|Thursday, January 23
Updated: March 13, 4:34 PM ET
Key advisor, Newman, simply had it with The Boss
By Bob Klapisch
Special to ESPN.com
The Yankees' busy and sometimes turbulent offseason took another strange twist on Thursday, when Mark Newman, their Tampa-based vice president and one of owner George Steinbrenner's most trusted advisors, surrendered his title to assume a behind-the-scenes advisory role.
Although club's official stance was that Newman stepped aside amicably, people within the organization insist he was either forced out or else grew tired of the day-to-day exposure to the Boss. According to Newsday, Newman broke with Steinbrenner following a heated argument on Tuesday.
One club insider said Newman's decision surprised "no one" and another said such quarreling has become commonplace within the Yankee hierarchy this winter.
"There isn't one person (in the front office) who hasn't had some kind of blow-up with George lately," the source said. Indeed, Steinbrenner has, after years of assuming a background-posture, single-handedly taken control of the organization -- a role-reversal that's evolved steadily since the Yankees were beaten by the Angels in the American League Division Series.
Ostensibly, Newman will be replaced by Gordon Blakeley, who has served as the club's VP of international and professional scouting. But there's no doubt Steinbrenner will remain at the epicenter of the Yankees' universe, as he's pushed even GM Brian Cashman and manager Joe Torre further away from the decision-making process.
There are signs of the Boss' excesses everywhere, as the payroll inches closer to $160 million: the Yankees have seven starting pitchers for 2003, and already have another one signed for 2004. Free agent Jon Lieber agreed to a two-year, $3.5 million deal this week, despite undergoing Tommy John surgery last August and being in the middle of a rehab-process that'll keep him inactive for the entire 2003 season.
Steinbrenner's surplus of starting pitching clearly distresses Torre, who, in the middle of the initiation press conference for Hideki Matsui last week, admitted he has "no idea" which of his starters will be relegated to the bullpen.
"That's what I'm worried about," Torre said. "I have no idea how I'm going to handle that."
One of the reasons the Yankees are overloaded is the recent signing of free agent Jose Contreras, whom the Yankees signed under strict orders from The Boss. Not that the club's braintrust wasn't already impressed with the Cuban right-hander -- they were, calling him the best international pitching talent available. But Steinbrenner was so intent on keeping Contreras away from the Red Sox that he reportedly threatened to fire his lieutenants, Blakeley included, had the Yankees failed to sign him.
That prompted Red Sox president Larry Lucchino to call the Yankees "the evil empire" -- setting off a flurry of insults between the two organizations. Matters became so heated, that according to the New York Daily News, commissioner Bud Selig telephoned both Lucchino an Steinbrenner to say, in effect, "cool it."
Still, a timeout wasn't called until Steinbrenner exacted his final measure of revenge. He ordered his executives to continue negotiating with the Expos in a feigned pursuit of Bartolo Colon, thus making it more costly for the Red Sox to make a trade for the ace right-hander.
Steinbrenner prevailed again, as Colon was ultimately dealt to the White Sox. The Yankees, however, insist they had nothing to do with Boston's refusal to include Casey Fossum in a potential trade with Montreal. As one Yankee official said, "if (the Red Sox) wanted Fossum over Colon, that's their business and that's a decision they'll have to live with. That one wasn't on us."
Bob Klapisch of The Record (Bergen County, N.J.) covers baseball for ESPN.com.