|All confines unfriendly to Yankees|
By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist
News item: Owner George Steinbrenner says the interleague schedule is unbalanced and unfair to the Yankees.
"Katy Feeney makes the schedule and she has never been a favorite of mine or a favorite of the Yankees," The Boss told the New York Times. "We play Cincinnati, which is a fine, fine club; they're going to be in the middle of it. Then we play the Cubs. Now, who is (Boston) playing? They're playing Milwaukee. Now, what's right about that? They're playing Pittsburgh and Milwaukee, and we're playing Cincinnati and the Cubs. I think they got the best of that deal.''
Yet even a mighty champion can occasionally wear down under the harsh, unforgiving schedule delivered to them by a petty bureaucrat such as Katy Feeney.
"It's like, every game we have to play a team that no one else has to play that day," owner George Steinbrenner said in a rare moment of self-pity. "There's a day in September when we have to play Toronto, and the Red Sox don't have to play anyone. Now, what's right about that?"
After finishing their grueling series against the Reds -- a team that needs to win only one game to reach .500 -- the Yankees face yet another uphill battle this weekend. While the Red Sox play a team that has never won a World Series, the Yankees must compete against an opponent that has won a world championship in every century of the modern baseball era other than the current one. The Cubs not only are six entire games above .500 -- in other words, they could lose nearly seven games and still not have a losing record -- they bring an imposing one-game winning streak into the series at Wrigley Field, where the perennial contenders have not lost to the Yankees in 65 years.
"You bet it's intimidating to go into Wrigley Field. We're very well aware we haven't won there since Lou Gehrig was playing first base for us," shortstop Derek Jeter said. "But we're up to the challenge. That's what being a Yankee is all about. If the schedule says we have to play the Cubs, we'll play the Cubs."
The Yankees must fight off the debilitating effects of jet-lag after flying from Cincinnati to Chicago, then lock themselves up tight in their hotel rooms to rest and prepare for the series. While many will be sorely tempted to spend their time reading, they'll need as much sleep as possible given that they face a first-place team that will stop at nothing to defeat them. Chicago "slugger'' Sammy Sosa demonstrated the incredible lengths teams will go to in order to beat New York when he was caught using a corked bat in a game Tuesday night.
No Yankee would ever consider blemishing the team's reputation by aiding his performance in such an appalling way -- the club's code of ethics established by Billy Martin is so uncompromising that the use of batting donuts in the on-deck circle is frowned upon -- so it is infuriating when misdeeds by opposing players go completely unnoticed. Few fans even heard about Sosa's transgression because it was quickly hushed up by the notorious Midwest media conglomerate that dominates and controls news coverage in this country.
"But you can bet if I had picked up his splintered bat and thrown it at his head like a spear, it would be in every paper in the country," pitcher Roger Clemens said.
Clemens' quest to win his 300th career game has been slowed by a staggering schedule of consecutive major-league opponents -- Katy Feeney strikes again! -- but he will try again Saturday. He has his work cut out for him again. Not only must he face the Cubs and their illegal bats, his opponent is Kerry Wood, who has as many victories as losses this season.
The game has been sold out for months, owing to the nationwide love for the Yankees and the high unemployment rate in Chicago. Clemens received so many requests to buy expensive tickets for all his friends and relatives that he had to limit his official guest list, and so will only invite people whose names begin with the letter K.
Jealous, ignorant fans groused that it was presumptuous for Clemens to wear a "300 Wins" patch on his glove during his first attempt at the mark two weeks ago but they do not understand the way a true champion draws needed motivation from such items when facing such a relentless string of stiff competitors as the Yankees do on a daily basis.
"It's tough to win when the schedule-makers insist on scheduling major-league opponents against you game after game, day after day, season after season," Jeter said. "Let me tell you, it keeps us humble. But when I get tired, I just look at our '2003 World Champions' shoulder patches to motivate myself."
He'll need to, because, if anything, the schedule only gets tougher. Following Saturday's game, the Yankees must play the Cubs yet again the very next night in a nationally-televised game. "Everyone else will be done playing for the weekend, and we'll still have to play the Cubs that night," Steinbrenner said. "Now, how is that fair?"
As difficult as it is to believe, that Sunday game doesn't end the Yankees ordeal. Following the game, they must shower, dress, bus to the airport and fly all the way home so they can play a game Monday night in New York, which is in an entirely different state than Chicago. And they'll still have 100 games left to play before the regular season ends, with almost half of them on the road.
"And after that, we'll probably have to play in October again when most everybody else gets to go home for the winter,'' Steinbrenner moaned. "I tell you, Katy Feeney is as relentless as an IRS audit."
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.