New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner celebrated the impressive minor-league debut of Japanese pitcher Hideki Irabu by lashing back at the players on the major-league club who complained about the money he spent to sign the international star.
"No one understands I'm doing what's best for this team," Steinbrenner said Wednesday. "Signing Irabu was good for the Yankees, and he's going to help us win another World Series."
That may turn out to be true. The guy throws the ball 99 mph and he gave up just one hit over four innings against the St. Lucie Mets in his first competitive appearance since signing a 3 1/2 -year deal with the Yankees. But the size of his contract ($12.8 million) angered 1996 20-game winner Andy Pettitte, as well as veterans David Wells and Kenny Rogers.
Steinbrenner has never been afraid to speak his mind -- or trade barbs with his players -- and he didn't hesitate to put some of his petulant players in their place.
"Just consider the source," he said. "If Andy Pettitte isn't happy, he should remember he's part of the union that voted for this system. As for Rogers we'll let Rogers' pitching do his talking. If Rogers thinks Irabu is making too much money, I read somewhere that maybe Rogers should give some of his money back. I didn't say it first, but, hey, maybe he should. He's one of the reasons we need Irabu."
This is business as usual in New York, where the Yankees have been fighting among themselves for decades. It should not be considered a sign of weakness by Orioles fans, however. The Yankees seem to thrive on this sort of thing, as evidenced by the five-game winning streak they carried into their first interleague series this weekend.
They aren't dead yet, even if Steinbrenner also conceded this week that the Yankees are the "second-best team in baseball" behind the Orioles.
When The Boss starts to talk like that, it's time to check for your wallet.
Irabu gets irritated
Apparently, Irabu also is working to get in shape for the New York media. The night of his U.S. professional debut, he blew up at a Japanese newsman who he felt had been too critical of him, poking a finger in the reporter's face and tearing up his business card.
"It's not like his temper is worse than others," Irabu's interpreter, Kota Ishijima, told the New York Daily News. "He's a mild-mannered guy. But you have to understand the historical background between him and the Japanese media. They have pounded him the last six months or so."
Funny, Dodgers pitcher Hideo Nomo also has a strained relationship with the Japanese media, which is either a statement on the attitudes of high-profile Japanese players or an indication of the tenor of Japanese media coverage.
"The Japanese press has smoked him for the last six to nine months, and it wears on him," Yankees player development director Mark Newman said. "You know how competitive [the New York media] is. Well, there are seven dailies there [in Japan] that are just sports."
Heeeere's Johnny Dept.
Everybody knows that Texas Rangers manager Johnny Oates plays each game as if it's the seventh game of the World Series, but this is one for the books.
The Rangers were trailing the Minnesota Twins by eight runs on Tuesday night when future Hall of Famer Paul Molitor came to the plate with four hits and a chance to hit for the cycle if he ## could clear the not-too-distant perimeter of the Metrodome. But with runners at second and third, Oates ordered pitcher Matt Whiteside to walk him intentionally.
The fans booed lustily -- which is about all there is to do lustily on a Tuesday night in Minneapolis -- but Oates was unapologetic.
"Ask me if I care," he said. "I'm trying to win a ballgame, not $$ trying to please the fans."
Molitor didn't seem particularly concerned, but he was a little surprised to get an intentional walk in that situation, especially with the game out of hand.
"I guess I was surprised," he said. "You come in and guys in the dugout say, 'What were they thinking?' But you learn over time what's in Johnny Oates' head is what's best for his own team. I was a little confused by it, but I'm not going to pass judgment on it."
Colorado Rockies manager Don Baylor can identify with the difficult decision that Orioles first-round draft choice Darnell McDonald will have to make over the next few months.
McDonald has to choose between a lucrative contract with the Orioles or a two-sport college career at the University of Texas. Baylor faced a similar decision 30 years ago, when the Orioles drafted him out of high school and he was being pursued by the Longhorns.
The decision was made for him, however, when then-Texas football coach Darrell Royal told him he couldn't play both football and baseball at Texas. Baylor signed with the Orioles and went on to have a successful major-league career. He believes that Royal did him a favor by forbidding him to play baseball.
"I would have gotten hurt playing football, I know that," Baylor said.