On a warm South Florida morning last month, a man hiding middle-aged spread under a blue sweat suit jogged in the outfield at Fort Lauderdale's Yankee Stadium. Mickey Lolich making a comeback? No. Just New York owner George Steinbrenner, running off some pounds instead of running off at the mouth.
It was an unusually silent spring for the Yankees. Silent because:
—George and Billy Martin didn't squabble.
—George didn't erupt when his club lost exhibition games.
—The Big Trade that would help New York's pitching and alleviate it's DH-outfield logjam was still waiting to be made.
Amid the quiet, one fact came through loud and clear: The Yankees will be better, probably much better than last year when they finished 79-83, one game out of last. "All we have to do is show up and we'll be improved," says Reliever Goose Gossage.
While Leftfielder Dave Winfield had a super season in '82, driving in 106 runs, no one else on the club had more than 68 RBIs, so during the off-season Steinbrenner acquired free-agent sluggers Don Baylor and Steve Kemp. Last year Baylor had 93 ribbies for California, Kemp 98 for Detroit.
Baylor is enthusiastic about being a Yankee. "These pinstripes are something everyone should experience," he says. He also likes the idea of batting fifth behind Kemp and Winfield. "I just told those guys to leave me something."
The team's other new face is an old face: Having been bumped from the outfield, Ken Griffey now becomes the first baseman. Griffey doesn't have a game's worth of major league infield experience, but he does have a .304 career average.
Martin, fresh from his latest exile in Oakland, is the New York manager for the third time. "I wasn't even going to come back to baseball," Martin says. "I had three years left on my A's contract, and I was going to be clipping coupons—$750,000 worth of coupons." But before Martin could become the new Yankee Clipper, Steinbrenner called. "Money doesn't talk," Martin says, "money screams." And when it hollered $1.25 million for five years, Martin listened.
Everyone else seems happy that he did. "Getting Billy back has really made a difference in the attitude here," Gossage says. Season-ticket sales have stayed at last year's record levels. Media Relations Director Ken Nigro complained at spring training that everyone wanted to interview Martin, and no one wanted to talk to the players. And George? He seemed content to run in his sweats and let Billy run the team. But how long will that last?
"If we play like we can," Catcher Rick Cerone says, "and win as we should, there won't be any big, loud noises."
Big numbers—like Dave Win field's 37 home runs and 106 RBIs—had made New York a winner in the past. But the Yankees were damned in 1982 by more forbidding stats: 128 errors, a 3.99 team ERA and numerous personnel changes, including five pitching coaches, three managers and three batting instructors. Mini-numbers hurt, too: a .256 batting average and 69 steals.