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Original Issue

1 New York Yankees These Yanks can't possibly be better than last year, can they? Yeah, they can

One hundred sixty-two games of light calisthenics await the
Yankees. Only the crucible of October, when a hot pitcher or two
can dominate a series, will make them sweat. They are Michael
Jordan's Bulls, as close to a sure thing as you get in sports.

The Yankees were at least 22 games better than every other team
in the American League last season. Now they're even better
because clutch pitcher Orlando Hernandez, who spent two months
in the minors last year, has a full season ahead of him, as does
designated hitter Chili Davis, who missed all but 35 games with
an ankle injury. They're better, too, because they traded for
one of the best pitchers in history, Roger Clemens, without
really hurting themselves. The cost of 37 2/3 innings
(lefthanded reliever Graeme Lloyd), 71 at bats (backup infielder
Homer Bush) and an out-of-nowhere 18-4 season (lefthanded
starter David Wells) brought giggles to the New York clubhouse.

"I love Boomer," said one Yankee, "but getting the Rocket?
There's no comparison."

Says pitcher David Cone, "Yes, we are a better team--on paper.
That's not easy to say after you've won [125] games, but it's

Because of the fuss over Clemens, Bernie Williams--the
centerfielder, cleanup hitter, batting champion and highest-paid
Yankee ever ($87.5 million over seven years)--reported to camp
this year with hardly anyone noticing. "Bernie Williams is a
footnote here," Cone says.

Tino Martinez was wallpaper too. That's not normally how you'd
describe a player who joined Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe
DiMaggio as the only Yankees to drive in 120 runs in
back-to-back seasons. Paul O'Neill? The hitter with the
fifth-best batting average in Yankees history (.317) created
more of a stir playing drums behind John Mellencamp in
Indianapolis this winter than he did at training camp.

The Yankees' personality hasn't changed much. They're still so
filthy rich that they made Joe Girardi, a 31-RBI man and backup
catcher, the fourth-highest-paid backstop in the league ($3.4
million). Their rotation is still so deep that Ramiro Mendoza,
who would be a No. 2 starter on many teams, will remain in the
bullpen as a long reliever. Their lineup is still so loaded that
World Series MVP Scott Brosius--who improved his RBI total from
41 in 1997, with Oakland, to 98 with New York last year--will
bat eighth or ninth. "If you're a pitcher facing this lineup,
where do you draw a breath?" says Brosius.

Owner George Steinbrenner brought back both Girardi and Brosius
despite having younger, cheaper replacements available (Jorge
Posada and prospect Mike Lowell, who was traded in February to
Florida). "That's the way it should be," O'Neill says. "Trying
to repeat means trying to repeat with the same people."

Clemens, though, does change the clubhouse dynamic a bit. The
36-year-old five-time Cy Young winner has whiffed 3,153 batters
without having won a world championship; only Hall of Famers Don
Sutton, Gaylord Perry, Phil Niekro and Ferguson Jenkins have
struck out more and gone ringless. Getting Clemens a ring will
have the emotional tug of getting Elway a Super Bowl win,
Earnhardt a Daytona victory or Lemmon a weekend tee time at
Pebble Beach. "I was worried a little about complacency,"
Steinbrenner says. No more.

"Last year we added [Chuck] Knoblauch and now Clemens," O'Neill
says. "Adding a premier player is exciting to a team. I know
when we faced a guy like Clemens, you ran that extra sprint and
took that extra stretch before the game. It's the first thing
you think of when you wake up that day, knowing if he's on, he
can flat out blow you away."

Every team is vulnerable, of course, even a team favored to join
the 1972-74 Oakland Athletics as the only clubs in the expansion
era to win three world championships in four years or less.
Well, if you think hard they're vulnerable. The Yankees will
miss the cool guidance and professionalism of manager Joe Torre,
who'll be out at least the first six weeks of the season while
he recuperates from surgery for prostate cancer. New York,
though, does have a sage replacement in Don Zimmer, Torre's
copilot on the bench for the past three years. The 68-year-old
Zimmer, who has been in the professional game since 1949, is a
highly respected game strategist who should keep things running
smoothly in Torre's absence.

