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Archive for Saturday, October 28, 2000

Aging Yankees have decisions to make

Ten of New York’s 25 players could file for free agency during offseason

October 28, 2000

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— George Steinbrenner had the painters ready.

The sun had just risen on the morning after the Yankees' third straight World Series championship, and workers at the team's training complex in Tampa., Fla., quickly were adding "2000" to two large signs listing the 25 previous title years.

"We may not have the greatest players, but we have the greatest team. I'm talking about the four out of five, the three in a row."

Yankees manager Joe Torre

Back in the Bronx, the board atop Yankee Stadium that usually details the next home game was changed Friday to read "26 World Championships."

Down in the clubhouse, manager Joe Torre, his 1999 World Series ring sparkling on his right hand, tried to put the latest title in perspective.

"We may not have the greatest players, but we have the greatest team," the manager said. "I'm talking about the four out of five, the three in a row."

After the Yankees beat the Mets 4-2 on Thursday to win the first Subway Series since 1956 in five games, many Yankees went to a downtown Manhattan club to celebrate.

"When I got there, the fans were yelling and screaming," Game 1 hero Jose Vizcaino said.

Torre parted with his players, went with his family to a diner for a turkey burger, then went to bed around 5 a.m. In the crazy scene of the visiting clubhouse at Shea Stadium after the game, he never got to address the team.

"That's one thing I wish I could have had," he said. "A half hour with the players alone in the clubhouse. Not to say anything. Just to sit there. How we'd all relax, the feeling that would come out."

Torre became only the fifth manager to lead teams to four Series titles, joining Joe McCarthy and Casey Stengel of the Yankees (seven each), Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics (five) and Walter Alston of the Dodgers (four) all in the Hall of Fame.

It appears Torre is a shoo-in to join them. He said his brother, Frank, and his family thinks of it more than he does.

But that's for the future. The questions already were of next spring, the final year of a contract that pays him $3 million.

"We've got to get a starter," said Billy Connors, the team's vice president of player personnel and acting pitching coach.

Ten of the 25 players on the World Series roster potentially are eligible for free agency, a group that includes pitchers David Cone, Dwight Gooden, Denny Neagle and Jeff Nelson; outfielders Paul O'Neill and Luis Polonia; Vizcaino and Game 5 hero Luis Sojo. The Yankees have options on Jose Canseco and Glenallen Hill.

Steinbrenner, crying in the clubhouse after the game, said he wouldn't allow himself to enjoy the title for too long.

In fact, on Friday he was at a meeting of YankeeNets, the team's parent company.

More meetings will follow, with decisions made on whether to try to re-sign O'Neill and Cone, who both turn 38 during the offseason.

"Coney's got to go on a major strength program," Connors said. "He just didn't do a whole lot of work last winter and that affected him this year."

Cleveland outfielder Manny Ramirez and Baltimore pitcher Mike Mussina, who both filed Friday, appear to be their top interests among free agents. Mets pitcher Rick Reed also could be a target, and Connors said the Yankees would like to sign a left-handed reliever to join Mike Stanton in the bullpen.

It's unclear whether Nelson, who spoke out against Torre after he was bypassed for the All-Star game, wants to come back or if the Yankees are willing to have him stay.

Adrian "El Duquecito" Hernandez, a right-handed pitcher who defected from Cuba in January, could be ready to join the rotation, according to Connors.

But that's for next week. On Friday, the Yankees preferred to look back at their accomplishments. Only three other teams won three straight Series titles: the 1936-39 Yankees, the 1949-53 Yankees and the 1972-74 Oakland Athletics.

Torre thought back to the turning points, to the 15 losses in the final 18 games of the regular season, including the final seven. He remembered the last Friday night, before the Yankees lost to Baltimore and backed into the AL East title when Boston lost to Tampa Bay.

The Yankees lost the opener of the division series to Oakland before eliminating the A's..

And then, after the Yankees lost the ALCS opener to Seattle and trailed 1-0 in the eighth inning of Game 2, David Justice doubled off the left-center-field wall, starting a seven-run inning that ended a 21-inning scoreless streak.

From then on, they were the Yankees of old. The beat the Mariners in six games, the Mets in five.

So what will the 2001 Yankees look like?

"Guys like Paul O'Neill and Tino Martinez came up huge in the postseason," Torre said. "I'm loyal to these people. I give my opinion. Just because I give my opinion, the doesn't mean it's the final decision."

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