Of Pin Stripes On and Off the Field

Steinbrenner gets tagged out, But the fans have all gone home - a letter from Yankee Stadium

TWO outs in the bottom of the eighth. The New York Yankees have the bases loaded. Centerfielder Roberto Kelly steps to the plate. Fan expectations are low. Twice in the game the Yankees have left three men on base against the Kansas City Royals.

The fans, who were enduring a 90-degree day at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, have good reason to be concerned. Almost every day, the Yankees find a new and imaginative way to lose.

Recently, for instance, pitcher Andy Hawkins lost a no-hitter. The score: 4-0. The boys from the Bronx routinely load the bases but don't score. At their current rate, they could lose more than 100 games this season. The last Yankee team to do that was in 1912.

The constant losses have cast a cloud over many New Yorkers. Sitting in the left-field seats, John Flanagan, a resident of Throgs Neck, says the Yankees' problems make him ``feel bad all year.''

James Keegan, a doorman on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, recalls that the Yankee pin stripes were once a source of pride to the city. ``Everyone at one time or another dreams of being a Yankee,'' Mr. Keegan says.

Most New Yorkers know Yankee Stadium as the House that Babe Ruth built. ``The Babe,'' who smacked home runs over the fences with great regularity, helped the sport become a national pastime. ``Rooting for the Yankees was like rooting for US Steel,'' Keegan recalls.

Leland Jones, a spokesman for Mayor David Dinkins, says the mayor understands how the losing season is affecting the city. ``When they win, we all win; when they lose, we all hurt,'' says Mr. Jones, who cheered for the Yankees when he was growing up in Wyoming. Mayor Dinkins stays away from the losers. The last time he was at Yankee Stadium was for a Nelson Mandela rally.

While the team faces humiliation daily in the dugout, its principal owner, George Steinbrenner, has just lost a no-hitter of his own in the office of the commissioner of baseball. Concluding a four-month investigation, Commissioner Fay Vincent on July 30 banned Mr. Steinbrenner from the day-to-day operations of the Yankees for actions ``not in the best interest of baseball.''

Mr. Steinbrenner, who has been general partner of the Yankees since 1973, allegedly gave $40,000 to a known gambler in return for information detrimental to Dave Winfield, a Yankee who has since been traded to the California Angels. At the time Steinbrenner was having a contract dispute with Winfield.

Mr. Vincent was especially concerned about why Steinbrenner would associate with a man who was a well-known gambler.

Many Yankee fans, in fact, blame Steinbrenner for the team's decline. At the stadium recently, a banner floated above home plate said, ``Only One Owner Away from a Championship.''

Sitting along the third-base line, teenagers Ben and Adina Epstein explain that Steinbrenner has ``no plan for the Yankees.'' Ben, a Yankee fan since he was four, complains about ``a lot of really bad trades.''

The Yankees are so bad that Scott Taylor says he had trouble finding any business associates who would leave the office for the ballpark. Among his pin-striped associates is a Boston Red Sox fan. ``I am enjoying every minute of this,'' the Boston fan admits.

Indeed, legions of Yankee-bashers are gloating over the team's situation. Bob Marshall, author of the book, ``Diary of a Yankee Hater,'' calls it ``a season of a lifetime ... some new misery befalls them each game.''

It's a good thing Mr. Marshall is not at the stadium this particular afternoon. ``The Bronx Bombers'' are showing some signs of life against Kansas City, which is in last place in the other division of the American League. Centerfielder Kelly bloops a fly ball just past the diving shortstop. Two runs score, breaking a tie ball game. For a change, the Yankees win one.

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