Archive for Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Bronx Zoo revisited

Steinbrenner meddling again

April 22, 2003

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— Off to the best start in their history, the New York Yankees should be enjoying this season. Instead, there's tension between the manager and the Boss -- something commonplace until Joe Torre came along.

Even a 14-0 mark for their starting rotation (the only such streak to start a season since 1900) and a 16-3 record could not cover up the first public spat between owner George Steinbrenner and Torre.

Steinbrenner crossed swords with 13 managers -- earning the Yankees' clubhouse the nickname Bronx Zoo -- until hiring Torre in 1996 and ushering in a period of tranquility, not to mention four World Series championships. The era of good feeling ended during the weekend, with a dispute over pitcher Jose Contreras and his minor-league assignment.

"It's not something that can just be washed away," Torre said Monday. "I'm over it, but I'm not going to pretend it never happened."

The clash brought back memories of Steinbrenner's battles with Torre's predecessors. The Boss has been down this path frequently. He fired Billy Martin five times. He fired Lou Piniella and Bob Lemon twice each. He fired Dick Howser after a season in which the Yankees won 103 games.

Piniella, now managing Tampa Bay, wanted no part of the Yankees' latest soap opera.

"Oh, please," he said. "I've got enough problems here without thinking about anything else."

Torre wanted Contreras farmed out to Triple-A and was stunned to have Steinbrenner assign the right-hander to the team's minor league complex in Tampa, Fla., instead.

Torre is in the middle of a three-year, $16 million contract and won his 700th game as the Yankees' manager Sunday, fifth in team history. But with no world championships in the last two years, Steinbrenner has started to squirm.

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