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Yankees Raise Another Series Banner

April 10, 2000

NEW YORK (AP) _ What should have been a festive opening day at Yankee Stadium will have somber overtones Tuesday as the team reflects on the health of pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre.

Stottlemyre will miss the home opener after announcing on Sunday that he has been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, cancer of the bone marrow. He will begin a four-month series of chemotherapy treatments as the Yankees raise their 25th World Series banner.

The disease was discovered a year ago during spring training physicals but doctors advised delaying treatment until now. ``It’s not a panic situation and I don’t have to do this right now, but the (blood) counts had elevated,″ Stottlemyre said. ``This is the treatment that was discussed when I was originally diagnosed. Now is the time to attack this thing.″

Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer formed by malignant plasma cells. Normal plasma cells are crucial to the immune system but when they are produced at an abnormal rate, they can cause tumors, anemia and fatigue. Roger Neilson, coach of the NHL Philadelphia Flyers, currently is undergoing treatment for the same disease.

Stottlemyre said he is borderline anemic but he expects to rejoin the team while treatment continues. ``My doctors have assured me I’m going to be able to carry on my normal duties,″ he said. ``There may be some point later in the season where I may miss some time.″

The announcement stunned the Yankees, a team that is becoming accustomed to bad medical news.

Stottlemyre’s original diagnosis came at about the same time as manager Joe Torre underwent surgery for prostate cancer. In October 1998, Darryl Strawberry had surgery for colon cancer. Last year, Yankee Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio and Catfish Hunter both died. Three players, Paul O’Neill, Scott Brosius and Luis Sojo, all lost their fathers during the year.

Stottlemyre, whose 11-year-old son, Jason, died from leukemia in 1981, tried to be upbeat.

``They have mentioned the word `cure’ to me,″ he said. ``That’s encouraging. This is a disease there’s not a lot known about. My prognosis is good. I can’t say much more than that. It is a cancer, and that’s the ugly thing about it; that’s the word everybody hates to hear.″

Torre called a team meeting in Seattle on Sunday to explain Stottlemyre’s condition to the players. ``Nobody said anything,″ the manager said. ``Nobody asked any questions.″

The Yankees then went through a quiet batting practice and lost 9-3 to the Mariners before flying home for Tuesday’s opener.

``It makes you think Yankee Stadium is cursed,″ pitcher Jeff Nelson said., ``Joe is the backbone of the team and Mel is the backbone of the pitching staff.″

Bullpen coach Tony Cloninger will handle Stottlemyre’s duties Tuesday.

New York split the season’s first six games in Anaheim and Seattle and will have David Cone on the mound for the home opener against the Texas Rangers. Hall of Famer Yogi Berra will throw out the first ball and Phil Rizzuto, Reggie Jackson and Don Larsen will participate in pregame ceremonies.

Cone will be working his fourth straight home opener and hopes to rebound from a ragged first outing in which he gave up eight earned runs in 2 2-3 innings against the Angels. He flew home a day early to get ready for the start.

``If you didn’t start 2-0, then 3-3 would be fine,″ Torre said. ``But when you start the trip 2-0 and win two tough ballgames, sure you’re disappointed breaking even.″

Typical of the up and down nature of the trip was the performance of Alfonso Soriano. Recalled when Brosius went on the disabled list, he started two games at third base, hit a home run in each one and made an error in each one.

Soriano’s also homered for his first major league hit last September, making him the first player since Mike Greenwell in 1985 to have homers for each of his first three major league hits.

Shortstop Derek Jeter said he was excited to return to New York.

``We’ve been on the road for a while and we’re looking forward to getting home and playing in front of our home crowd,″ he said.

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