Though not the stuff of legend, Yankees put stamp on clubhouse

THE BALTIMORE SUN

NEW YORK -- It is the epicenter of the New York Yankees organization. The pulse of the pinstripes beats in this one room in the bowels of Yankee Stadium.

The greatest players in the history of the game have made the Yankees clubhouse their second home. Now, a struggling, rebuilding club feels the frustration of occupying a sacred place. They are sniping at the manager, grousing over the losing. The Yankees working in this room just don't fit.

Still, these Yankees have given the room their own personality. Each player, coach, and even manager Stump Merrill have claimed a little bit of the real estate. Each section of the storied room serves a different purpose for players and the media.

The clubhouse is the part of the Yankees the public never sees. Cameras are not allowed past the black metal door and television crews may only film outside. The home of the Yankees is definitely a private sanctum to which few have access.

To better understand the inner workings of the world's most famous team, it's imperative to drill the 50 feet from the street level and penetrate their protective shell.

The clubhouse is about 100 feet long and 45 to 50 feet wide. There are three picnic tables in the middle of the room lined up end to end and they rest on a pale blue rug. Along each wall are lockers with players' names on black-and-white nameplates.

Halfway along the right side is a small alley that leads to Merrill's office. Directly across is the entrance to the shower room. A quick look inside reveals a wall of mirrors -- which Dallas Green claims the Yankees never looked into -- and nine sinks.

There is a shelf under the mirrors that holds disposable razors, cans of shaving cream, deodorant and hair products. Behind the sinks are the showers. In front of the sinks is where Don Mattingly's famous haircut took place.

There are concrete columns throughout the locker room. One stands on the right side of the room next to rookie pitcher Jeff Johnson's locker. That column is the clubhouse entertainment center. Facing the back of the room and against the column is a 35-inch TV with a video cassette recorder on top. The players are supposed to watch game films of opponents on the monitor but on occasion a movie is popped into the VCR.

Behind the VCR is an elaborate compact disc system. The collection of music is mostly rap with an occasional country CD forced in by Mattingly. Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston CDs also are available.

Toward the back of the room and in the last locker on the right side is where you find Don Mattingly. The captain's cubicle is isolated on both sides with the player's lounge to the left of Mattingly's locker.

To the right of Mattingly's locker is an area that serves as a bulletin board. Mattingly uses the wall as his own message center. His present display consists of a newspaper page that had his face superimposed on a body sitting on a barbershop horse and the face of Stump Merrill on the body of the barber. The back page is signed by Merrill, who scribbled: "Who's paying?"

Underneath Mattingly's nameplate above the locker are three small pictures of Mel Hall's head. It's probably Mattingly's tribute to Hall.

The player's lounge is a quick left from Mattingly's locker and closed to the press. It is the player's weapon against a prying press. This room has had many lives over the years as George Steinbrenner vacillated between letting players hide and making them face the media. This season it's the lounge.

Inside the lounge are two tables where players sit to eat the postgame spread. Along the walls are five leather couches, four blue ones and one white sectional. In the far left corner of the room is a television set. Make a quick right as you walk through the lounge door and there is a full working kitchen with a large refrigerator for soda and beer.

Across from the player's lounge is the trainer's room where the team undergoes its daily treatment. Directly to the left of the trainer's room alongside the wall is Thurman Munson's locker, a reminder of past glory. Munson's uniform and catching gear hang on a hook. The locker is practically ignored.

Diagonally across from Munson's locker, a quick right from when you enter the room, is the other special locker in the clubhouse. Last occupied by Dave Righetti and in the past used by Ron

Guidry and Graig Nettles, the locker remains empty. Righetti said it should go to Mattingly, but Mattingly said he gets claustrophobic in the corner locker. Instead, the locker, between those of Steve Farr and Dave Eiland, houses another stereo system and a refrigerator. This stereo plays more mainstream music with a slant toward rock and country. Rap is for the CD player.

The keeper of the pinstripes is Nick Priore, who was the legendary Pete Sheehy's assistant in the clubhouse for more than 20 seasons. Priore runs every aspect of the room and probably knows more about the Yankees and their history than anyone in the organization. Priore is the man who supervises every aspect of the clubhouse from distribution and cleaning of uniforms to the dispensing of all items.

Priore's assistants are Rob Cuccuza, whose father, Lou, is head of the visitor's clubhouse, and Pete "Mule" Fortune.

Reporters cannot enter the clubhouse until 4 p.m. for a 7:30 p.m. night game. Charlie and Tom stand guard in front of the door and will not admit a reporter until exactly 4. The media must leave the clubhouse 45 minutes before game time.

After games, the media must wait behind an invisible line as Charlie waits for the signal from inside the room. When Charlie gives the "OK" sign, the stampede begins.

The first visit by a reporter every day is to the manager's office. Merrill sits behind a deck cluttered with papers and scouting reports. He has two couches and two chairs for visitors. Several reporters will casually discuss the day's news with Merrill. It is the time of the day when you can get the most insight from Merrill, since he's not writhing with pain from a game.

After the game, the first visit is also to Merrill's office. The manager sits behind a generally unappetizing-looking plate of food and peels off his uniform as the press waits for an opening statement.

A loss is almost a guarantee to see a disheveled, tired, emotionally drained Merrill. It is not a pretty sight. After a loss, Merrill usually searches for reporters' eyes, raises his eyebrows and blows out an exhausted sigh.

Merrill looks a lot better after a win but still looks drained compared with the pregame persona.

Some of Merrill's favorite lines are: "Hey, we were in a hatchet fight" or "We just couldn't put up a crooked number on the scoreboard when we had to" or "Hey, we kept 'em in the seats tonight" or "Amazing. Unbelievable. God almighty." Pretty riveting stuff.

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