No one seriously believes that the New York Mets will finish the season with a better record than the defending world champion New York Yankees, but that doesn't mean they can't make The Boss sweat for a while.
Yankees owner George Steinbrenner can't be happy with his club sitting so far behind the Orioles in the American League East standings, but he had to be downright embarrassed that the fledgling Mets have a better record than their cross-town rivals.
This is a New York thing. You wouldn't understand.
Steinbrenner loved the way his team took over the town last year. The Yankees succeeded where the Knicks and New York Rangers failed. They have a chance to do that again. The Mets were never supposed to be part of the equation.
Consider their pitching staff: Manager Bobby Valentine arrived at spring training expecting to have a starting rotation led by
veteran right-hander Pete Harnisch and populated with promising youngsters Jason Isringhausen, Paul Wilson and Bill Pulsipher. Harnisch is at home battling depression and none of the three top pitching prospects has thrown in the majors this season.
Nevertheless, the Mets' pitching staff entered yesterday ranked third in the National League in team ERA and the team stood 1 1/2 games better than the Yankees at 29-23. How galling that must be the same week that Steinbrenner had to write a $2.8 million revenue-sharing check to help prop up baseball's small spenders.
"No question, he won't stand for that," Darryl Strawberry told the New York Post early last week. "I think he wants to be the New York team, not only from the standpoint of the Mets and Yankees, but with the Knicks and Rangers losing, he wants to be the one team that stands out. Last year, of course, we did that. This year, so far, we have not accomplished what we're capable of. I'm sure that bothers him more than anything."
The Mets have little chance of competing in a National League East that is dominated by the big-spending Atlanta Braves and Florida Marlins, but a third-place finish and a .500 record would be a big step in the right direction for a developing club.
Six members of the pitching staff have ERAs under 3.00, including starter Bobby Jones, who improved to 9-2 and 2.32 with a four-hit shutout Wednesday. New first baseman John Olerud has rebounded from a couple of disappointing seasons and second baseman Carlos Baerga appears to have reawakened at the plate, giving Mets fans hope that the club can break a string of six straight losing seasons.
That's no lock, but the Mets surely would love to give the Yankees a beating when the New York teams meet in regular-season competition for the first time in a three-game interleague series June 16-18 at Yankee Stadium.
Welcome to George Steinbrenner's nightmare.
Irabu contract irritating
There already was a lot of grumbling going on in the Yankees' clubhouse by the time the club officially announced that Japanese pitcher Hideki Irabu had signed a four-year deal (including 1997) worth a guaranteed $12.8 million. The final numbers -- though slightly lower than anticipated -- probably won't do anything to calm his new teammates.
Irabu, who has never thrown a pitch in the majors, will arrive in New York making more money than 18 of the 25 players on the Yankees' roster.
"I think it's [expletive] that he's getting all that money, but if he can get it, he can get it," Yankees pitcher David Wells said after news leaked of the deal early in the week. "Does he deserve it? No. Personally, I don't care, but a lot of guys in here are going to be offended when the deal gets done."
That may be true, but some members of the Yankees' scouting department think that he may be the guy to help the club return to the top of the AL East standings. And at least one influential player believes his teammates should look at the bigger picture.
"They fail to realize that Irabu's presence will have a long-term impact on the game," said pitcher David Cone. "He's the wave of the future -- the global aspect of baseball. Irabu's just gotten out from under a prohibitive free-agency system in Japan. He stood up to them. We should admire the guy for what he did."
Too much too soon
The June amateur free-agent draft begins Tuesday and everyone is wondering just how much it's going to cost to sign this year's crop of top high school and college players.
The expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks raised the bar when they handed $10 million packages to Travis Lee and Bobby Seay, and raised alarm in front offices throughout both leagues.
"It's a little bit disturbing to see that happen," said Texas Rangers GM Doug Melvin. "It got a little bit ridiculous what those salaries are for unproven players. I don't think it was right they gave them that kind of money. I don't understand it. I have trouble understanding how you can give an unproven player that kind of money."