Abreu happy to not be 'The Man'
Right fielder content to blend in with star-laden Yankees
TAMPA, Fla. -- Larry Bowa can still picture a half-dressed Bobby Abreu in the Phillies' clubhouse, his head hanging and his uniform soiled by the frustration of another defeat.
With Philadelphia, everyone seemingly expected Abreu to be "The Man" -- a power-hitting icon of a blue-collar club, perennially challenging to the edge of playoff contention.
As Abreu reports for his first full season with the Yankees, that pressure appears to have been lifted off the 34-year-old outfielder's shoulders.
"He's not going to admit it, but you can see the different body language," said Bowa, Abreu's former manager with the Phillies. "He used to feel like he let everybody down because he didn't drive the run in or he didn't get the big hit. He wants to do that, but he also realizes that there are other guys who can do it."
The distance between the Yankees' Spring Training facility in Tampa and the Phillies' Clearwater home is less than one hour by automobile, but it has proven to be worlds away for Abreu.
Overshadowed by the likes of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi, Abreu is pleased to operate in relative anonymity as he prepares for the upcoming season.
"It's nice," Abreu said. "It's a different mentality. You know you're going to have a chance to be in the playoffs, and this is what it's all about. I'm looking for a World Series ring, and this team is going to give me a lot of chances to win."
Abreu seemed to respond almost immediately to the July 30 deal, in which the Phillies traded him and the late Cory Lidle to the Yankees in exchange for four Minor League prospects.
A .277 hitter at the time of the transaction, Abreu batted .330 with seven home runs and 42 RBIs in 58 games for New York, enthusiastically approaching his first taste of postseason baseball.
The performance was not unexpected, Bowa noted.
"He realized he's surrounded by a lot of good players," Bowa said. "If he took an 0-for-4 [with the Phillies], he felt like he let the team down. Here, if he goes 0-for-4, he already knows there's a bunch of guys in this lineup that can pick him up."
Flash back one year, though, and Abreu was not nearly in as good spirits. He was the last Phillies player to report to Clearwater, and his belated arrival became a large story because of already-swirling trade rumors.
Bowa was not the Phillies' manager then, having been replaced by the more low-key Charlie Manuel. Still, the current Yankees third-base coach said he could always see Abreu grinding his teeth over each missed opportunity.
"He felt like if he didn't get any hits, [the Phillies] weren't going to win," Bowa said. "Every year, he carried the brunt of it. If he didn't hit, we didn't score runs. Over here [with the Yankees], we're going to score. He knows this lineup is laden with real good players."
With uncertainty circling his status in Philadelphia, Abreu's ultimate relief wouldn't come for several months. Once it did, Abreu said his New York experience made it worth the wait.
"It was a little tough," Abreu said. "There were a lot of rumors and that sort of stuff, but finally they made the decision [to trade me]. It was fine for me. It gave me the opportunity to play on a winner."
Abreu said that slotting in as a part of the Yanks' powerhouse lineup -- which led the Major Leagues last season with 930 runs scored -- relieved some of the pressure and allowed him to better focus on contributing to the team's success.
"Everyone in this lineup is a star," Abreu said. "Back on the Phillies, I was 'The Man' -- the one everyone pointed to over the years. It's a good thing to be here, because sometimes you'll make a mistake, and you can deal with that. On the other side [with Philadelphia], when you made a mistake, everybody pointed at you."
Yankees manager Joe Torre said that Abreu has meshed well with the team's clubhouse culture and attitude.
Though Abreu is perhaps no longer a prototypical power-hitting right fielder -- he hit just 15 home runs last season, down from 24 in 2005 and 30 in 2004 -- Torre is pleased by Abreu's patience and willingness to work walks, which contributed to Abreu's .419 on-base percentage in 2006.
"His style certainly fits in very comfortably, as far as I'm concerned, with what we'd like to believe we're about," Torre said. "Instead of knocking the cover off the ball and beating up people, we'd like to be able to methodically score runs.
"The way he's situated in the lineup, wherever it is, he's a plus. He [can] get up there in a situation where they pitch to him, and if he's going to swing at it, he's no slouch. He's a legitimately good hitter."
With his services as a team spokesman no longer in heavy demand, Abreu has taken to quietly tutoring some of the younger Yankees farmhands. His locker neighbor this spring is 18-year-old Jose Tabata, a Venezuelan prospect who has drawn physical comparisons to a young Manny Ramirez.
Abreu spoke extensively with Tabata on Wednesday in Spanish, and said that the promising outfielder has been quizzing the veteran on all aspects of life in the Major Leagues.
"I'm trying to give these young guys as much as I can," Abreu said. "Whenever they ask me for something, I'm very happy and open to them to help them and give them the best advice that I can. Some of them are going to be All-Stars one day, and I hope they'll do the same thing for the young guys someday."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.