George Steinbrenner wants Derek Jeter to be more focused.

The New York Yankees' owner blamed Jeter's declining production on the shortstop's numerous off-field activities and said he's not quite ready to be the team's first captain since Don Mattingly.

In an interview with the Daily News printed yesterday, Steinbrenner also said he is holding Manager Joe Torre and his coaching staff accountable for the team's first-round playoff exit.

"As far as trying and being a warrior, I wouldn't put anyone ahead of [Jeter]," Steinbrenner was quoted as saying. "But how much better would he be if he didn't have all his other activities?

"I tell him this all the time. I say, 'Jetes, you can't be everything to everybody. You've got to focus on what's important.'

"When I read in the paper that he's out until 3 a.m. in New York City going to a birthday party, I won't lie. That doesn't sit well with me. That was in violation of Joe's curfew. That's the focus I'm talking about."

Jeter, a four-time all-star, hit .297 with 18 homers and 75 RBI last season. He made 14 errors.

Steinbrenner also wants a better performance by Torre and his staff.

"I just want his coaches to understand that just being a friend of Joe Torre's is not enough," he said. "They've got to produce for him. Joe Torre and his staff have heard the bugle." . . .

Free agent reliever Ramiro Mendoza, a key member of the New York Yankees' staff for the last seven seasons, agreed to a two-year deal with the Boston Red Sox.

Mendoza fits with the way the Red Sox are trying to build their bullpen, and could even start if needed, General Manager Theo Epstein said.

"His versatility and overall characteristics make him another good option out of the pen," Epstein said.

Mendoza was 8-4 with four saves and a 3.44 ERA in a career-high 62 appearances last season when he pitched out of the bullpen exclusively for the first time in his career. . . .

The ballpark that was home to Pete Rose's Big Red Machine and the site of Hank Aaron's 714th home run was reduced to rubble in less than a minute. With the push of a button, 1,275 pounds of dynamite and nitroglycerine went off in a counterclockwise sequence of blasts around Cinergy Field, collapsing the 32-year-old arena inward onto its former playing surface. It took all of 37 seconds.

The demolition of the stadium, built for $44 million and opened in 1970, eliminated what had been a prominent feature of Cincinnati's skyline along the Ohio River.

"It was awesome," said 17-year-old Maureen Wille, who drove through the night from Pontiac, Ill., with her brother to videotape the collapse of the ballpark.


UK to Introduce Coach

Kentucky will introduce its new football coach today, amid reports that former Oregon and St. Louis Rams coach Rich Brooks was hired.

Associate athletic director Greg Byrne said the school will make an announcement, but he would not confirm Brooks has the job.

"I'd rather not say any more than that," said Byrne, the son of former Oregon athletic director Bill Byrne. Brooks worked with Byrne for 11 years at Oregon.

Brooks did not immediately return messages left yesterday at his Oregon home and on his cell phone. His wife told the Courier-Journal of Louisville on Saturday that her husband was taking the job. CBS Sports reported Saturday Brooks would join Kentucky.

Guy Morriss resigned Dec. 9 to become the coach at Baylor.


Aussies Hopman to It

Lleyton Hewitt and Alicia Molik won their singles matches to lead Australia to a 3-0 victory over Italy at the Hopman Cup in Perth.

Top-ranked Hewitt beat Davide Sanguinetti, 6-3, 6-1, and Molik defeated Silvia Farina Elia, 6-3, 6-4. The Australians were awarded the point for mixed doubles when Sanguinetti could not play because he hurt his ankle in his singles match.

Group A play begins today with the U.S. team of Serena Williams and James Blake playing Uzbekistan. . . .

Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski, Britain's top two players, have withdrawn from next month's Australian Open because of injuries. The tournament begins on Jan. 13.


Conditioning Drill

The Colorado Avalanche sent defenseman D.J. Smith to AHL club Hershey for a conditioning assignment.