Making a rare public speaking appearance in a formal setting, New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner appeared to anoint son-in-law Steve Swindal as his successor.

Steinbrenner, who turns 75 next month, has avoided news conferences in recent years, choosing instead to have a spokesman issue statements. But he did answer questions at yesterday's announcement plans for a new Yankee Stadium, and he dropped in a reference to his succession plans while discussing why the team chose to remain in the Bronx.

"I think it's very important to the whole family and Steve, who's going to carry on," Steinbrenner said. "I think it's important to him to do something great for New York."

Swindal, a Yankees general partner, is married to Steinbrenner's daughter Jessica. Swindal and other Yankees executives were surprised by Steinbrenner's statement.

"Don't read a whole lot into it," Swindal said.

Steinbrenner tended to ramble during some of his answers. When asked why the Yankees weren't creating a short left field porch for Alex Rodriguez in a manner similar to the right field porch they made for Babe Ruth at Yankee Stadium in 1923, he talked about the way the Yankees treated Ruth at the end of his career.

"I don't think the Yankees did right by Babe Ruth when he was here," Steinbrenner said. "We'll be better with A-Rod when he gets ready to retire."

While Steinbrenner was not enamored with the Bronx in the 1980s, he embraced the borough yesterday.

"Owning the team to my family is very important, and this is a great heritage and this is a great place to play in, the Bronx," he said. "And we love the Bronx, and we want to do something for the people here that support the team."

He also discussed why he ended up buying the Yankees from CBS Inc., striking a deal with CBS head Bill Paley in January 1973 at the behest of Gabe Paul, who became his general manager.

"We tried to do it in Cleveland, we didn't quite succeed. We lost the team," Steinbrenner said. "We tried to buy the Indians first, but we didn't get them. So Gabe Paul said, 'Let's come up to New York and see the Yankee people. They want to sell.' So we came up here, and I met with Bill Paley, and he was a man of his word, he stood behind everything he ever told me. And that was it. I just fell in love with New York."

* BALDELLI IS OUT FOR SEASON: Devil Rays OF Rocco Baldelli will undergo right elbow ligament replacement surgery next week and will miss the rest of the season.

Baldelli experienced soreness in his throwing elbow while taking part in a rehab program for offseason left knee surgery. He recently started playing in extended spring training games and had been scheduled to join Class AA Montgomery next Tuesday.

"What a shame. Everything was going well with his knee," Tampa Bay Manager Lou Piniella said before last night's game against Milwaukee. "He was swinging the bat well at extended spring training."

Baldelli was examined by James Andrews yesterday in Birmingham. Piniella talked with Baldelli before he left Florida on Tuesday night.

"His mood was good . . . surprising good," Piniella said. "He'll be fine."

Devil Rays GM Chuck LaMar said Baldelli's recovery time should be eight to nine months, which means the outfielder could be ready for spring training next season.

Baldelli had 26 outfield assists, the third highest total in the majors during the 2003-04 seasons. He has a .285 batting average with 27 homers, 152 RBI and 44 steals in 292 career games.

In other news, LaMar said pitcher Dewon Brazelton might be assigned to Class AA next week.

The Devil Rays' Opening Day starter resumed working out June 3 at the team's minor league complex after being reinstated from major league baseball's restricted list one day earlier. He was placed on the restricted list May 16 for failing to report to Class AAA Durham, where he was optioned after allowing five runs on four hits and six walks in a loss to the Chicago White Sox on May 11.

From left, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, Governor George Pataki and Steve Swindal beside an architect's rendering of a new Yankee Stadium.