FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - New York Yankees first baseman Don Mattingly slipped quietly into his locker inside Fort Lauderdale Stadium Tuesday, hardly causing a stir among the circle of reporters surrounding Danny Tartabull, his next-door neighbor. The surprise wasn't that Tartabull was back as a Yankee on the first day of full-squad workouts after his name was mentioned in winter trade talk. After all, who were they going to get to replace his 31 homers and 102 RBI? The surprise was that people paid more attention to Tartabull than Mattingly. On the first official day of 1994 spring training, the Yankee captain was overshadowed by the man hired to take pressure off him in the lineup. Tartabull has succeeded in doing that in the clubhouse as well. That may be because Mattingly remains a constant in the Yankee lineup. Tartabull remains the designated hitter - and spring-training question mark. Will he be ready to play the outfield by opening day (April 4)? "My goal is to get myself and my shoulder ready so I can play the outfield," Tartabull said. "I have received a clean bill of health from my doctors. I could pick up a ball and fire it right now. I don't want to. "I want to make sure my arm is strong April 4." He began throwing three weeks ago and is following a prescribed rehabilitation program by Doctor Frank Jobe, who repaired Tartabull's torn labrum. Tartabull, 31, likes to do things at his own pace. The Yankees learned that the hard way last fall, when he delayed his shoulder surgery until Nov. 30 to take a month-long October family vacation in Europe. Team officials were not happy with Tartabull's decision to postpone the surgery. "We thought our chances were better if he had done the surgery earlier," general manager Gene Michael said. "A couple of teams asked about him. They backed off with their interest because the operation was put off. "Our reports now are that the doctors said he's going to be ready to go. That's what we're looking for and expecting." Tartabull threw lightly in the team's initial workout. He took his swings in the batting cage and stood in right-field during a 20-minute, clear-the-air meeting with manager Buck Showalter. "We feel he's going to be ready to play for us in April," Showalter said. "We talked about some things. He seems fine and ready to go." Tartabull said he didn't expect there to be any lingering resentment from teammates about his decision. Showalter wasn't so sure. "I'll certainly be watching for any signs of animosity," he said. "I never expected not to be here," Tartabull said. "(The surgery situation) is irrelevant. It's immaterial. I took off to be with my family. "I'm here. I'm in spring training at full strength, so it doesn't really matter now." Tartabull spent most of the season's second half DH-ing when the pain in his shoulder prevented him from throwing. He managed to lead the team in home runs and RBI, batting .250 in his second season of a $25.5-million, five-year contract. "I wasn't unhappy about DHing," he said. "But I wasn't happy. I was doing it because I was helping my team win ball games. If that was the bottom line, then I'm OK with that." Would he mind if being forced to DH again most of the time? "It's not really what I want to do," Tartabull said. "We'll have to cross that bridge when we get to it." The Yankees opening-day outfield seems set with Paul O'Neill in right, Bernie Williams in center and newly-acquired Luis Polonia in left. But Showalter wants Tartabull's powerful bat to be an everyday presence and not just as a DH. "Ideally, I'd like for him to be available for 162 games and let us use him as we see fit," he said.
CORBETT, JIM, FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - New York Yankees first baseman Don Mattingly., Gannett News Service, 02-22-1994.