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If Jeter, Torre were in charge, meeting would be more positive


TOO BAD Captain Jeter isn't calling this Yankees organizational meeting. He's got the right agenda - and attitude.

What's the point of yelling, screaming, firing or hiring when the problems of this $200 million/.500 "jugger-NOT" can't be solved just because the Boss thinks they should be?

"I'd say everyone should have a nice lunch, say hello. That's it," Derek Jeter said about the way he'd handle a New York Yankees "get-together" scheduled for today in Tampa, Fla.

But, alas, when George Steinbrenner gathers his minions to talk shop, Jeter will be at Camden Yards, preparing to battle the Orioles, which is one thing, but not quite as burdensome as battling the inner demons of the 26-time world champions, who have not won a World Series since 2000 and who haven't looked like this is their year either - until maybe last night, when the Yankees came back to win, 6-4.

"You lose a game, everyone says the season's over. You win two, everyone says you're back. It's impossible to say what's the defining moment in the season until the season's over," Jeter said.

Last night, Captain Jeter - among the most clutch players in the history of baseball - was there to patiently receive a bases-loaded walk from Orioles reliever Chris Ray in the Yankees' three-run sixth inning.

It was the kind of inning the Yankees desperately need, to keep chipping away at the Boston Red Sox and Orioles ahead of them in the American League East. It was exactly the kind of inning the Orioles can ill afford, what with the second half - the real season - bearing down on them.

Why throw a rookie call-up reliever with six previous major league appearances up against a Yankees team looking for any excuse to bust a move?

The veteran Yankees have played below their physical abilities while the Orioles had been exceeding theirs.

This is not the strangest Yankees season the shortstop has witnessed, but it's certainly something.

"There have been some strange ones, but this is the most inconsistent," Jeter said.

And that, folks, is such bitter disappointment, especially to the Boss.

We have lived so long in the world where every utterance of Steinbrenner about the state of his Yankees is worth rivers of ink and jet streams of radio air waves that we are preternaturally conditioned to snap to attention every time there's trouble in Pinstripe-land.

Hovering at .500 in late June is exactly that.

So, right on cue yesterday, a Yankees spokesman waded through a clump of reporters in the visitors' dugout at Camden Yards to read a statement from the Big Man in Tampa.

Steinbrenner was brief, probably not for effect, but because what the heck can he say about a team that may be flawed in so many areas that one or two "quick fixes" would be nothing more than empty gestures.

"My patience is a little short because the team is not performing up to its great capabilities. Players have to want to win as much as I do."

It must be something about Baltimore that makes Steinbrenner issue declarations and proclamations. He did it last time the Yankees were in town, just after the Orioles swept the Bombers, telegraphing a first half of underachievement. Now this, a preemptive statement on the eve of The Meeting.

One interpretation of the Boss' message, which targets only players, is that Steinbrenner isn't looking to fire manager Joe Torre, pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre or hitting coach Don Mattingly.

Then again, maybe not.

There are rumblings from some quarters that Torre has "lost the clubhouse," but one has to wonder whether to put any stock in that kind of talk. The Yankees have always been a professional's pro team, needing little more from its manager than Torre's steadying, respectful presence.

Players still love the way Torre sticks up for them, challenging umpires' calls and maintaining equilibrium in the wild environs of New York.

On a team full of All-Stars and veterans, it's questionable to think the Yankees need to have a fire lit under them. The idea that Lou Piniella, so unhappy with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, would serve as catalyst to ramp up this tottering Yankees team is interesting, but not worth the risk or hassle.

Torre, like Jeter, continues to exude a kind of sanguine patience about what's happening and what will be for this team.

"As the boss, he's certainly entitled to feel the way he does," Torre said about Steinbrenner's message last night.

"I hope he wouldn't be happy. We'd be concerned if he was happy. These players aren't happy. ... We need to play better baseball.

"The thing about George is that he gets impatient. His background is football where emotions are sky high and you need to win every game. You can't do that in this game. You need to find a whole different level, to be consistent.

"I don't think it's anything physical keeping us from being what we should be. I don't know if we're the best team in baseball, but we should be in that upper echelon. I can't disagree with that. The one thing I defend is because you don't win doesn't mean it's because you don't want to win."

Of course, Torre, like Jeter, won't be setting the agenda of today's meeting in Tampa.

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