Monday, April 21, 2008

All Hail Hank Steinbrenner!

I'll say it. I've missed George Steinbrenner. He made Yankee hating so easy and so much fun.

Yeah he was an arrogant A-Hole.
Yeah he was guilty of shady dealings with Nixon and hiring private investigators to get dirt on Dave Winfield.
Yeah I'm sure he was awful to work for.

But do you know what?

He was also fun... from a distance at least.

It was fun seeing how predictable he was.
It was fun seeing how you could set your watch to when he would fire a manager... or a pitching coach... or chew out his best player.
It was fun thinking about him watching Patton over and over again

And in the end he was a big kid playing with the biggest set of toys.
And despite the fact the he was probably in person a repugnant human being... he also had fun with his personality.

You can never accuse George of not having a sense of humor about himself. He did those Miller Lite ads with Billy Martin (Martin's suit should be in Cooperstown)

He also appeared on SNL, he was practically the only good thing in The Scout, he seemed to get a kick out of being a character on Seinfeld and those Visa ads he did with Jeter and the other one with Torre were pretty funny.

Steinbrenner evidently was a pro wrestling fan and he understood the need to have a good villain. He seemed to relish being the bad guy and in his own logic he was helping the team with his rants, his tinkering with the manager and gobbling up super star players.

In fact during Joe Torre's run from 1996-2001 when the Yankees could do no wrong, you almost got the sense that Steinbrenner was chomping at the bit. He wanted to make big splashy moves but the team was winning... the stadium was full and the Yankee dynasty was reborn. But Torre was getting the credit.

When Rivera collapsed in the 9th inning of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, Steinbrenner said "There are going to be some changes for next year."

And the old Steinbrenner emerged briefly with gobbling up Giambi, Matsui, Sheffield and A-Rod.

But over the last few years, George has faded into the background. George is obviously sick and fading... and chances are he is sicker than the Yankees are letting on.

The public appearances have dwindled and the only public opinions are expressed in carefully released press statements that were clearly written by subordinates. Yeah it's funny to hear Mike and the Mad Dog read them with the Patton music playing.

But I missed the rage... I missed the spontaneity.
At one point after watching The Bronx is Burning I thought maybe the Yankees should just hire Oliver Platt to play Steinbrenner in press conferences.

George now stays in Tampa sheltered from the press. Some people compare the situation to Weekend at Bernies. I think it is more like the Diving Bell and the Butterfly with George watching the games but unable to do anything about it.

Like Lear, Steinbrenner's kingdom is being split up.
First it was going to go to his son in law Steve Swindal, but as I said earlier, he turned out to be even stupider than Carlo in The Godfather.

He has two daughters, but King George isn't going to hand the keys over to them... this is a man's job. (Not my opinion, no angry e mails please.)

There's Hal Steinbrenner, last seen hogging the stage after the 1996 World Series from Bob Watson. He evidently isn't a big baseball guy.

And finally there is Hank.
Evidently Hank watched those old clips of his dad and said "I can do that!"
He's been in charge for less than one season and already he has run a Hall of Fame manager out of town.

Now he is screaming to have Joba moved from the bullpen to the rotation... now.
As if making the switch from the pen to the rotation is so simple.
As if the Yankees have an army of relievers who can nail down the 8th inning.

And he is saying Mike Mussina needs to pitch like Jamie Moyer.
No doubt he said that because he just saw Jamie Moyer pitch and probably would recognize Jamie Moyer if he showed up in full uniform.

Rejoice Yankee haters! There's a new Steinbrenner in town!
And the proud tradition of front office meddling could last for 2 more generations.

Now why do I want Hank to be the next George?
Because a meddling Steinbrenner running the show is the worst thing to happen to the Yankees.

I can hear people saying "What are you talking about, Sully? The Steinbrenners sign all of those superstars and win all of those titles."

Well let me say something that will no doubt make my many Yankee friends shake their heads:

The worst thing to happen to the Yankees for nearly 20 years was winning the 1978 World Series.

This isn't left over angst from a Red Sox fan (even though I will NEVER forgive Don Zimmer.)

The Yankees won the AL Pennant in 1976 due mainly to the creative trades by GM Gabe Paul (all he did was trade for Chris Chambliss, Willie Randolph, Graig Nettles, Lou Piniella, Micky Rivers, Oscar Gamble, Ed Figeroa, Dock Ellis and Dick Tidrow... not bad.) But George got the credit for bringing in Catfish Hunter.

The Yankees won the World Series in 1977 when George brought in Reggie and rode Billy and Gabe Paul all season.

In 1978, Gabe Paul had enough and quit. And George brought in a big free agent (Goose Gossage) to replace a Cy Young award winner (Sparky Lyle). He rode Martin even harder and then fired him in midseason... and of course the Yankees went on their great run, beat the greatest Red Sox team to not make the playoffs and won the World Series again.

So what could be wrong with that?
I'll tell you.
Steinbrenner always looked at 1978 as the example of his meddling being productive.
"It worked in 1978."
So the manager position kept being changed. The coaches were moved around. The GMs were fired. Big players were trashed publically and signed and dealt with no rhyme or reason.

During the 1988 season, the Yankees had Don Mattingly at first and Jack Clark at DH. Steinbrenner dealt young Jay Buhner for another DH Ken Phelps... who literally had no position to play. Don Mattingly, the best defensive first baseman in baseball had to play games in left field.

From 1979 to 1993 the Yankees made 16 managerial changes.

From 1982 to 1993, the Yankees spent more money than any team and never once made the post season.

Yankee fans love George now... forgetting the George Must Go chants of the early 1990s when the Yankees were losing (yet still signing big free agents like Danny Tartabull) and Yankee Stadium was attracting 15,000 a night.

In fact the latest Yankee dynasty was formed when Steinbrenner was suspended from baseball allowing Gene Michael to piece together young players like Pettite, Posada, Rivera, Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter (whom Steinbrenner wanted to trade to Florida for Bryan Harvey.)

A new Steinbrenner meddling could lead to yet another decade of big priced free agents, a merry go round of managers, prospects like Willie McGee and Jose Rijo shining for other teams and who knows? Maybe another decade of quiet Octobers in the Bronx.

So I think I speak for all Yankee haters as the team moves to the new stadium next year when I ask...

"What would YOUdo with the team, Hank?"

1 comment:

  1. Sully,

    Though I went to Major League games as a child in Philly, we moved to Miami where there was no baseball when I was 8. I was more more of a football fan growing up. That's until I went to the University of Florida. I lived in a Fraternity right down the street from the Baseball Stadium and students got to see the games for free. I got hooked. I only mention this because my understanding is that George Steinbrenner went to UF for Law School and that he donated the lights that the Gators play under in Gainesville.

    You're right George is going to be missed.