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5. NEW YORK YANKEES
For the millions who make a hobby of rooting against the Yankees, baseball won't be as much fun this summer. George Steinbrenner is gone, and his successor, mild-mannered theater impresario Robert Nederlander, isn't going to upstage anyone. The manager. Stump Merrill, is a likable guy whose lone vices are the incessant spitting of tobacco juice and—this is true—the occasional flossing of his teeth with his sanitary socks.
Anyway, Yankee haters had a decade worth of fun last year. "And it wasn't George's fault." says rightfielder Jesse Barfield of New York's last-place finish. "We just stunk." Need one telling stat? The pitcher who led the team in wins was a reliever, Lee Guetterman, with 11.
The Yankees were so pathetic you almost have to root for them this year. After all, who wouldn't want first baseman Don Mattingly to go a full season without any back problems? Who wouldn't want dashing DM Kevin Maas to loft 30 homers into the rightfield seats? And does anybody really want to see rookie leftfielder Hensley (Bam-Bam) Meulens become history's first 200-strikeout man?
That's not to say other teams won't enjoy kicking the Yankees when they're down. "No one is going to give us anything," says Barfield. "When I was with Toronto, we wanted to kill the Yankees. We didn't care about the mystique, the Ruth-Gehrig thing. We just wanted to kick their butts."
New York will suffer a number of butt kickings, mainly because of its woeful starting pitching. If you're confused about the rotation, don't despair. Andy Hawkins, Tim Leary, Scott Sanderson and Mike Witt are actually the same person—a tall, dark-haired righthander who gives up lots of runs and loses lots of games. I he Yankees may become the first team ever with four starters who finish with exactly the same numbers: a 9-16 record and a 4.87 ERA.
But the return of Mattingly, the maturation of Maas and the arrival of Meulens—the MM&M Boys—should lift the Yanks out of last. "We've got nothing to lose," says Hawkins. "No expectations, no pressure other than performing in New York. If we could make it through last year, we can make it through anything."
6. MILWAUKEE BREWERS
With ace lefthander Teddy Higuera out for at least two months with a slight tear in his rotator cuff, no one will be fooled this year into believing that the oft-injured Brewers can contend. The only question now is whether they can stay out of the cellar.
The sad tale of the beat-up Brewers has hidden the fact that for the past two years they have been an overrated team with terrible defense and precious little pitching. "We weren't a good team last year, injuries or no injuries," says Dan Plesac, who wasn't a good stopper in '90.