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Bronx Cheer for No-Show Eisner

April 04, 2000|ROSS NEWHAN

The Angels opened their 40th season Monday night, but neither the appearance of the New York Yankees in Anaheim nor a two-for-one ticket promotion through the Internet--they have to give away tickets for opening night?--was enough to attract Disney chairman Michael Eisner, who may have caught it on the tube, if at all.

No surprise.

It was only a few days ago that Angel President Tony Tavares was confirming the obvious, saying the club is available for the right offer and that Eisner is just "not passionate about having to own this team."

Big deal?

It can be argued, of course, that passion isn't the concern for the Angels, pitching is. Then again, if the Angels do not have the pitching they will need to challenge for an American League West title it may be because a dispassionate Eisner wouldn't spend the money to obtain it or keep it.

Amid preparations for opening night against a team whose owner may hold the major league record for passion and commitment, the lingering uncertainty of the Angels' ownership situation and Disney's commitment might not have been overriding clubhouse themes, but right fielder Tim Salmon acknowledged that "it can and does" have an impact.

"When a big corporation buys a team," Salmon said, "you don't know if they do it to further their own business interests or because they have a real passion for the game. Well, here we are today less Chuck Finley and less a few other things, so I don't know.

"I mean, I've spent my whole career in this organization, but the one thing guys talk about when they come from an organization that has won is that the commitment for winning starts at the top. We've had it at times here, but we've never experienced what the Yankees have.

"You always hear about George Steinbrenner and how he's getting the guy they need down the stretch or getting a guy to keep him away from some other club. Ultimately, you look in October and the teams that are there have all improved themselves at some point in the season. The true test comes down the stretch. Will the owner go out and get the guy you need? Of course, you have to put yourself in position where it matters, and that starts now."

Salmon referred to the opening pitch of a season in which the undermanned and underdog Angels will be striving to get to the World Series for the first time in their four decades while the Yankees ultimate goal is to become the first team since the Oakland A's of 1972-74 to win three consecutive World Series.

Much like 1999, when they were consistently asked if they could repeat their 125 wins of '98, the Yankees know they will be consistently asked about a Series three-peat.

"You get caught up thinking about a three-peat and you're likely to get distracted from the things you should be focusing on," Manager Joe Torre said.

"We don't need the distraction and we don't need to use a three-peat as motivation. We know what winning is like and we want to do more. Coming back to win again last year was an acid test for this team after winning those 125 games in '98."

The acid test included a plague of personal misfortune that surfaced again this spring when his drug addiction again claimed Darryl Strawberry.

"I've never been around a more professional group of guys or a team more prepared to handle adversity and distractions," pitcher David Cone said Monday night. "We've been through a lot.

"We're very aware of the three-peat and know we're going to be asked about it. It's not first and foremost in our minds, but we're certainly proud to be in this position. Every team can use an edge. We can use chasing the A's as an edge."

In a stunning reversal from earlier times, the Steinbrenner Yankees have become a model of stability, creating a loyalty and familiarity between fans and players, Cone said, that "must have been what it was like in the golden era of baseball." The fire still burns in Steinbrenner, he theorized, but age and success have softened the bombast.

"The culture has changed," Cone said. "There was a period in the '90s when many free agents spurned New York because they were leery of the living conditions or concerned about the environment around the Yankees. Now players are anxious to come there. They know George will do anything he can to help us win, and they realize that when you win in New York it beats winning anywhere else.

"I mean, it's still tough when we go through a losing streak, but we've all come to realize that the upside far outweighs the downside.

"I'll take our situation, with the commitment and passion George brings, over the uncertainty of any other market."

Cone might have been referring to the uncertainty in Anaheim, where the first baseman, Mo Vaughn, sat at his locker before Monday's game and said the recent acquisition of Kent Bottenfield and Adam Kennedy did demonstrate a commitment on the part of management and "in here, we're thinking strictly about baseball. Mike Scioscia is seeing to that. Whatever happens happens, but it's a different regime and different story this year. We have to do our job the way it's supposed to be done. We can't think about the owner or anything else."

Especially when the owner has little passion for them.

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