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Who Owns New York?

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Up in his box on a recent Sunday, Mets G.M. Omar Minaya munches popcorn. A bottle of Pellegrino rests in a champagne bucket. Minaya looks content and un-Steinbrenner-like in a crisp white shirt as he watches his charges lose a laugher to the Dodgers. “There’s nothing I can do from here on,” Minaya says with a smile.

With the largesse of the much-maligned Wilpon family, Minaya, a local boy made good, has assembled a squad that Braves manager Bobby Cox paid the highest compliment: “They’ve got an American League lineup.” Indeed, beginning with Reyes, who has an outside shot of becoming the only player since Willie Mays to have 20 home runs, 20 triples, 20 doubles, and 20 steals in a season, moving on to Wright, Beltran, and Delgado, who have brought with them 100 R.B.I.’s each, and ending with Jose Valentin, a No. 8 hitter approaching 20 home runs, the lineup Minaya has assembled is one of the few in the majors that can compete with the Yankees’ for potency. Minaya also brought in Martinez and All-Star closer Billy Wagner in the past two years, two more vaunted acquisitions.

Minaya insists it’s just as important that the players he’s taken on all get along. “I’m not as much a numbers guy as someone who goes with a scout’s intuition,” says Minaya, who cites Branch Rickey’s Brooklyn Dodger teams as inspiration. “I only wanted guys who fit in with our way of doing things.” For Minaya, that meant players who thrived in the New York pressure cooker. “All through the system, I know they’re looking for players who can handle New York,” says David Wright, who has balanced a Letterman appearance and “Page Six” cameos with an All-Star season.

Much ink has been spilled over the fact that Minaya has assembled a Latino-dominated team. It’s true—and it’s worked. No one will come right out and say that Beltran’s having fellow Puerto Rican Delgado on the team is a big deal, but the two men and their wives are close friends, and having them around seems to make Beltran more comfortable. Beltran’s 40 HRs and 114 R.B.I.’s (he hit 16 and drove in 78 last year without Delgado in the lineup) certainly suggest that he likes having his countryman around.

Minaya also hired Randolph, a Brownsville product who spent decades as a player and manager being immersed in the “Yankee Way,” but he hasn’t brought the Bronx corporate attitude to Queens. In an ad Randolph shot with Torre for the Subway sandwich chain, Joe tells Willie how he handles the media by whispering, “Give them what they want,” before entering a press conference where all the reporters have been given sandwiches. Randolph rolls his eyes.

While the Mets manager’s TV glower at Torre is a put-on, Randolph is not a politician like his old boss. Of course, working for Steinbrenner, Torre has to be a politician. And don’t forget the man has won four world championships. But Randolph is taking his own path. He’s frank, sometimes prickly, and, unlike Torre, he’s not afraid to show that he’s pissed at a player. Before the second game of a recent doubleheader, Randolph was asked whether the recently injured Carlos Beltran had told Randolph if he could play. “Beltran didn’t come to me and say he was ready,” the manager snapped. Word must have filtered back to Beltran; he quickly made a trip to Randolph’s office and was a late addition to the lineup.

Sitting with me in the dugout before a game against the Dodgers, Randolph plays down the looseness of the squad. “They’re relaxed, but they’re professionals,” he says. “They know when it’s time to get down to business. I don’t worry about them.”

His players are on the same blissed-out page. “I’ve never been associated with a team like this,” says Cliff Floyd. “When things get tight, some teams fold, but we focus when we need to focus and have fun when it’s time to have fun. Everyone enjoys coming to work. I don’t want to tell the young guys that it’s not like this everywhere.”

Karma is great, but if your star pitcher is hurt, you have issues. After saving an August 30 game against the Tigers, Mariano Rivera complained of soreness and went for an MRI on August 31. The exam revealed no damage, but Torre’s decision to bring Rivera into a tight game that day was still dubious. With the Yankees miles in front of Boston, caution seemed in order. After the game, Rivera was cornered by the media horde for a Beckett-like conversation.

REPORTER: What does the injury prevent you from doing?


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