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Clean Pickup

Trade to Yankees Has Been Rewarding for Vizcaino, Who Gives Dodgers an Error for the Way He Was Handled

October 21, 2000|JASON REID | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — Jose Vizcaino quickly overcame his bad Dodger experience with the New York Yankees' help.

The Yankees showed Vizcaino how baseball should be played, and the infielder got with the program.

But memories linger.

Vizcaino believes the Dodgers treated him unfairly after he suffered an ankle injury in 1998, pushing him aside without explanation.

The Yankees have communicated better with Vizcaino, scheduled to start at second base tonight in Game 1 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium.

The Big Apple provided the boost Vizcaino needed after his depressing L.A. story.

"Being in this city, with this team in the World Series, it's been like a dream come true, but the dream keeps getting better and better," Vizcaino said. "The fans are crazy right now because of the Subway Series with the Mets, and the excitement is just unbelievable.

"After everything that happened the last [two] years, I didn't think I would ever be in a position like this, to be starting in the World Series for the Yankees. I was pretty frustrated with the Dodgers, I couldn't even think about something like this happening, but everything changed for me with the trade."

And not a moment too soon.

Vizcaino was at his wits' end when Yankee General Manager Brian Cashman persuaded Dodger General Manager Kevin Malone to complete a deal June 21 that brought the versatile player to the Bronx for pinch-hitter Jim Leyritz.

Cashman had been trying to get Vizcaino since spring training, believing the 10-year veteran could bolster Manager Joe Torre's bench, but the Dodgers rejected proposals, even though Vizcaino wasn't in former manager Davey Johnson's plans.

Vizcaino, who underwent surgery on his right ankle after sitting out the last three months of the '98 season, lost the starting shortstop job to Mark Grudzielanek, played sparingly in '99 and this season with the Dodgers.

The emergence of young shortstop Alex Cora, after Grudzielanek had been moved to second, pushed Vizcaino farther into the background and out the door again.

Vizcaino, traded to the Chicago Cubs for Greg Smith in 1990, returned as the opening-day shortstop in '98 after signing a three-year, $9.5-million contract under the O'Malley regime.

Fox had other plans, and Vizcaino understands that things change, but he said the situation could have been handled better.

"They did it all wrong," Vizcaino said. "No one ever talked to me to explain anything. I signed to be the starting shortstop, then they bring in Grudzielanek and I never really had a chance. Yeah, they said in spring training [in 1999] that we were going to [compete] for the job, but everybody knew . . . who they wanted to play.

"That's fine, but just tell me that. Veterans deserve to at least have the team tell them what's going on. When you don't hear anything, you don't know what's expected. It just makes it harder to do your job. They treated me like I was a rookie. It was just wrong."

Johnson, fired Sept. 29, said the Dodgers didn't have room for Vizcaino. The Yankees made room.

"We thought he could give Joe options late in games because he plays shortstop, second and third, and he's also a contact [switch-hitter]," Cashman said. "We liked him and I was working on [a trade] since spring training, but the Dodgers wanted me to trade his contract for Leyritz's straight up, there's a big difference, and I wouldn't do that.

"But then the Dodgers came down and agreed to help offset the contract, and we were able to get it done. We're definitely pleased we were able to get it worked out."

Under the terms of Leyritz's one-year deal, $250,000 of his $1.25-million contract was deferred without interest until Jan. 15, 2001.

In agreeing to make the payment, the Yankees received $500,000 from the Dodgers to help offset the rest of Vizcaino's $3.5-million salary.

Vizcaino batted .276 in 73 games for the Yankees after having hit only .204 in 40 games with the Dodgers, starting 37 games at second because of Chuck Knoblauch's defensive problems.

What has been best about the Yankees for Vizcaino?

"Everyone here only cares about winning and supporting each other," he said. "You would think there are a lot of egos in here, but that's not the way it is. No way.

"You don't see guys being selfish here because that's not what this team is about. Everyone is just about business. You just want to contribute, to help win a title."

Vizcaino has made a postseason contribution, playing in five games and going two for two with two runs batted in. His seventh-inning, pinch-hit infield single ignited the Yankees' momentum-turning inning in the American League championship series-clinching victory over the Seattle Mariners.

Torre shuffled the lineup because Vizcaino is batting .526 (10 for 19) in his career against Met starter Al Leiter.

"It's a little bit of a surprise [to start], but I've been waiting for this moment my whole career," Vizcaino said. "I'll be more excited than nervous."

Despite his problems with the Dodgers, Vizcaino hopes things improve at Chavez Ravine.

"It just seems like everything fell apart after the [Mike] Piazza trade, and a lot of stuff happened," Vizcaino said. "They have good players, but it takes more than that [to win].

"I've seen how things are here, and not to say anything bad about the Dodgers, but everything is just different. It's a lot different."

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