Monday, December 24, 2018

George Steinbrenner and the Ghost of Yankees Past: Part V - The End of Austerity

Set the scene. Hal Steinbrenner, CC Sabathia, Carlos Beltran, Brian Cashman, and many other Yankees players, executives, and personnel are walking across the frozen Yankee Stadium turf with one of the offseason’s top free agents behind them, Manny Machado. Machado’s picture is up on the huge Yankee Stadium screen that is out in center field with him wearing a Yankees uniform and hat while a certain someone is standing behind the Yankee Stadium façade just watching. His name is George Steinbrenner, or as we have come to know him as the Ghost of Yankees Past, and he is looking down on the beautiful billion-dollar stadium that he built with the biggest smile on his face. The Ghost of Yankees Past is out early this year and he’s ready to pounce.

As the Yankees brass walked the highly-touted free agent around Yankee Stadium, George watched down with a sense of pride. Austerity had become a “thing” in the Bronx over the past five seasons, prompting his return to the Earth every Christmas Eve, and with the team finally under the luxury tax threshold last season the purse strings looked as loose as ever. Or did they? George felt a twinge in his stomach as just 90-minutes later he watched as Machado filed into his car and off into the sunset. Was this a good sign for the Yankees and their pursuit of Machado, or was it a sign of what was to come?

Flash forward five days to Christmas Eve. Parents everywhere are wrapping and placing James Paxton and JA Happ shirts, Yankees hats, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton uniforms, and other assorted Bronx Bomber memorabilia under their Christmas trees after placing their young children and families to bed. Parents everywhere retire to their slumbers awaiting the excitement that will come with the next day, but as usual Daniel Burch, the owner of The Greedy Pinstripes, is sitting at his desk as he has for the past five Christmas eve’s working away, impatiently waiting for his annual visit from the Ghost of Yankees Past. Dan is sitting at his desk in the living room that he shares with his beautiful fiancée, Kari, when Mr. Steinbrenner swoops in and stands behind Mr. Burch as he works. Dan is on the phone and George begins to listen.

“Yes, we are getting married on the 2nd of January. We are going to do the whole courthouse thing, and then we will have a ceremony later on in the year. It’s just going to work best this way with the timing and financial aspect of everything, and neither of us want to wait any longer than we have to. Alright, I’ll let you go to bed. Merry Christmas and I will talk to you tomorrow. Okay, good night.” Dan put his phone down and turned his attention back to his computer screen, a word document open with the post entitled “Yankees Fans Are the Worst – Volume II.”

“Congratulations on the engagement, and now the impending nuptials!” George startled Dan as he spoke from behind him in his dark and empty living room. “Thanks, George. I was wondering when you were going to be stopping by. I have a lot to say to you.” Dan began to speak, but George stopped him, speaking first in an overpowering voice. “Let me stop you there because I know what you are going to say. Austerity is gone, and we should be back to spending very soon. I mean, look at what Cash has done already. James Paxton is here, JA Happ is back, and did you see him courting Manny Machado in the Bronx just the other day? It reminded me of the time when no one said I could sign Jason Giambi away from the Oakland Athletics, and yet I did. It reminded me of the time when they said that Mike Mussina would never leave Baltimore for their division rivals, yet here we are. It reminded me of a time when you, Mr. Daniel Burch, told me to ‘Get Greedy, Get Manny’ when Manny Ramirez was a free agent, despite the fact that we had already acquired CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher. It reminded me of a better time, and it made me feel great about the future ahead.” George thought to himself that he had gotten the best of Dan this time as he looked down upon him with that grin that only Mr. Steinbrenner could possess. Dan let that sink in his mind and allowed the information to get digested into his soul before he began to speak.

