Up in Bronx, $183M team acts cheap

September 10, 2004|By John Eisenberg

THE WORLD DOESN'T need another reason to despise the Yankees. There are already enough.

But the new reason generated this week belongs in the top 10.

Trying to finagle a forfeit victory out of Hurricane Frances is the mark of an organization proud of its hate wish.

If this sorry episode is any indication, Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino didn't go far enough when he called the Yankees the "Evil Empire."

The good news is the incident revealed the desperation the Yankees obviously are feeling as they try to hold off the Red Sox and win the American League East with their $183 million payroll. (All together now: If there is a God ... )

The Yankees didn't get their forfeit, which they asked about when the Tampa Bay Devil Rays were unable to get to New York for a Monday afternoon game because of the hurricane.

The last time a major league game was forfeited because one team wasn't there was in 1918, so the Yankees' chances weren't good.

But the idea smacked of Little League ball, where forfeits are as commonplace as slaughter rules and innings limits for pitchers.

Come to think of it, the Yankees could have benefited from both of the latter.

Had a slaughter rule been in effect, putting an early end to any lopsided game, the Yankees wouldn't have experienced a 22-0 loss to the Indians on Aug. 31. The game would have ended at, say, a more sportsmanlike 12-0, and the Yankees' feelings wouldn't have gotten so hurt.

And if major league pitchers were limited to, say, five innings a game, the Yankees' Kevin Brown would have departed their Sept. 3 game against the Orioles long before he got so angry that he punched a clubhouse wall and broke his hand, possibly ending his season.

No wonder the Bronx Bombers were thinking about forfeits; Little League rules could have helped them this season!

Or perhaps they were thinking about forfeits because of what happened last September when they were in Baltimore as Tropical Storm Isabel approached. The opposite of what happened this week took place then. The Orioles moved up the starting time of a game so it could be played.

The Yankees didn't like that, either, and reportedly protested vehemently enough that the commissioner's office told them a forfeit could ensue if they refused to play.

For those scoring at home, the Yankees didn't like it this year when Tampa Bay couldn't play, and they didn't like it last year when the Orioles could play, so there's obviously no use worrying about satisfying them. It can't be done.

The Yankees, who will play three games against the Orioles this weekend at Camden Yards, are now saying they brought up the forfeit idea this week only because it was threatened last year.

They're trying to spin the story because they're getting hammered for showing such little concern for the Devil Rays, who understandably chose to ride out the storm with their families rather than escape to New York to play.

But the Yankees can't spin the fact that they held a news conference at Yankee Stadium on Monday afternoon, as the storm churned and the Devil Rays flew toward New York, and raised the possibility of winning by forfeit.

Ladies and gentlemen, youuuuuur New York Yankees.

It's likely none of this would have arisen if the Yankees were still 10 1/2 games ahead of the Red Sox, as they were on Aug. 15. There would be no need to try to browbeat a forfeit out of the Devil Rays, which ranks with "getting caught on the mound with a nail file" on the scale of debasing baseball stunts.

But the Yankees' pitching has struggled enough lately to let the hot Red Sox make a race of it and shorten nerves in the Bronx to the nubbins.

Of course, the Yankees can lose the division but still make the playoffs and entertain championship hopes as long as they win the wild-card race, which means staying ahead of the Anaheim Angels, who are 8 1/2 games behind them.

But Yankees owner George Steinbrenner will eventually explode if the team does anything less than win the World Series, which is hardly assured given its lack of pitching. Five American League teams have lower team ERAs.

No matter how much they spend, the Yankees just aren't as formidable with their subdued collection of free agents as they were in the 1990s with fierce team players such as Paul O'Neill and Scott Brosius. It could be that, for all their advantages, they simply have lost their touch.

This week's ludicrous forfeit controversy suggests as much.

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