NEW YORK -- Glimpses of the tumultuous recent past, chaotic present and potentially promising future of the New York Yankees were on vivid display during a single evening here this week. The Yankees' problem is that the eras are too tightly interwoven to discard the first two and get right to the third.

Tuesday, Yankee Stadium was home to a true spectacle. The scattered groups of fans that bothered to show up on a rainy night during one of the worst seasons in the team's proud history -- perhaps half of the announced attendance of 21,682 actually was on hand -- kept the ballpark in eerie silence, more like a baseball museum than a place where the game is still played.

"Sometimes I feel like I'm at a tennis match, or maybe the 18th green getting ready to putt," Yankees second baseman Steve Sax said.

The crowd that night seemed less interested in what was happening on the field than they were in continuing the city's celebration of George Steinbrenner's ouster as the Yankees' managing general partner.

It was not the raucous joyfest of the night before, when chants of "No more George!" filled the stands as news spread of Commissioner Fay Vincent's ruling that Steinbrenner must relinquish his controlling interest in the club because of his dealings with gambler Howard Spira.

But it was clear people still were reveling in Steinbrenner's banishment. It mattered little that Hank Steinbrenner had been nominated by his father as a successor. The fans had gotten their long-awaited, dearly held wish: "The Boss" had been fired.

They rejoiced more quietly -- almost unnoticeably -- Tuesday, holding radios to their ears to listen to the ceaseless Steinbrenner bashing by talk-show callers on all-sports station WFAN. They unfurled a few banners, such as the one that read, "Yogi Come Home," or tried to start a "Buy the team" chorus when Jack Nicholson was spotted in the crowd during the third inning.

Most knew that the course of the Yankees' forced rebuilding project largely was being determined behind closed doors that day. Don Mattingly was back in New York for the first time in more than a week, having his bad back examined by doctors after spending a period of convalescence at his home in Indiana.

Meanwhile, the midnight deadline for making trades without players having to clear waivers was nearing, and Yankees Vice President and General Manager Pete Peterson had a handful of discontented veterans to try to deal for young prospects.

Hank Steinbrenner has said he is committed to building through the minor leagues, the way the Yankees already have begun to do, which was in evidence Tuesday when the club's three prized rookies -- Oscar Azocar, Jim Leyritz and Kevin Maas -- went nine for 13 at the plate and two first-year pitchers -- Mark Leiter and Alan Mills -- combined to beat the Detroit Tigers for New York's fourth straight victory, tying a season high.

"Things are looking up around here, huh?" Sax said with a wry grin afterward. "Another day, another drama, another win." But while there indeed is a baseball soap opera virtually every night in the Bronx, it has been rare this year that off-the-field antics have been followed by a Yankees victory.

Misery has come in waves. The Yankees are mired in last place in the American League East at 40-62 following Wednesday's 15-4 loss to the Tigers, and are just off the pace for what would be their first 100-loss season in 78 years. They used 83 different batting orders in their first 102 games, none more than five times.

They have gotten three starts out of free agent pitcher Pascual Perez and his ailing shoulder. Among the other members of what was supposed to be a revitalized rotation, Dave LaPoint has allowed opposing batters to hit .289 off him and Andy Hawkins has not won at home all season.

Of course, one of Hawkins's seven Yankee Stadium defeats was an 11 2/3-inning stint in a 2-0 loss to Minnesota -- status quo during a season in which he also has lost a no-hitter, had another thrown against him and had the stadium lights go out while he was on the mound.

The Yankees' opponents have scored first in 60 games and won 45 of them. Mattingly has talked about retirement if his back doesn't improve -- although he tried to soften some of his earlier statements upon his return to the New York clubhouse Wednesday. Tim Leary, the Yankees' most consistent pitcher and a potential free agent at the end of the season, is miffed the team hasn't made him a solid contract offer.

Outfielder Jesse Barfield has complained about uneven playing time and alternated in recent weeks between wanting to stay and wanting to be traded. Leary, outfielder Mel Hall and others were stunned they weren't traded this week, since Peterson said "some deals were very, very close to being done," but none was made.

In a familiar refrain, the clubhouse threatens to explode at any moment. One of George Steinbrenner's final personnel decisions was to allow Deion Sanders to return to the NFL's Atlanta Falcons Monday.

Upon his departure, Sanders said there were only four or five teammates to whom he bothered to say goodbye, adding: "We just don't have the right chemistry to be a winning team. . . . We got hitters sitting around talking about pitching and pitchers sitting around talking about hitting. . . . It's supposed to be us against the other team, but it ain't."

The organization seems in disarray. George Bradley, the team's vice president for personnel, makes player evaluations after watching games on television in Tampa, where George Steinbrenner based much of the club's operations.

The team's forays into the free-agent market have left it with the fourth-highest payroll in the major leagues -- nearly $730,000 per player -- but little to show in the way of results. Any reversal in fortunes will require the discarding of much excess baggage, in terms of both personnel and emotions.

"Things are just all screwed up around here," Leary said. "I haven't even heard from {Bradley, who began negotiations last week with Leary's agent}. The guy never calls anyone."

There are no assurances of a drastically altered management style under Hank Steinbrenner, whose previous stints in the club's front office were occasionally stormy. But former associates insist the 33-year-old won't duplicate the 18-managers-in-17-years instability his father wrought. And the resources to succeed are in place.

The Yankees are a financial gold mine, with an estimated value of $250 million or more. Their local broadcast rights fees bring the club more than $50 million a year, with a new 12-year contract with the Madison Square Garden Network valued at about $500 million. Since most major league teams bring in $10 million or less from local broadcast rights, the Yankees possess an inherent advantage in the free-agent market.

"The money isn't the problem," one team official said. "It never has been. We have to make sure we spend wisely. That's why everyone hopes Hank, unlike George, adopts a policy of letting his baseball people make baseball decisions."

The younger Steinbrenner has insisted in the past he would do just that once he assumed control, as had been planned for some time. Of course, George Steinbrenner made a similar pledge when he negotiated the purchase of the Yankees from CBS in 1973.

The beginnings of a winning foundation are in place. Outfielder Azocar was batting .371 through Wednesday since his July 15 recall from Class AAA Columbus. Leyritz has become the club's every-day third baseman and was hitting .278 before last night. Maas has replaced Mattingly at first base and had eight home runs in 73 at-bats before last night, including a third-deck blast Tuesday.

Mattingly, with a new five-year, $19.3-million contract, has pledged to return this season. Persistent rumors have Tom Seaver or Whitey Herzog taking over the baseball operations of a revamped front office. And most observers suspect that several trades still will be made this year to bring in young building blocks.

"I hear all the time what a hopeless situation we're in," said Manager Stump Merrill, a 14-year organization man who succeeded Bucky Dent in June. "To me, it's just the opposite. I have a lot of hope. I see a lot of good, young players on this ballclub. I think we've hit the bottom and are ready to start heading up."