Glove-snatcher upset Torre's belief in team chemistry

ON BASEBALL

March 17, 2002|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The New York Yankees have helped rekindle the careers of drug offenders Steve Howe, Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, but they didn't prove to be so forgiving when Ruben Rivera snatched Derek Jeter's game glove and sold it to a collector for $2,500.

Manager Joe Torre, proclaiming that "the clubhouse is sacred," insisted on the release of the fringe outfielder despite attempts by closer Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams and Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson to persuade the club to give Rivera a second chance.

Inconsistent? Arbitrary?

Not at all.

Torre, once again, showed he has a keen sense for team chemistry. The Yankees could have slapped Rivera on the wrist, exacted assurances that the offense would not be repeated and kept him around. But that would have created an environment where suspicion would reign among teammates every time a player misplaced a piece of equipment.

The Yankees have won four world titles in six years because, in part, of the stable environment that Torre created when he took over as manager after the 1995 season. That environment is based on professionalism and trust, which Rivera, 28, violated on both counts by stealing from a teammate.

Of course, it would be interesting to know what the club would have done if the offense had been committed by a player more pivotal to the success of the franchise. We'll never find that out, but Torre subscribes to an old-fashioned code of clubhouse conduct that argues against letting a bad apple threaten to spoil the whole bunch.

The attempts to help Howe, Strawberry and Gooden reclaim their good names were entirely different. In each case, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was making a personal effort to rehabilitate a player who had failed himself more than he had failed his teammates. And, in each case, the player in question already had suffered the consequences of his actions.

Now, Rivera will do the same. The glove ended up costing him about $800,000, because he lost all but the minimum major-league salary from his one-year, $1 million contract when he was released.

They might not be giants

The San Francisco Giants were expected to give the defending world champion Arizona Diamondbacks all they could handle this season until a string of significant injuries put their quest for the National League West title in doubt before it started.

The latest blow was the high ankle sprain suffered on Wednesday by closer Robb Nen, who rolled his left ankle covering first base in an exhibition game against the Anaheim Angels.

The outlook for Nen is uncertain. X-rays showed no fracture, but he is not a lock to start the season on time. The Giants already have lost 2000 National League MVP Jeff Kent to a broken wrist and pitcher Jason Schmidt to a groin injury that likely will keep him sidelined for part of April.

The D'backs recently lost third baseman Matt Williams to a serious ankle injury, but he was not really an impact player on last year's world championship team.

Wild thing

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays are concerned that they may have a Rick Ankiel situation on their hands. Pitching prospect Nick Bierbrodt, who was acquired last year from the Diamondbacks in the Albie Lopez deal, has suddenly run into a serious control problem.

Bierbrodt, 23, a left-hander, has walked 12 batters and hit three over just 1 2/3 innings in his past two appearances. He also has thrown five wild pitches and given up 11 earned runs on just one hit.

"I feel it's all physical," Bier- brodt said. "I'm not even throwing strikes in the bullpen very well. So, if it was a mental thing, I'd be able to throw strikes there. And as soon as they said `batter up,' I wouldn't be able to."

The Devil Rays can only hope that a mechanical adjustment is all that will be necessary to correct Bierbrodt, who is considered a pretty important part of the club's pitching future.

Olson moving out?

Former Orioles closer Gregg Olson may have reached the end of his major-league career when he was released after a brief audition with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Olson, 35, who was the 1989 American League Rookie of the Year and saved 160 games for the Orioles from 1989 to 1993, had an 8.03 ERA in 26 appearances last year for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"I'm going to see how it goes and see what I can find," Olson said. "If nothing's there, I'll go home. The past two years have been pretty miserable. Maybe it's time for me to move on."

Maybe Olson's career would have been more productive if he had not resisted reconstructive elbow surgery after suffering a torn ligament in 1993. He chose rehab over surgery and knocked around the majors until putting together a 30-save comeback season with Arizona in 1998. But he was never the overpowering pitcher he was in Baltimore.

Difficult subject

So far, former Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro has gotten nothing but praise for his decision to become a paid spokesman for the company that distributes Viagra.

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