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'Just take your ball and get outta here'


New York -- SO I WENT up to Macombs Dam Park in the 4 Bronx to see the so-called monkeys and the colored boys doing their thing, but it had been raining for a couple of days and the park was deserted.

Monkeys and colored boys are terms (not quite of endearment) that refer to the black and brown youngsters who play in the park, which is next door to the gleaming blue and white baseball palace called Yankee Stadium.

Yechhhhhhh! Colored kids! You could almost feel the disgust emanating from the hefty form of Richard Kraft, the dim-witted white Yankee executive who, according to New York magazine, let loose a nasty simian simile while discussing the kids who play near his ball park.

"It's like monkeys," he was quoted as saying. "Those guys can all go up and hang on the rim and crack the rim and bend the hoops."

Like monkeys. How dare they be allowed anywhere near the pristine wonderfulness of Mr. Kraft's Yankees and their true fans, the well-scrubbed, well-behaved, well-heeled whites from the idyllic suburbs of northern New Jersey, Westchester County and Connecticut.

I stood outside the deserted park and let my gaze drift from right to left, left to right, seeking movement, evidence of wildlife in the dark and savage environs of the South Bronx.

I saw a boy about 12. He was walking by himself, minding his own business. But I approached him cautiously. They were like monkeys, Mr. Kraft had said. I half expected this kid to leap high in the air and start swinging from the streetlights or something. But the boy stayed on the ground.

He said his name was Kevin. When I asked if he was a Yankee fan, he smiled and said: "Yeah! Sometimes my uncle takes me to the games."

So much for the wildlife. I didn't bother to mention Richard Kraft, a monkey's uncle if there ever was one. If you want a clue as to what's wrong with the Yankees, just consider that Mr. Kraft is the team's vice president for community relations.

His grand qualification for this important post apparently is that he was a college roommate of the team's principal monkey's uncle, George Steinbrenner.

Almost as soon as Mr. Kraft's comments were on the newsstands, the ball club, through a spokesman, said: "The New York Yankees offer an unequivocal apology for the statements attributed to Mr. Kraft. His comments in no way reflect the opinion of the Yankees."

Later, Richard Kraft denied that he had ever made the statements. You can take the denial with a grain of salt. Faced with the hideous prospect of unemployment, a middle-aged, marginally talented baseball executive might say anything. Richard Kraft will do what he has to do. By next week you can expect him to be lecturing on multiculturalism.

The problem with the Yankees is not Richard Kraft, it's George Steinbrenner. For years he's been stuffing his vaults with millions and millions of dollars from the taxpayers of New York, and from the proceeds of a team whose glorious history is totally and irrevocably entwined with the very idea of New York.

Nevertheless, Mr. Steinbrenner takes every opportunity to bad-mouth the city in general and the Bronx in particular, characterizing them as vile places populated by lowlifes intent on bringing him ruin.

He should no longer be allowed to get away with this. The politicians who have spent long years crawling after Mr. Steinbrenner and kissing his shirttails should get off their knees and give him an ultimatum: Either stay in the Bronx and become part of an effort to revitalize the area surrounding Yankee Stadium, or get lost.

The borough president of the Bronx, Fernando Ferrer, is one of the few politicians who hasn't been cowed by Mr. Steinbrenner. Mr. Ferrer has in hand an ambitious revitalization plan that would include substantial improvements in parking and other facilities for the Yankees, and an extensive renewal of the triangle of land where the stadium and the Bronx Terminal Market are located.

It is time for George Steinbrenner to stop leeching off the city.

If he wants to be part of a South Bronx revitalization, fine.

If not, good riddance. No other offers should be made.

New Yorkers are not beholden to Mr. Steinbrenner. Let him pack up his team, his millions and his flock of co-dependents and get out of here.

Bob Herbert is a columnist for the New York Times.

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