Anybody who's waiting for the New York Yankees to pull an accordion act and fold is in for both a surprise and a long wait. That at least is the opinion of one of the most interested and knowledgeable observers.
Sparky Anderson said he doesn't think it's an accident that the team with perhaps the fewest acknowledged stars is leading the toughest division in baseball. And he can sum up the Yankees' early success with one word.
"Depth," said Anderson, manager of the Detroit Tigers, who are tied with the two-time defending World Series champion Toronto Blue Jays -- but are 10 games behind the Yankees. "They have a lot of good players -- and their bench strength is awesome."
The Blue Jays are struggling despite the likes of Roberto Alomar, Paul Molitor, Joe Carter and John Olerud. The Boston Red Sox are in the lead chase position with Roger Clemens, Mo Vaughn, Mike Greenwell, Otis Nixon, Andre Dawson et al.
And in the middle of the pack, the Orioles can put names like Cal Ripken, Rafael Palmeiro, Harold Baines, Mike Mussina, Ben McDonald, Sid Fernandez and Lee Smith on their lineup card.
Even the last-place Tigers, with Cecil Fielder, Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, Mickey Tettleton, Kirk Gibson and the league's top offensive pest, Tony Phillips, can win a name game with the Yankees.
This definitely isn't the New York way. The Yankees have always been the team with the marquee names. But take away Don Mattingly, a scaled down Wade Boggs and maybe pitchers Jimmy Key and Jim Abbott, and most of their players need identification to get through the pass gate.
However, it's best not to be misled, according to Anderson. "I picked them [to win] in the spring," he said. "They've got a good team and they can make moves off the bench both ways, left and right, late in the game. It's tough to make a move against them because they can come right back at you."
Of course Sparky, for all of his wisdom, has not built his reputation solely on his ability as a prognosticator. But he makes a good point. Despite a seeming lack of All-Star caliber players, the Yankees may very well be the best team in what has been billed as baseball's best division.