April 18, 1988 12:00 PM

Everyone agreed: There was something weird about the Yankees this spring. They looked like the Yankees. They played like the Yankees. But they kept laughing and smiling at each other. Where was the customary Yankee turmoil, the angst? Even owner-provocateur George Steinbrenner was eerily well behaved. It was like these were, well, the Stepford Yankees.

Not to worry. Just in time for the start of the season, a nasty imbroglio has broken out to gladden the hearts of Yankee haters everywhere. “I see it as a soap opera,” says Dave Winfield, 36, one of the principals in the bitter feud, “then a miniseries, then a movie.” Winfield’s adversary: Boss George Steinbrenner. The two have gone head-to-head before, but this time the boss is so mad he has been threatening to trade the high-priced outfielder—even if it costs him the ’88 pennant.

What ostensibly detonated the feud were advance copies of the all-star’s autobiography, Winfield: A Player’s Life. For the most part it’s standard jock-lit. The spiciest revelation seems to be that a couple of unnamed Yankees once attended a coed party wearing only shaving cream. More damaging to the team, though, is Winfield’s claim that he remembers the Yankees’ black co-captain, Willie Randolph, telling him, “As a black man you’re never going to be a ‘true’ Yankee.” Randolph says Winfield’s recollection is untrue, and recently told a reporter: “He says we’re friends, but I can’t feel the same way after what he put me through.”

Another point of contention is Winfield’s allegation that Steinbrenner failed to make good on a $300,000-a-year pledge to the player’s charitable foundation. Money issues may rankle because Steinbrenner simply can’t forgive himself for giving Winfield a 10-year, $20 million contract. Making a snide comparison to Reggie Jackson, who has been dubbed “Mr. October” for his World Series magic, Steinbrenner has called Winfield “Mr. May.” But secure in his ironclad contract, which has allowed him to veto at least two trades so far, Winfield just turns the other cheek. “I don’t waste my time hating people,” he says. “That eats away at a person.” Meanwhile, Steinbrenner’s fulminations have helped send A Player’s Life, due out April 18, into its second printing.

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