“Mr. Steinbrenner, with all due respect… bullshit. Austerity is here and is as prevalent as it has ever been. If not in terms of dollars, in terms of years’ worth of commitments. If austerity were gone, Patrick Corbin would be wearing a Yankees uniform right now!” George’s jaw began to drop as Dan spoke, but before he could interject Dan continued on with his rant. “Now, while I don’t agree that Corbin should have received $140 million, the Yankees ‘informal’ offer of 5-years and $100 million is a slap in the face. Corbin all but said he wanted to pitch here, and it was a foregone conclusion that he would, yet we won’t commit a sixth year to a 29-year old left-handed starter and the best starter on the market? Yet we were able to work out a way to get Happ back in pinstripes at 36-years old and possibly get him the 3rd year that he coveted? In what world does that make sense? And while you’re here, in what world do the Yankees have six outfielders, hence meaning there is no room for Bryce Harper? It’s Bryce freaking Harper, George! When would having a player like Jacoby Ellsbury, a young piece like Clint Frazier, and a player who could easily ride the bench like Brett Gardner ever kept the Yankees from bringing in a one-in-a-generation type talent in Harper? He bats left-handed, he plays the outfield, he makes the team better, he makes your freaking son a boatload of money, and it makes the fans happy. In what Yankees universe is not signing Bryce Harper okay? And let’s be honest, we did the whole dog and pony show with Corbin as well, so just because Machado walked around Yankee Stadium and then went out to dinner with the club the same night doesn’t mean a thing. That and $15 will get you a beer at Yankee Stadium, if you’re lucky. Justify that $15 beer, go get a big name that makes me want to spend the astronomical money on the ticket, the transportation down there, the parking when I get there, the beer, the hot dogs, the pretzels, the merchandise, etc. And when I can’t be there in person make it worth my while to purchase the YES Network subscription or the MLB TV subscription. I love what the team has done during the rebuild, but the rebuild is over. The core is here. The time is now. Fill in the blanks, cross the T’s and dot the I’s, and stamp the Steinbrenner name on some of these checks you guys have lying around. If one of these checks goes to Manny Machado, awesome. If another goes to Bryce, even better. I’ve lived through the dynasty years, the down years that followed, missing the playoffs in 2008 and again in the 2010’s, I’ve lived through austerity, and I’ve lived through the promises that 2019 was ‘the’ year. It’s 2019, and you guys are officially on the clock. Do something.” Dan did not wait for a response to George, nor did he search his face for an answer, and merely turned around and went back to furiously typing on his keyboard.

As Dan continued to type his latest essay, George flew off into the crisp night sky en route to his next stop on his annual trip. The home of his son, Hal Steinbrenner. In a flash, George was standing outside the home of his son, Hal, and was glaring in through the window of his dimly lit living room. Everyone was asleep in the house, but Hal could be seen on the couch with a laptop on his lap. Hal’s eyes were searching for sleep and on the brink of closing for the night when the ghost of his late father appeared, startling him to attention.

“Dad, you have got to stop doing that. Just come in like a normal… yeah… never mind. What’s up?” Hal looked at George hoping for a response, but the Ghost of Yankees Past knew if he looked at his son long enough that he would begin answering all of his own questions for him. George continued to glare, “Yes, dad. I know what you’re going to say, but it isn’t my fault.” Hal began to stammer while his late father continued to look at him deeply, trying not to crack a smile. “We never made a formal offer to Corbin, but that doesn’t mean we weren’t involved. We wined and dined the guy and his wife, we told him where we were willing to go, and he just wasn’t on the same page as us. He chased the money.” Hal knew that his previous statement reeked of irony, especially to the man that probably coined the term “chasing the money” after all, but he did not deter in his defense as George continued to stare blankly at him. “Five-years and $100 million I think is fair. We were even willing to go up to $125 million, but he just balked at that sixth year. It doesn’t matter, we got Paxton and Happ and we are going hard for Machado as well. Just like you wanted.” George could no longer fight back the grin as he let that smile slip just a bit as Hal continued. “We are just as good as the Red Sox right now!” And just like that, the smile was wiped from George’s face, and in its place was a look of anger. George never wanted to be just as good as the Red Sox, or any team for that matter, he wanted to be better than everyone else. No, George demanded that his teams be better than everyone else, or else. Hal could tell that he angered his father, something he knew better than to do growing up, and tried to immediately backtrack. “But that doesn’t mean we don’t have room to improve. We are just as good as the Red Sox NOW, but they are trying to trade Rick Porcello and maybe Xander Bogaerts from their major league roster, while we are still looking to add pieces to ours. I think we can get Manny Machado, and Bryce Harper is still out there. We can do better. No, we will do better!”

Without saying a word, George flew away into the Christmas eve sky, leaving Hal standing there to wonder if what he said had been enough to win over the approval of his father.

Michael P.

