This is how much life among the New York Yankees has changed: The owner recently labeled himself "stupid." George Steinbrenner seemed to turn over a new leaf this spring. When a daylong downpour threatened to cancel an exhibition game, who was out there with rake in hand, directing the helicopter pilots toward the wet spots? The same guy who replied to Ken Griffey's semiannual request for a trade by asking, "Who else is going to take a 36-year-old with two bad legs and a $960,000 salary? Nobody. Nobody's that stupid."
Though Steinbrenner has added another new manager to his collection, Lou Piniella, he has curtailed his shopping for players. (He did, however, have enough mad money left to give Al Holland a contract for $400,000, or about $1,800 a pound. Then he went to the minors.) "I think that we have finally realized that the farm system can supply some damned good talent," Piniella says. League MVPs like Don Mattingly tend to make you see the light.
The farm system will have to come to the Yankees' rescue again. The Boss badly wanted a starting pitcher this winter and acquired lefthander Britt(le) Burns, who was 18-11 for the White Sox last year. But Burns will miss the entire '86 season because of his chronic hip ailment.
Then the Yankees unceremoniously dumped 47-year-old starter Phil Niekro, which, besides ticking off 41-year-old starter Joe Niekro, opened the door for 42-year-old starter Tommy John. Ron Guidry, a mere 35, will have to have another Cy Young-caliber year.
Ah, but the offense. The Yanks scored 839 runs last year, the best in baseball, and they could improve on that total. Leadoff hitter Rickey Henderson will be at full speed in early April instead of early May. New York traded DHs with Boston, righthand-hitting Don Baylor for lefthanded Mike Easler. Mattingly, who missed the first three weeks of camp with a bum thumb, slashed two singles in his first two at bats upon returning. Some things never change. "I know I'm doing my job," relief pitcher Dave Righetti says. "Around here, if you're not, you're gone."
George may still be happy well into September.
THE ELIAS ANALYST:
Hitless in 10 at bats with the bases loaded last season.
Amazingly, has only one extra-base hit, a double, in 49 career appearances with bases full.
Batted .111 with runners in scoring position, to rank 3rd from the bottom in the AL.
His 102 Ks were most by a Yankee middle in-fielder since Frank Crosetti (105 in 1937).
Has started 152 of 153 games against right-
Drove in 11 base runners with 10 homers, highest rate in AL.
Leads all active players with 573 stolen bases and needs just 14 to pass Maury Wills.
Yankees had a record of 21-3 in games in which he homered.
Outhit his brother-Maw, Cliff Johnson, for the sixth straight year.
Ranked 2nd in AL with an average of 7.84 innings per start.
It's been 17 years since the Cubs traded Niekro for Dick Selma.
Led AL pitchers in early-round knockouts last season. No, not that kind of knockout.
Has a career rate of 25.6 strikeouts per 100 lefthanded batters faced.