Rizzuto was succeeded by Kubek, a three-time All-Star and the Yankees' last standout at the position. Bucky Dent made the All-Star team as a Yankee in 1980 and '81, but he hit .247 for his career. Jeter was a 1992 first-round draft choice who got a $700,000 signing bonus, and if he hits .247 in New York, not even the panhandlers will go near him. Ordonez is expected to perform miracles in the field, but Jeter's job might be even tougher. He has to excel on both offense and defense.
Jeter hit .317 at Triple A Columbus last season, but he made 29 errors. It was a vast improvement over the 56 errors he made at Class A Greensboro in 1993 but still is a concern in the Yankees' organization. What if he starts booting balls all over the Stadium? How long will it take before Torre is ordered by George Steinbrenner to sit the kid down or even send him back to Columbus? While Jeter was struggling during spring training, Steinbrenner said, "We'll be patient with him. Every year you look for Derek Jeter to stumble, and he just doesn't. He dominated rookie ball, so we moved him to [Class] A, and he dominated there. We sent him to Double A, and he dominated there. At Columbus it was the same thing. I'm telling you, he could be one of the special ones."
The Mets also believe their long search for a shortstop is over. Harrelson was a defensive stalwart in his 13 seasons with the Mets. Kevin Elster was superb defensively for a couple of seasons in the late '80s before an arm injury led to his departure from the club in 1992. Last season, shortstop Jose Vizcaino was voted the team's MVP, but no one was surprised when he was moved to second base to make room for Ordonez this spring. The next Ozzie Smith doesn't wait on the bench. "He's got great feet, a great arm," manager Dallas Green says of Ordonez. "His instincts are tremendous."
Ordonez hit just .214 in Triple A last season, but he bounced back in the Puerto Rican winter league, hitting .351 and losing the batting title to Roberto Alomar by three points. "I have confidence in my hitting," says Ordonez. "I only had one bad year, and that was last year. I will get better."
Of course, talking to Ordonez about hitting is like talking to Cecil Fielder about stealing bases. What's the point? Ordonez could hold the bat from the wrong end and make sandcastles in the batter's box four times a game, and he would still earn his paycheck with his glove.
"You ask six people to name the best play they ever saw him make, and you'll get six different answers," says Phillips. "A lot of people think that throw from his knees was the best, but one time in the minors he swatted a grounder to first with his glove. Never touched his throwing hand. Another time he grabbed a ground ball behind second and did a pop-up slide on the bag to force the runner. It was the only way he could get his foot on the bag."
With his surprisingly strong arm and graceful footwork, Ordonez seems to have taken the act of turning a double play to a new level. He glides across the bag as if he were on ice skates and flicks the ball to first as if he were throwing seeds onto the soil. "He does everything so loosely and so spontaneously," says Mets catcher Brent Mayne. "He just feels the flow of the game. Other people stop and think, but the game is too fast to think. You have to just feel it and react, and that's what Rey does."
Mayne has played with Ordonez for a few weeks now, and he believes Ordonez could be as good as advertised. "In New York they were calling him the best shortstop ever before he even played a game," says Mayne. "But maybe that's not just a New York thing. Maybe they're right."
Maybe New York finally has a shortstop. Maybe even two.