Tampa Florida – One of the toughest things about the baseball life, New York Yankees Manager JOE TORRE said today, is thinking you are close to your players but knowing you will have to part ways. "Sooner or later, you're going to have to tell somebody - or somebody's going to have to tell you - it's over with," Torre said.

It was over today for LUIS SOJO, the indomitable infielder who played six seasons for the Yankees and hit the decisive single in the final game of the Subway Series. Torre told Sojo he had chosen RON COOMER to back up at third base and first base, and that barring injury, Sojo was not in his plans.

Torre had similar conversatons with other players today as the Yankees came closer to completing their 25-man roster. But none of the players have made the kind of impact Sojo has. "This is no fun," said Torre.

Pitcher MIKE THURMAN and catcher CHRIS WIDGER were reassigned to the minor league camp, and the veteran utility player F.P. SANTANGELO was asked to accept an assignment to Class AAA Columbus Clippers. That leaves the Yankees with 28 players in camp, and the remaining decisions are clear.

RANDY CHOATE, ADRIAN HERNANDEZ and JAY TESSMER are competing for the final two spots in the bullpen; Choate is the only left-hander of the three, and Tessmer is the only one not on the 40-man roster. The Yankees are not sure whether RONDELL WHITE will need more time to come back from the strained rib cage muscle that has caused him to miss the exhibition season. If White is not ready, JUAN RIVERA or MARCUS THAMES will take his place and start in the outfield.

Torre will watch White play in the minor league game on Friday. White played five innings in the field in a minor league game today, and he was cautious. "I threw a ball in, cut one off," White said. "I thought about diving once, but I said, 'I can't dive.'"

Santangelo offered versatility and speed, and he had a .486 on-base percentage in spring training, but his average was .182 and, perhaps more important, another reserve outfielder, GERALD WILLIAMS is guaranteed $ 2 million this season, and is hitting .211 with a .262 on-base percentage and has played much more than Santangelo. "I just kind of had blinders on the whole time and just played baseball," said Santangelo, who was not sure whether he would accept the minor league assignment. "I wasn't real worried about other things. Now I know, Joe was very honest with me."

Thurman, who was impressive early in camp but was hit hard late, will be in the rotation at Columbus. "I didn't really think about the minor league portion of it," Thurman said. "I had intended on making the club."

The decision that seemed hardest for Torre was Coomer or Sojo. Coomer has more power than Sojo, and without Coomer on the roster, the Yankees would not have had much right-handed power off the bench.

Coomer, 35, has spent most of the last five seasons as an everyday player for the Twins and the Cubs, but he will adjust to a new role. "I know who's going to start and who's not 99 percent of the time," said Coomer. "But if you look at it like you're not going to play, you kind of let your body shut down and you're not prepared to play. So I'll prepare every day like I'm going to play, and if I get in there, I'll be ready." Sojo, who was not available for comment, always seemed to be ready. Torre and others praised his ability to get a clutch hit after sitting on the bench for days. Sojo was also popular in the clubhouse, helping young players adapt to the majors. Recently, he befriended ENRIQUE WILSON, even though Wilson displaced him as the reserve middle infielder.

"He was the ultimate team player," centre fielder BERNIE WILLIAMS said.

Sojo, 36, came to camp saying he would make the team or retire, but he batted .345 and later said that he might try to sign with another team if the Yankees cut him. Torre told Sojo the Yankees want to keep him in the organization.

"It won't be too long until we see him in the big leagues as a coach or a manager," catcher JOSE POSADA said.

by Tyler Kepner - The New York Times – 29 March 2002


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