Fasten your seat belts, folks, the Boss is getting back behind wheel

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Start spreading the news. New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner will take charge of the club early next year, which can mean only one thing.

The Yankees will be exciting.

No. No. It's not what you think. The Yankees aren't going to be a bet- ter team. They aren't going to rebuild the dynasty that reigned over baseball for more than a half century. They could actually be worse for Steinbrenner's new whereabouts. But that isn't the issue.

The Boss is back, which means that the Big Apple isn't going to be boring anymore.

That's the bottom line in tabloid town. New Yorkers don't mind being bad. They're actually pretty good at it (look at the Mets). What they cannot accept is being bored. The town is hooked on news. The Boss is a headline waiting to happen. He was made for New York, and New York was made for him.

Commissioner Fay Vincent was a local hero when he banned Steinbrenner from participating in the day-to-day operations of his club a couple of years ago, but that story faded after a few weeks, and New Yorkers were left with a Yankees team that suddenly had about as much sex appeal as I do.

There were a few well-celebrated front office bungles along the way, but things just haven't been the same since. Take the past week for example.

Buck Showalter is one of baseball's fine young managers, but what's so exciting about a three-year contract extension? There was a time in New York when fifth place and six games under .500 meant a new job mowing the Steinbrenner estate, but Showalter has signed a contract that guarantees he'll still be getting a paycheck through the 1995 season.

Snore.

No one served three full seasons as Yankees manager during the Steinbrenner era. Remember the joke about the guy who goes to the 24-hour restaurant and finds it closed? He bangs on the door and says to the manager, "The sign says, 'Open 24 hours,' " and the manager replies, "Yeah, but not in a row." That's what it used to be like to manage the Yankees.

Come March 1, it will be that way again. Donald Trump has beedefanged. Leona Helmsley has been imprisoned. But the Boss will be back, and he's going to be bigger than ever. The three-hit shutout thrown by Tim Fortugno last Saturday raised a pertinent question:

Who in the wide, wide world of sports is Tim Fortugno?

No, it's not the guy who played the "Incredible Hulk." That was Lou Ferrigno.

Tim Fortugno is, at 30, the oldest rookie ever to play for the California Angels, and that is not the only interesting distinction he carried to the mound when he overpowered the Detroit Tigers a week ago.

He was once traded for a bag of balls -- and you thought that was just one of those crusty old baseball expressions. The Reno Silver Sox traded him to the Milwaukee Brewers organizations a few years ago for $2,500 and 12 dozen baseballs.

His last shutout before he three-hit the Tigers was a seven-inning no-hitter against the A's. The Single-A Modesto A's.

"I looked him up immediately," Tigers manager Sparky Anderson said. "I said, 'There must be something wrong. I don't know this guy from Adam.' But that was the best game that has been pitched against us this year."

When you're a 30-year-old rookie, you can't get by with the normal post-game cliches when you pitch your first shutout, so Fortugno went with something original. The truth.

"I'll be very honest," he said. "I didn't think I'd go five innings."

He is one of only four pitchers to shut out the Tigers this year. The others are Orioles Rick Sutcliffe and Mike Mussina and Seattle Mariners right-hander Erik Hanson.

Unlucky number

The Tigers came close to going with a 13-man pitching staff recently. When outfielder Milt Cuyler went on the disabled list, the club considered calling up pitching prospect Greg Gohr, but had just strained a muscle in his back. Instead, the club brought up rookie outfielder Shawn Hare.

"It would probably be the first time in major-league history that a team had more pitchers than position players," Anderson said.

The Tigers have gone with 12 pitchers because they don't want to send down any of their youngsters and they aren't ready to release veterans Les Lancaster, Frank Tanana and Walt Terrell. The club still is hopeful it can trade one of them.

Questionable career move

Four days after the Texas Rangers optioned rookie outfielder Donald Harris to Double-A Tulsa, he was on a plane to Japan with the Dallas Cowboys.

Harris hasn't played football since 1988, when he was a second-team All-Southwest Conference safety at Texas Tech, but the Cowboys took a flyer and picked him on the 12th round of this year's college draft. He has a chance to be the Rangers starting center fielder next year, but he was so disappointed to be sent down that he called the Cowboys and asked them if they were still interested.

The Rangers have placed him on the restricted list and hold out hope that he'll eventually return to baseball. The club still considers him one of its top prospects.

"For the long term, he might not be making a good decision," Rangers general manager Tom Grieve said, "but for the short term, this probably gives him some instant gratification. Donald may have gotten down on himself, but we certainly never did."

Instant results

Orioles coach Davey Lopes was brought in to help the team improve its overall base-running, but that kind of thing is difficult to quantify unless you have amazing computer capability or a lot of time on your hands.

Enter statistician Steve Hirdt of the Elias Sports Bureau, who came up with some interesting numbers for the Yankees pre-game show on the Madison Square Garden network.

Hirdt, one of the authors of the "Elias Baseball Analyst," pointed out that the Orioles went from first to third on a single in just 33 percent of the relevant situations last year, a percentage that ranked them 12th in the American League. This year, they rank third in the league at 41 percent.

The club also has improved its proficiency scoring from second base on a one-base hit. The Orioles scored 64 percent of the time to rank last in the league in 1991. They have scored 74 percent of the time this year to rank eighth.

& Mission accomplished.

Job-hunting in the Bronx

Former Mets manager Davey Johnson apparently is ready to get back into baseball. He reportedly has contacted the Yankees about a possible scouting position and has hired an agent to help him find a place to hang his cap.

Johnson told the New York Daily News that he had met with Yankees general partner Joe Molloy two months ago to inquire about a job.

"I just wanted to ask him if the Yankees were looking for anyone to do some scouting or talent assessment," he said. "I was with the Mets for 10 years and was part of their resurgence, and I think it would be fun now to go across town and be part of [the Yankees'] resurgence. I like the direction the Yankees are going. They've got exciting players coming up."

Home run fever

Is it possible that hitting home runs can be contagious?

Tigers slugger Rob Deer seems to have an impact on the power output of the Tigers that goes beyond his 23 home runs. In the 35 games he had missed through Wednesday, his teammates had hit 22 home runs -- about 0.60 per game. In the 68 games he had played, the Tigers hit 74 home runs (not counting his 23) for an average of about 1.1 per game, nearly twice the ratio.

Halfway horror

Right-hander Kevin Brown hasn't recorded a victory since he was the winning pitcher in the All-Star Game, which has Rangers fans wondering if he's just a first-half kind of guy.

During his four-year major-league career, he has a 38-21 record with a 3.41 ERA before the All-Star break and an 11-18 record with a 4.32 ERA after it.

New York stories

The New York tabloids tried this week to stir up rumors of a possible trade that would bring Lenny Dykstra back to the Mets from Philadelphia, but Phillies GM Lee Thomas wouldn't play along. "I'd trade myself before I trade him," Thomas said.

Gonzo goes home

Former Orioles utility player Rene Gonzales scored the

winning run from first base on a bases-loaded single in California's 4-3 victory over Detroit last Sunday, which raised an interesting question:

What the heck was he thinking about?

"I was thinking, 'OK, I'm going to have to kill [catcher Mickey] Tettleton. I'm going to have to crush Tettleton. We're going to have this big collision,' " Gonzales said. "Then all of the sudden, he left a space, and I just cruised in."

Tettleton, another ex-Oriole, just stepped aside. The Tigers were so surprised to see Gonzales try to score, there wasn't even a throw.

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