New York doesn't have the same pitching balance it had last
year, as Andy Pettitte and Mike Stanton are the only lefthanders
on the staff. For all of Clemens's regular-season mastery, he
has won fewer postseason games (one) than David Weathers (two),
and he's winless in his last seven playoff starts. Wells, by
contrast, is 8-1 in the postseason, including 4-0 against
Cleveland, the Yankees' most formidable obstacle to another
World Series appearance. "It's not a real big deal from our
perspective," Indians general manager John Hart says of the
Clemens-Wells swap. "Wells could throw his glove out there and
beat us."

Alas, nitpick we must in search of a compelling plot twist to
this baseball season. Jordan's Bulls never had a dominating
center, right?

--Tom Verducci

COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON Though he's the first player to win a batting title, Gold Glove and World Series in the same year, Williams ceded the off-season spotlight to others.


By the Numbers

1998 Team Statistics (AL rank)
1998 record: 114-48 (first in AL East)

HOME RUNS 207 (4)
OPP. BATTING AVG. .247 (1)
ERA 3.82 (1)
FIELDING PCT. .984 (3)

Relaunching the Rocket

Roger Clemens is just the second pitcher to win 20 games in a
season and then be acquired during the subsequent off-season by
the defending World Series champions. Before Clemens, only five
pitchers (listed below) had been acquired by the world champs
following a season of 15 or more wins; all but one of the five
increased their victory total.

With Series
Pitcher Team W-L ERA Champs W-L ERA

Roger Clemens 1998 Blue Jays 20-6 2.65 1999 Yankees ? ?
John Smiley 1991 Pirates 20-8 3.08 1992 Twins 16-9 3.21
Tommy John 1978 Dodgers 17-10 3.30 1979 Yankees 21-9 2.97
Ed Lopat 1947 Cubs 16-13 2.81 1948 Yankees 17-11 3.65
Stan Coveleski 1924 Indians 15-16 4.05 1925 Senators 20-5 2.84
Jesse Tannehill 1903 Yankees 15-15 3.26 1904 Red Sox 21-11 2.04

Next Up...

"He's going to be the best defensive catcher in the league this
year," Joe Girardi boasted of his fellow backstop, Jorge Posada,
during the spring. Girardi was reminded that Ivan Rodriguez and
Charles Johnson also play in the American League. "I said the
best," Girardi replied defiantly. Such praise is a testament to
the hard work of Posada, 27, who converted to catcher in A ball
in 1992 and led his minor league in either errors or passed
balls in 1993 and '94. His bat has improved, too. Though he
started only 91 games in '98, Posada had more RBIs (63) than any
catcher in the league except Rodriguez. "He's going to be an
All-Star--very soon," says manager Joe Torre.

Projected Roster With 1998 Statistics

Manager: Joe Torre (fourth season with New York)


2B Chuck Knoblauch R 65 .265 17 64 31
SS Derek Jeter R 22 .324 19 84 30
RF Paul O'Neill L 41 .317 24 116 15
CF Bernie Williams S-R 28 .339 26 97 15
1B Tino Martinez L-R 25 .281 28 123 2
DH Chili Davis S-R 110 .291 3 9 0
C Jorge Posada S-R 82 .268 17 63 0
3B Scott Brosius R 102 .300 19 98 11
LF Ricky Ledee L 230 .241 1 12 3


OF Chad Curtis R 267 .243 10 56 21
OF Shane Spencer(R) R 285 .373 10 27 0
C Joe Girardi R 344 .276 3 31 2
IF Luis Sojo R 392 .231 0 14 1


RH Roger Clemens[1] 1 20 6 7.1 1.10 2.65
RH David Cone 14 20 7 6.7 1.18 3.55
LH Andy Pettitte 58 16 11 6.7 1.45 4.24
RH Orlando Hernandez 28 12 4 6.7 1.17 3.13
RH Hideki Irabu 77 13 9 6.1 1.29 4.06


RH Mariano Rivera 5 3 0 36 1.06 1.91
LH Mike Stanton 170 4 1 6 1.23 5.47
RH Jeff Nelson 205 5 3 3 1.64 3.79
RH Darren Holmes 317 0 3 2 1.31 3.33
RH Dan Naulty[1] 326 0 2 0 1.48 4.94
RH Ramiro Mendoza 88 10 2 1 1.24 3.25

[1]New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 154)