''How can you not like him? As a person and a ballplayer, you've got to admire him greatly, all that he goes through,'' Steinbrenner said. ''I talk to him once in awhile when I pass him, but I don't seek him out. I don't want to single him out. He's being singled out enough.''
Matsui has adjusted nicely during spring training, hitting over .300 with power. He figures to take advantage of the short Yankee Stadium right field porch as he bats fifth in the power-laden Yankee lineup that is bristling with big guns.
The modern day Murderer's Row also features Jason Giambi, Alfonso Soriano, Bernie Williams, Robin Ventura, Raul Mondesi, Todd Zeile, Jeter and Posada. There is not an easy out in the group.
Williams, 35 in September, posted his eighth consecutive .300 season (.333) which tied Babe Ruth for second best streak in club annals behind Lou Gehrig's dozen and set a Yankee record for most hits by a switch-hitter (204). This touch of class continues to climb near the top of several illustrious all-time record lists.
Everyone expects Giambi to top his debut numbers in NY of .314 average, 41 homers, 122 RBIs.
Soriano, slowed all spring by shoulder woes, is the total package. The mind boggles at his potential considering, at age 23, he hit .300 with 39 homers and 120 RBIs despite striking out 157 times and batting leadoff most of last season.
Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson raised eyebrows when he said of Soriano, ''If he doesn't get hurt, let me tell you, gentlemen, someone is going to ask, 'Is he or isn't he the best you've ever seen?' Shoot, what is it he can't do?'' Anderson said Soriano has as much pop as Hank Aaron.
Jeter needs no prodding from Steinbrenner to improve on his 2002 numbers of .297 (lowest average since 1997), 18 homers, 75 RBIs and 14 errors. The consummate Yankee looks poised and ready to help The Empire Strike Back.
How far the Yankees go will ultimately be decided by a veteran pitching staff that is beginning to get long in the tooth.
Clemens, Wells, Mike Mussina, Andy Pettite and Jeff Weaver have combined for 832 career wins. To put that in perspective, Philadelphia's projected rotation has 149, including 75 that Kevin Millwood won when he was with Atlanta.
The Yankees expect a nice return on the considerable investment they made for Cuban defector Jose Contreras, the ace of Fidel Castro's national team. He's had a rocky spring, but will be a factor.
Closer Mariano Rivera is no longer a lights out force. He's 33 and coming off an injury-riddled season in which he went 1-4 with a 2.78 ERA and just 28 saves.
The setup crew has also been shuffled. Gone are reliable Mike Stanton and Ramiro Mendoza and steady Steve Karsay has shoulder bursitis and his availability, especially early, is in doubt. Newcomer Antonio Osuna has been spectacular, but lefty Chris Hammonds (7-2, 0.95 ERA with Atlanta), has fought a tired arm all spring.
The Yankees, as always, have the luxury and resources to doing anything necessary to upgrade any trouble areas.
General manager Brian Cashman swapped Rondell White for Bubba Trammell and has been shopping pitcher Sterling Hitchcock. New York is always a major player when attractive players are put on the market at the trading deadline.
The future is always now in New York.
''We're going to have a very good team, and it's going to be a very interesting team because we have so many new factors,'' Steinbrenner said.
If not, ''The Boss'' will be heard from.