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Wells defends Jeter, calls Steinbrenner a teddy bear

Posted: Friday February 14, 2003 7:08 PM
Updated: Friday February 14, 2003 7:59 PM
  David Wells David Wells has never been shy about expressing himself. Al Bello/Getty Images

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- David Wells can't believe Derek Jeter's work ethic is being questioned.

Wells, a veteran of New York nightlife, read the comments by New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and found both the statements and the widespread coverage in New York to be out of line.

"That was blown way out of proportion," Wells said Friday. "Derek is not a party guy. He's not out there every night. Trust me."

In December comments to the New York Daily News, Steinbrenner said: "How much better would he be if he didn't have all his other activities? I tell him this all the time. I say, 'Jetes, you can't be everything to everybody. You've got to focus on what's important.' ... When I read in the paper that he's out until 3 a.m. in New York City going to a birthday party, I won't lie. That doesn't sit well with me."

Jeter said the criticism was unfair and is angry that when he said he didn't feel any need to change his lifestyle, the Daily News ran a back page headline that blared: PARTY ON.

Boss gets first look at 'Godzilla'
TAMPA, Fla. -- George Steinbrenner stood in the right-field corner, eyes focused 300 feet ahead. The New York Yankees owner got to see Hideki Matsui for the first time Friday.

Steinbrenner, easily visible in a white jacket, spoke with Yankees' senior vice president Gordon Blakeley while the three-time Japanese MVP took his turn in the cage along with Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano.

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"He has every right to be mad," Wells said. "He's not a party guy. I try to get him to go out and he says, 'No, I'm just going to chill.' He goes out a lot, but to movies. He'll go to dinner and a movie and call it a night."

Wells, like Yankees manager Joe Torre, said he thinks the comments were an attempt by Steinbrenner to motivate Jeter.

"It's just George venting," Wells said. "He means no harm by it. It's like me when I came in. We went toe-to-toe."

In 1997, during his first season with the Yankees, Wells and Steinbrenner nearly fought when the pitcher suggested the team needed extra security in right field after a fan snatched a fly ball by Montreal's Darrin Fletcher. The owner told Wells to worry about his pitching.

"He's lucky I didn't hit him," Wells said. "Some guys might take it way, way differently than how I did and haul off a swing."

To Wells, Steinbrenner was just frustrated that Jeter's production tailed off last year, when he hit .297 with 18 homers, 75 RBIs.

"That's going to raise a flag, but it's no big deal," Wells said. "We all have a bad year. We're entitled. He's done a lot for this team. He's carried this team at times, especially in postseason. For George to jump on him like that I think was unfair. It gets out, and then it passes. Sure it leaves scars sometimes. But like I said, it depends on the individual, how they take it, because George is not a bad guy. He's really a teddy bear. He just likes to vent sometimes."

Wells sounds unsure about retirement plans

David Wells, reporting at his lightest weight in years, intends to retire after this season. Well, maybe.

He'd change his mind if the Yankees exercise his $6 million option for 2004.

Or if another team offers him a "silly" amount of money.

In fact, the 39-year-old left-hander wouldn't mind if the Yankees exercised that option right now.

"I don't want to wait until the end of the year for a decision," he said Friday. "I know what I did last year. I'd like to know before the end of the season. I think that's fair.

"If I don't hear it, I can ride off into the sunset unless somebody offers me some stupid money," he added. "I think that would make anybody come back if it's something silly. I don't see it happening."

Wells, who reported at 242 pounds, was guaranteed $6 million over two years in the contract he agreed to with the Yankees after the 2001 season. He earned an additional $4 million in performance bonus last year, when he went 19-7 with a 3.75 ERA in 31 starts, and could earn $4 million more if he makes at least 30 starts this year.

He wouldn't mind if the Yankees turned those bonus opportunities into guaranteed money.

"They didn't think I was going to do that well. I know that for a fact," Wells said. "Nobody thought I was going to respond. I think out of fairness, it should have been done so I don't have to go out there and pitch for performance."

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman all but ruled out picking up Wells' option during the season. Even for Andy Pettitte, who is just 30, the Yankees waited until the final day to exercise his 2003 option.

"I don't see us being in a position to know early," Cashman said. "I have no plans of telling him early. We'll stick to the contract. I don't think he gave the White Sox any offset when he wasn't able to perform. It's not his fault. That's just the way it is."

Wells was just 5-7 for Chicago in 2001 before a back injury ended his season and caused him to have surgery that July.

"I don't think I've had to prove anything for a long time until last year," he said. "I had to prove that I can pitch effectively at this level coming off back surgery."

Wells impressed the Yankees with his trimness. He said it was his lowest weight in a "long, long time."

"It's all water. Drink three waters, it will be 250," he joked. "I've worked hard. I've gotten stronger."

Yankees manager Joe Torre noticed last year that Wells was in the weight room, a foreign place during the pitcher's first tour of duty with the Yankees in 1997 and 1998.

"One thing he like is to be challenged," Torre said. "He's pretty good at getting it done. Coming in condition-wise, he looks pretty good."

Notes: Don't look for Yankees special adviser Dwight Gooden to try a comeback such as the one former teammate David Cone is starting. "Every time I play catch, it reminds me why I retired," Gooden said. "I'm happy with what I'm doing right now." Gooden retired in 2001. Cone, who did not pitch last season, signed a minor league deal with the New York Mets on Thursday. ... Torre continues talking on an individual basis with the seven pitchers competing for the five spots in the rotation. "I talked to (Sterling) Hitchcock today," Torre said. "His question obviously was, what are the chances of being in the starting rotation. I said let's just wait and see." Torre talked with Jeff Weaver earlier this week. ... RHP Steve Karsay rejoined the team after missing Thursday's workout for personal reasons.

 
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