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Shane Spencer has one more month, at most, to prevent the Yankees
outfielder, to prove that he can be that guy. And that's about as ironic
as any situation you'll find with the Yankees these days.
It was Spencer's monster month last September, when he batted .421
with eight home runs and 21 RBI, that was supposed to guarantee him a
chance to be a regular in the big leagues this season. Yet, as of today,
Spencer's been to the minors and back once already, he hasn't started
more than seven consecutive games and he has only 93 at-bats, which
isn't even a month's worth.
Spencer's been a victim of several circumstances, including his own
failure in spot duty, a bout with salmonella and Don Zimmer's choppy use
of the leftfielders the first six weeks of the season.
And exactly none of that matters now.
The Yankees have held exploratory conversations with the Tigers
about Higginson, whose lefthanded bat would be extremely dangerous at
the Stadium, and have talked to other clubs as well. Spencer can stop
the talks with his own bat, but he's only got until July 31, the
non-waiver trading deadline, at the latest. He didn't invite the
challenge, but he's not shying away from it either.
"I don't care about pressure," Spencer said Sunday in Baltimore. "I
wish I had bases loaded, two outs and a chance to win the game every
That's fun, Spencer recognizes, playtime for pay. It's nothing like
the pressures he's experienced in the rest of his universe lately.
Spencer's grandmother, with whom he was extremely close, died two
weeks ago yesterday in Shirley, Ark., where Spencer's mother had cared
for her the past five years. Annie was 81, and including the great-great
variety, she had 78 grandchildren.
"She had another three on the way," Spencer said. "They start young
Annie's funeral was two days later, or more precisely, three days
after Joe Torre had given Spencer a chance to play every day. Having no
idea how many more chances like that he'd get, Spencer chose his job
over attending the funeral. His mother understood and supported the
decision, but Shane knew she was hurting and could use his support.
"She cried when she heard the national anthem the first time she saw
me in New York," he said.
Around the same time, Spencer took stock of his own life and broke
up with his girlfriend of 2 1/2 years, a relationship she thought was
headed for marriage. He knew that wasn't going to happen and he wanted
to devote more time to baseball, to hanging out in the clubhouse longer
before and after work, but the decision still weighed on him, distracted
Millions of Americans deal with the same stuff every day, but that
doesn't make it easier for a 27-year-old man, especially one who has a
month to save his job. No matter how heroic he was on the ballfield last
September, he's made of flesh and blood.
Compartmentalizing your emotions, Torre says, is the hardest part of
"That's why it's tough to play this game," Torre said. "You try to
put things here, here, here, and as an athlete, you do, but it's very
Spencer thinks he's got a handle on it now. He met with Torre last
week in Tampa to talk about his situation, and in retrospect, Torre says
he noticed Spencer swung the bat poorly those few days after his
grandmother's death. But since they talked, Spencer is 7-for-22 with
three home runs, including a game-winner, a double and four RBI. "Now
I'm ready to play," Spencer said. "I'm not making excuses, but now I'm
He has to be. He's only got a month to prove it.