It’s been awfully difficult for members of the Fourth Estate to drag candid opinions from the gaping jaws of Hank Steinbrenner, and somehow, someway, the Bergen Record’s Pete Caldera pulled it off on Thursday morning. As you know, ‘Lil Stein doesn’t often comment on controversies surrounding the New York Yankees, and one must wonder, could yesterday’s remarks herald the start of a new frankness on his part? Might Hank every now and then, see fit to tell us what he thinks about Joe Torre, the Boston Red Sox, Brittany Murphy’s acting career, which Jarboe album would you buy if you could only buy one, etc.? Let’s keep our fingers crossed, because cogent baseball historians like Hank are increasingly difficult to find.

n his spirited defense of A-Rod on Wednesday, Steinbrenner told The Record that “if [Sandy] Koufax, [Mickey] Mantle, [Babe] Ruth, [Willie] Mays or [Hank] Aaron were playing today, they all would be suspected of doing something ” and of course, they didn’t do it. There was no such thing in their day.

“This is the age of paranoia.”

In his soon-to-be released book, “Vindicated,” Canseco writes that he once introduced Rodriguez to a trainer with connections to a steroids supplier, and later heard that A-Rod “had signed on.”

“Consider the source, that’s No. 1,” Steinbrenner said of Canseco. “He wouldn’t have been able to hit the ball out of the infield without steroids.

“And No. 2, if Mantle or Ruth were playing today, with the 550-foot home runs they hit, everybody’d be saying they were on something. They didn’t even lift weights in those days. They played on alcohol and hot dogs.

“There are certain naturals. There are guys who can just do it, and Alex is one of those guys,” Steinbrenner said. “He’s just friggin’ great.”