September 8, 2008

WHEN THE STEINBRENNER'S AREN'T HANDS-ON ENOUGH:

Après George le Déluge: As the tyrant fades away and his team fades with him, it has now become all too apparent that the Boss was really the straw that stirred the drink. (Chris Smith, Sep 7, 2008, New York)

One of George Steinbrenner’s gifts was a flair for bombastic, belligerent showmanship. The trait seemed to have made a latent appearance in Hank: For most of his 51 years, Hank had strenuously avoided any real role with the Yankees. But now that it had been thrust upon him—complete with a media-friendly, tear-jerking anecdote about Piniella’s telling Hank his father needs him now—Hank started the season playing the son-of-the-Boss part to the hilt. He was everywhere during spring training in Tampa, scowling, chain-smoking, firing off headline-ready quotes.

He’d gotten a head start during the fall of 2007, all but wishing Joe Torre, the four-time World Series–winning manager, good riddance. Then Hank dared Alex Rodriguez to leave town, and A-Rod backed down, signing a contract extension worth a mere $25 million. As the regular season began, Hank seemed to revel in his almost-daily presence in the sports pages. He’d sound off on everything from the urgency of moving Joba Chamberlain from the bull pen to the starting rotation to the backwardness of the National League for refusing to add the designated hitter.

But it soon became apparent that sounding off was pretty much all Hank did. His high profile in the spring turned out to be a matter of geography: Training camp is in Tampa, in his backyard. “I watch the [regular season] games at home on TV, or I’ll watch ’em here at the office, or the first part of ’em, and then watch the second part at home, wherever I happen to be, my girlfriend’s house, whatever,” he told me affably one afternoon in the middle of the season. Some things still got him huffing and puffing, like the delay in making Chamberlain a starting pitcher. “See, the Red Sox did it right, with Buchholz and Lester. They brought them along as starters and nothing else. So Buchholz throws a no-hitter last year, Lester throws one this year. Well, Chamberlain could have thrown one already, I think, had he been brought along that way. And that’s the way he should have been brought along.”

Yet for all Hank’s regular-guy charm, his tendency to splutter like a sports-radio caller has often come across as graceless, never more so than when he was leaving an 11–3 rout by the Red Sox in late August, just the second Yankees home game he had attended all year. “They sucked,” he said while storming across the parking lot.

Because Hank, unlike his father, hasn’t backed up the blather by firing or blaming anyone inside the organization, he quickly went from endearing to irrelevant. One indelible indicator of how he’s viewed within the organization came from Suzyn Waldman, the fiercely loyal Yankees radio broadcaster. In May, during an interview on WFAN, Waldman casually said, “I don’t think anybody pays attention” to Hank’s pronouncements. Accurate as her analysis is, the fact that Waldman was willing to say it publicly, without worry of discipline by Yankees management, was a telling indication of the political dynamic: No one is scared of Hank.


The only bits of common sense to come out of the Yankee front office recently were Hank's insistence that Joba should have been starting sooner and that Mike Mussina needed to become Jamie Moyer. If only the family had forced Brian Cashman to trade some of the wildly over-rated youngsters for Johann....

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 8, 2008 7:28 AM
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