Tartabull likes New York but not his numbers

May 24, 1992|By Tom Verducci | Tom Verducci,Newsday

NEW YORK -- The toughest part of signing a $27.5-million free-agent contract, being asked to carry a ballclub, yearning for recognition as one of baseball's elite players and having to do it on the bright stage that is New York is the furniture. You see, Danny Tartabull has none, at least none of his own yet.

His new home in Saddle River, N.J., has some pieces of rental furniture. But they are so few in number that Tartabull had to laugh when he described the decor as unintentionally minimalistic.

"Just things like that, picking up and relocating and getting settled down, that's the hardest part, especially when you have a family," said Tartabull, who has a 5-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son. "Everything else has been easy. Since the day I got here, the guys here have made me feel welcome. I feel like I've been here all along. The most difficult thing is getting your life settled into a routine."

As Tartabull settles into his new home and new job, his offensive numbers resemble his present home furnishings -- they are sparse and appear to belong to someone else.

He has managed only five extra-base hits in 75 at-bats this year and is 6-for-36 (.167) since returning from a hamstring injury that put him on the disabled list. His batting average of .253 is 34 points below his career mark.

It has been a similarly unproductive season for his crosstown counterpart, Bobby Bonilla, who employed the same agent as Tartabull to land an even more lucrative free-agent deal with the New York Mets. After a smashing debut that included two opening-night home runs, Bonilla has batted .232 and hit two home runs in 142 at-bats.

Having played 42 games, the Mets have passed the quarter mark of the season. The Yankees will do so this weekend against the Milwaukee Brewers. One-fourth of the way through their first season of big money and big expectations, Tartabull and Bonilla have yet to make it big in New York, as evidenced by their combined total of one home run within the city limits.

"Seventy at-bats isn't enough for the fans to see the real Danny Tartabull," Tartabull said. "But they will see."

In truth, Tartabull is establishing himself as the foundation of the Yankees' lineup -- and perhaps their clubhouse, too, where he VTC has assumed the stand-up role vacated by Don Mattingly -- even if his power numbers don't suggest it. The team is 15-8 when he is in the lineup and 7-9 when out.

He gives the lineup a formidable presence (as represented by 21 walks in 23 games) and he still is driving in runs only slightly less often than his career rate (one every 5.8 at-bats compared to 5.5 at-bats).

"His hitting hasn't taken off," Manager Buck Showalter said, "but he's had some key hits for us and you can see he's comfortable hitting in those situations. Certainly the power you expect from Danny because of his track record hasn't been there this year, but you can see why it will come."

The most telling number of all is that the Yankees are five games better than .500 without him heating up yet -- something the Mets can't claim with Bonilla.

"That's what counts," Tartabull said. "That's why I'm happy. I could be in a horrible slump, but all that matters is the team wins. I came to New York because they were very persistent in wanting me to play here and because it was an organization going in the right direction. We're proving that."

Tartabull admitted, too, that a convenient side effect of his relocation from Kansas City is the increased exposure of playing in New York. "I never said I'm the best," he said. "I am one of the best players in the game. What I've always wanted is that recognition."

That opportunity is here, not to mention gourmet food and a wide range of cultural events. Tartabull, a noted wine aficionado, has been struck by the variety of New York. He has taken in the play "Cats" and several four-star meals.

Kevin McReynolds played five years in New York and ventured into Manhattan a total of three times.

"Man, I've been there more times than that already and I've hardly been here," Tartabull said. "If you want something here, you can find it. When I go out, it's not like a lot of guys, the discos and that kind of nightlife. I like a quiet dinner, a movie or a play. I can do that any time here. In Kansas City, you weren't able to do that.

"And the people are great. I'm recognized, but people are cool about it. It's like they expect to see someone when they go out on the town."

Tartabull wants to be a part of not just the Yankees, but New York, even if it's from an exclusive New Jersey suburb. He signed a five-year contract to play here. So far, his adjustment has been a slow one.

The Yankees' start has excused the time it has taken him to settle in at bat and at home. He has hit only two home runs, but expects to add to that total quickly. Who knows, he may even pick up a sofa, too.

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