Rookie skipper at ease in Yanks' hot seat

Job security is not what the George Steinbrenner-era New York Yankees are all about. Steinbrenner, baseball's impatient man, has made 14 managerial changes in the past 14 years, with Billy Martin, Bob Lemon, and Gene Michael all having served more than one term. In fact, Martin is the first manager ever to be fired four times by the same club. Yet the new Yankee pilot, Lou Piniella, who has spent the past 12 years in Steinbrenner's ``Bronx Zoo'' (10 as a player and 1 as a coach), never hesitated when the job was offered to him.

``I know I'm stepping into a difficult situation,'' Piniella said when he accepted the post late last October. ``George doesn't like it when the team doesn't win. But it wasn't easy to play here, either, so what's the difference? I can handle it.''

Piniella, whose team is off to a 5-1 start and leading the American League East, doesn't think his lack of experience as a manager at any level will hurt him.

``Over the years, I've learned a lot from the guys I played under, especially Martin and [Yogi] Berra,'' Lou said. ``I know I'm going to make mistakes. Do you know anybody who doesn't? But if you don't duplicate them, you can last up here as a manager, or so I've been told.''

Last year the Yankees posted 97 victories and finished two games behind the first-place Toronto Blue Jays in what is generally considered to be baseball's toughest division.

Since New York scored more runs (839) than any other team in baseball, most people automatically blamed the club's pitching staff for not doing a better job; that is, except for starters Ron Guidry (22-6) and Phil Niekro (since released), plus relievers Dave Righetti and Brian Fisher, who combined for 43 saves.

This theory gained further credence last winter when the Yankees traded with the Chicago White Sox for 18-game winner Britt Burns. Burns, however, isn't expected to pitch at all this year because of hip problems.

There is speculation that Piniella may eventually move Righetti (who was 14-8 as a starter in 1983) out of the bullpen and back into the rotation. He'll have to give it a lot of thought, however, since the fireballing left-hander is also a big asset in his current role -- as he showed Sunday by striking out the side in the ninth inning to preserve a 3-2 victory. Another factor could be the progress of Fisher, whose 2.38 earned-run average and 14 saves as a rookie last year were most impressive.

Meanwhile, with hitting and scoring threats like 1985 MVP Don Mattingly (.324, 35 home runs, 145 runs batted in), Dave Winfield (114 RBIs), and Rickey Henderson (80 stolen bases) going for him, plus Ken Griffey, Mike Easler, and Willie Randolph, Piniella should seldom be concerned about his offense.

Asked how he would deal with his close friends in the clubhouse, players with whom he used to socialize regularly, Piniella replied:

``The relationship can't be quite the same as it used to be, because part of the job of the man in charge is to maintain discipline. And if that kind of situation comes up, I'm prepared to deal with it. But you don't necessarily have to be a bulldog type to do it.'' Cedeno could be bargain for Dodgers

Much of baseball's establishment considers veteran outfielder-first baseman Cesar Cedeno a riddle wrapped in an enigma -- his behavior both on and off the field often coming under fire. But with Pedro Guerrero lost to Los Angeles for at least three months with an injury, Cedeno's bat began to glow like the torch on the Statue of Liberty for Dodger general manager Al Campanis.

The point is, the Dodgers may have gotten themselves a one-year bargain at $200,000 in Cedeno, who after moving from the Reds to the Cardinals last August batted .434 down the stretch. Included in that figure were six home runs and 19 RBIs, plus a .349 average with runners in scoring positions.

When the Cardinals showed no interest in re-signing him for 1986, Cedeno hooked on briefly with Toronto, which released him on the final day of spring training.

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