some support from George Steinbrenner yesterday—will receive the benefit of the doubt. Right or wrong, that’s just the way it is.

In addition to the events at the Stadium, it turns out that Alfonso Soriano is not really 26, but 28. The Yankees were informed of this last summer and the Rangers knew about it before the deal was done. According to Brian Cashman:

“Sori’s a good guy and it was something on his mind,” Cashman said. “He wanted us to know first, before it got out. It would’ve been updated in our media guide this year.

“We never would’ve known about it if he didn’t want to tell us. He told us when he was young, he did something stupid. A two-year difference in a 40-40-type player (homers and steals), you look at the numbers and it’s not that big of a deal.”

Gary Sheffield also made the papers this morning, in relation to the Balco affair, which has conveniently been bumped off the backpages in recent days.

Meanwhile, Greg Maddux has signed a three-year deal with the Cubs (!), and Mets fans are still smarting over watching the Yankees land Rodriguez. So is Mets pitcher, Al Leiter:

“I don’t think salt in the wound describes it enough. It’s more like rubbing salt, and then pouring hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol and rust in there at the same time.”


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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver