Sat, Mar 27, 2004 - Page 18 News List

Yankees look to make history -- again

CROWN With a star-studded lineup, the New York outfit will be hoping to make a big impact on this year's championship, and nothing sort of a win will do

REUTERS , New York

No team has ever won the World Series with a US$100-million player. Reluctant to leave anything to chance, the extravagant George Steinbrenner has ensured his New York Yankees have four of them to set a precedent this season.

Owner Steinbrenner has failed to claim baseball's glittering prize since 2000, and his patience -- hardly renowned as saint-like -- is wearing thin.

Not content with already paying Derek Jeter and Jason Giambi three figures, Steinbrenner acquired an icon in Alex Rodriguez and a pitching leader in Kevin Brown on new, US$100-million contracts in the off-season.

The deals give the Bronx Bombers an annual payroll of nearly $190 million and a line-up resembling that of an All Star team, rivalling soccer giants Real Madrid for glamor.

The Yankees are prohibitive favourites for not only their seventh American League Championship Series pennant in nine years, but for their 27th World Series title overall.

"That's your dream as a player, having an owner like Mr. Steinbrenner," first baseman Giambi has said.

"He's going to do whatever it takes. It's a nice feeling to walk into the clubhouse and see we have a chance to win the World Series."

That could go down as an understatement.

Life in the Yankees camp is reportedly as sweet as can be as they approach the season opener against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in Tokyo on Tuesday.

The line-up has shown signs of its potential in spring training. Rodriguez -- acquired from the Texas Rangers in a February trade which energised the Yankees and infuriated bitter rivals the Boston Red Sox -- has moved from shortstop to third base with the minimum of fuss.

He and Yankees captain Jeter appear to be rebuilding a solid, if perhaps not watertight, friendship, while Brown has kept his reputed temper in check.

So content is he that manager Joe Torre, in the final year of his contract, is discussing a two-year extension with Steinbrenner.

Torre's innate ability to deal with the egos in the clubhouse, not to mention his sound baseball knowledge and dedication to the Yankees, is key to their success.

In asking him to stay on, Steinbrenner, who built his reputation on firing managers and broadsides, has recognised that Torre is in the middle of establishing a legacy as one of the great managers.

Steinbrenner appears to have gone through a transformation himself in recent months.

'The Boss', the nickname by which he is either reverentially known or unflatteringly parodied, has infused the Yankees' spring training camp with humour and goodwill, rather than pressure and confrontation.

Perhaps the shift in attitude was brought on by his fainting at a funeral in December. "You appreciate life that much more," he says.

Certainly, Steinbrenner's smile is more welcome than his scowl. "I have never been happier managing the Yankees," said Torre recently. But for all that, Torre is too wise to be fooled by face values.

"I don't think you can say there is not going to be any mayhem along the way," he told reporters.

Pinpointing the source of controversy or failure is the task.

The Yankees could be derailed if the egos do not pull for one another, or if Gary Sheffield's hand injury flares up, or if Torre's worst fears about the depth of his pitching rotation are realised.

After losing Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and David Wells in the off-season, the rotation of Mike Mussina, Brown, Javier Vazquez, Jose Contreras and Donovan Osborne is untried and untested in pinstripes.

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