The Ghost of Yankees Past had one more stop on his annual trip across the Yankees universe, a trip that would take him to the house of Michael Pawluk. Many people around the Yankees Universe know Pawluk, but the Ghost of Yankees Past only recently heard about the (in)famous Twitter icon within the Yankees community. Pawluk has always been the biggest basher of Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman, the GM hired by George Steinbrenner after Bob Watson could no longer perform the duties of the job before the 1998 season, and he was doing just that via his computer as the Ghost of Yankees Past swooped into his study inside his Sarasota Springs, New York home. “He’s a coffee boy, he is nothing more than a glorified intern for Hal Steinbrenner. I told you so. I told you ALL so. I’ve been saying that he is a POS for at least seven years now, and more and more people are telling me just how right I am.” Pawluk was ranting to himself as he furiously pounded on his keyboard to his thousands of Twitter followers. Pawluk continued muttering to himself as Mr. Steinbrenner spoke up from behind him, “So, I guess the man lives up to the legend.” Pawluk slowly turned around, halfway like he recognized the voice that was speaking to him and halfway in disbelief. “… Mr…. Boss…. George?” Pawluk was stuttering now in complete shock that the Ghost of Yankees Past was standing behind him in his study. “Pawluk, you talk a lot. For once, listen. You hate Brian Cashman, you know what? A lot of people do. The hate is misplaced, whether you want to believe it or not. Sure, I ran the show from the day I hired him in 1997 until the day I ‘relinquished control’ to him in December of 2008, but he has done a lot of great things for this team since. Cashman won the World Series in 2009, not me. Not because of Hal. Cashman did. It was shortly after the 2009 season that Hal and Hank felt comfortable enough with the game, with the league, and with the team to start taking back that control. Are they the tyrants that I was? Hell no, but Hal controls the money and Hank, well Hank just smokes cigarettes all day these days. Cashman can only do so much and has done more with less, more than he should have. No farm system, shoddy starting pitching, over-priced veterans that the team held onto because of what they did in the past and not what they did in the present, etc. Cashman is cheap, but because Hal makes him cheap. Cashman has only won a couple World Series championships during his tenure, but because I was writing checks and trading prospects at an alarming rate. Cashman hasn’t missed the postseason a couple times in the last ten seasons and only won one World Series because he is a terrible GM, it is because he was stuck with an untradeable Mark Teixeira, an aging Derek Jeter, and fiscal restraints that I would have never put on him over the past five seasons or so. Cashman doesn’t suck, the people making the decisions above his pay grade suck. My son included. So, before you go blaming Brian Cashman for every single error, every single loss, every single run given up, and every single season that passes without a World Series Championship… maybe think about blaming me. I am the reason for the luxury tax and I alone am the reason for the penalties that come along with going over said luxury tax. I am the reason for parity in baseball and I alone am the reason that every team now wants their own television network. I am the reason that every Cuban player wants to come to America, see Jose Contreras, and I am the reason that pitchers strive to not be the next Hideki Irabu from Japan. I single-handedly changed baseball, and yet I never officially stepped foot on the field. Cashman and his crew are just trying to adapt to the world that I alone created, so blame me... not them.” Pawluk began to clear his throat in preparation for another anti-Cashman rant, but before he could start speaking the Ghost of Yankees Past was gone from the room and back into the Christmas eve sky.

Before George, the Ghost of Yankees Past, flew back to the heavens for another long year looking down on the world he made the decision to stop by the home of the Philadelphia Phillies, Citizens Bank Park, to see what all the fuss was about. As George walked up to the front door of the stadium another ghost, the Ghost of Santa Claus, walked up, his cell phone in his hand, and met George at the front door. “Doors locked, old man. I guess they weren’t expecting you. Or maybe they were, either way you’re not getting in this way. Want to go have a beer?” George looked confused as the Ghost of Santa Claus introduced himself to the Ghost of Yankees Past.  “You don’t know who I am. That’s fine. Remember back on December 15th of 1968 when the Philadelphia Eagles squared off with the Minnesota Vikings in the final game of their season?” George was a baseball guy and likely looked as puzzled as he was at the question. “No? Well, it had been snowing for weeks back then and the field was nothing but mud and muck by the time the team had he come out on my sleigh for the halftime show. That show went about as well as the Eagles season that year. My sleigh got stuck in the mud and I wasn’t even supposed to be there that day anyway. The other Santa was MIA. He got stuck in some weather or had too much to drink or something, it depends on who you ask what story you will get. Anyway, by the time I got into the south end zone the booing was so loud that it scared me. A snowball was thrown from the upper levels, then another, and then hundreds of them came flying at me all at once. These guys are assholes, but you know what? They got theirs in the end. The Buffalo Bills finished a half-game worse than the Eagles and got the first pick in the NFL/AFL Draft. They drafted O.J. Simpson, while the Eagles went third and got Leroy Keyes from Purdue.” George looked as confused as ever as he had never heard of Leroy Keyes, or anything that this Ghost of Santa Claus was telling him. “My name is Frank Olivo, nice to meet you.” Frank then turned around to no one in particular, presumably in a drunken rage, and yelled out into the cold Philadelphia sky, “Stay classy, Philadelphia!!!”

George turned around, still not speaking a word, and flew off into the Christmas night just as the sun began to rise in the East. The Ghost of Santa Claus could be seen with a look of bewilderment on his face as he stood in front of Citizens Bank Park as the Ghost of Yankees Past flew off into the sunset, ready for spring training, ready for October, and ready for next Christmas when he could return to Earth once again as the ghost of George Steinbrenner.

Merry Christmas to all that celebrate, and Happy Holidays to everyone who doesn’t. I hope you enjoyed my story tonight, and I wish you all safe travels, lots of family time, lots of love, tons of fun, and everything that your heart desires over the next couple of weeks and into the new year. Much love to you all, Daniel Burch out.

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Sorry for the Capatcha... Blame the Russians :)