NEW YORK (AP) _ On the last working day before Christmas, George Steinbrenner fired his public relations man because he went home for the holidays.

With no idea whether pitcher David Cone would be signed, Rob Butcher, the Yankees director of media relations and publicity, went home to Wilmington, Ohio, on Thursday afternoon. Steinbrenner fired Butcher on Friday.

``If I made him angry enough, if he feels his only recourse is to fire me over it, he's the owner, that's his prerogative,'' Butcher said.

Butcher, the team's 12th spokesman since Steinbrenner bought the Yankees in 1973, called Steinbrenner from Ohio on Thursday night and told him he would return to Yankee Stadium for Friday's news conference, according to a Yankees official speaking on the condition he not be identified.

Steinbrenner, the official said, told Butcher during the five-minute conversation that it probably wasn't going to work out and that he should start looking for another job.

Butcher, hired in 1993, arrived at Yankee Stadium before Friday's news conference and was about to change into a business suit when Yankees executive vice president David Sussman told him he had been fired and that he should leave.

Steinbrenner, according to an official, had yelled over the telephone at Sussman and Arthur Richman, the team's senior adviser for media relations.

``I don't know if he's been dismissed,'' Richman said after the news conference. ``Around here, how do you know what's going on? It's a personal matter between him and George. He's coming back Tuesday.''

About two hours later, Rubenstein Associates Inc., the public relations company used by Steinbrenner, issued a statement under the name Sussman.

``The New York Yankees confirm that Rob Butcher, director of media relations, was advised yesterday that he had been relieved of his position effective Jan. 31, 1996.

``Consistent with our front office personnel policy, we will have no further comment regarding this matter.''

Bob Fishel was the Yankees' spokesman when Steinbrenner bought the team in 1973; he left after one season to become the public relations director of the American League.

Fishel was followed by Marty Appel (1974-76), Mickey Morabito (1977-78), Larry Wahl (1979-80), Irv Kaze (1981-82), Dave Szen (1982), Ken Nigro (1983), Joe Safety (1984-85), Harvey Greene (1986-89), Arthur Richman (1989), Jeff Idelson (1990-93) and Butcher.

Since purchasing the team, Steinbrenner has changed managers 21 times, general managers 14 times and pitching coaches 34 times.