Friday, November 25, 2022

Embrace the Current Yankees Boss...


Hal Steinbrenner (Photo Credit: Jason Szenes/Getty Images)

Hal, not George, runs the New York Yankees…

George Steinbrenner died July 13, 2010...

As someone who lived during the George Steinbrenner era, you will never find me wishing the Boss was still alive. I miss his passion and love for the Yankees, sure, but I remember the faults. As a kid, it seemed like there was a new manager every year and of course there was the unhealthy love/hate relationship the Boss had with Billy Martin. I loved every hiring and was deeply saddened by every firing. It was impossible to keep up with the pitching coaches. Those guys churned more than the revolving managerial door. 

Gabe Paul, Billy Martin & George Steinbrenner (Photo Credit: Marty Lederhandler/AP)

I remember going to my first game at the old Yankee Stadium in 1987 and the anti-Boss yells were noticeable. There was no love for George Steinbrenner during those days. Many of us were frustrated last March when the Yankees acquired the aging Josh Donaldson and his fat contract. Those type of acquisitions were frequent under the Boss. Overpaying veterans who were “past their prime” was commonplace.

I truly believe the 1990s dynasty would not have happened if not for the Boss’s time away. Dave Winfield signed a 10-year contract with the Yankees after the 1980 season (for a now laughable $23 million given where salaries are for elite players today). Winfield never brought a championship to New York, and of course, he earned the nickname “Mr. May” from Steinbrenner for his poor October performances. The contract did not age well, for Steinbrenner, and he suspended annual payments to Winfield’s foundation in the latter years of the contract, payments required under the terms and conditions of Winfield’s agreement with the team, with the belief the funds were mismanaged. This led to lawsuits between Winfield and the Boss. Steinbrenner, to prove Winfield’s mismanagement of the foundation payments, paid a gambler named Howard Spira $40,000. Spira had been a foundation volunteer and was willing to confirm Steinbrenner’s suspicions…for a price.

When Steinbrenner’s actions came to light, it led then MLB Commissioner Fay Vincent to bar Steinbrenner for life. Although the Boss was not required to sell his interest in the Yankees, he was barred from day-to-day management of the team. Steinbrenner had requested the lifetime ban over a two-year suspension because he feared a suspension would jeopardize his place as Vice President of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Limited Partner Robert Nederlander took over as the Managing General Partner for two years, and subsequently replaced by Joe Molloy, Steinbrenner’s former son-in-law. Under Nederlander and Molloy, Yankees executive Gene Michael was able to build the framework for the late 1990s championship run. The trade which brought Paul O’Neill to New York happened while the Boss was “away” and of course the Core Four, plus Bernie Williams, rose to prominence because they were given the time to blossom. 

After requesting reinstatement, the lifetime ban was lifted, and the Boss returned to his role as the Managing General Partner in 1993. He largely allowed Michael to continue building the eventual championship teams. The notable exception was following the 1995 season, after the stunning playoff loss to the Seattle Mariners, when Buck Showalter turned down a two-year contract extension because it included a provision to fire then-hitting coach Rick Down. Steinbrenner took this as a “resignation” which created a managerial vacancy.

Although Michael lost a manager he would have retained, he rebounded by naming Joe Torre as Yankees manager and of course the rest is history. If pre-lifetime ban Steinbrenner had been present, the new Yankees manager most likely would have been Davey Johnson or Tony LaRussa. Fortunately, the post-lifetime ban Boss supported Michael’s decision, and the championships soon followed. 

The point is the championship run was probably only possible because of Steinbrenner’s time away. It allowed Gene Michael to make the right moves. Credit to both Nederlander and Molloy for their roles in providing the necessary support for Michael.

Gene "Stick" Michael (Photo Credit: AP)

I do not dislike current Yankees Managing General Partner Hal Steinbrenner. I may harbor frustration that he does not outwardly show his passion and love for the Yankees like his father did. Hal is a businessman, a bean counter by education. For all intents and purposes, he is a good man. Hal took over the Yankees after the 2007 season following the decision not to bring back Joe Torre and the subsequent retirement of his father, who had suffered through strokes and dementia in his final years. The Yankees have never had a losing record under Hal’s watch. In fact, the Yankees have not had a losing season since 1992.  Granted, there were only 84 wins in the 2014 and 2016 seasons, but they were “winning” seasons. Amazing to think that any Yankee fan in their 20s have never experienced a losing season. 

We may be frustrated with the moves Hal Steinbrenner makes or does not make, but to say he has been bad for the Yankees is wrong.  I do not pine for George Steinbrenner; I want Hal Steinbrenner to step up in a way that would make his father proud. Hal is his own man, and I do respect the trust he places in Yankees Management. The stability and continuity have been invaluable in helping the Yankees to become one of the best run teams in Major League Baseball. I did not enjoy the Bronx Zoo days.  Loved some of the characters, of course, but not the entire chaotic mess.

The singular point is ‘do better’. No more stop gaps. No more bloated contracts that hold the team back (saying this while hopeful the Yankees re-sign Aaron Judge to an excessively fat contract, in a sense of hypocrisy). I am probably referring more to guys like Josh Donaldson who seemed like a mistake from the moment the Gary Sanchez trade was announced last Spring.  Or “knee jerk” signings like Jacoby Ellsbury. The Yankees have a winning team, but they have proven they are not a championship team. Running it back with the same guys, hoping for better results is a flawed strategy.

I am hopeful the Yankees recognize they were not as good as their first half run last season. Bringing back Aaron Judge is a must, but the off-season improvements cannot stop there. I keep seeing fans who want Oswaldo Cabrera, Oswald Peraza, and Anthony Volpe in next season’s Opening Day lineup. Not me. I do not want to roll out three rookies in attempt to de-throne the Houston Astros. I believe Peraza should be the team’s starting shortstop (based on the current roster), but there is no question I would sign Trea Turner or Carlos Correa if I could. Oswaldo Cabrera is next season’s Marwin Gonzalez, only younger and better. Volpe will be great, but let him season a little more in Triple A. The end result will be worth it. 

Assuming Judge returns (I am a little more optimistic after hearing Jeff Passan on The Michael Kay Show last week, “All signs point to Aaron Judge remaining with the Yankees”), how the Yankees address the starting rotation (need better options than Clarke Schmidt or Domingo German to replace Jameson Taillon), the bullpen, and left field will go a long way toward building a team ready for the October hurdles.  Turner or Correa would be insurance it happens. 

Time for Hal Steinbrenner to win a World Series championship without his father’s watchful eye.

Thanksgiving Weekend…

I hope everyone had a joyous and memorable Thanksgiving Day yesterday. 

I know I was thankful to see my Minnesota Vikings finally defeat Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. The Vikings had not beaten the Pats since 2000. It is always beautiful anytime a Boston team loses. Sorry to my fellow Yankee fans who bleed Blue for the Dallas Cowboys’ victory over the New York Giants. Sadly, I think the Giants are like the Vikings…not as good as their respective records. But as the saying goes, “On any given Sunday…”.   

The Boston Red Sox have a Yankees fetish. With a few former Yankees on their roster (James Paxton, Garrett Whitlock, Kaleb Ort, and Rob Refsnyder) and one player named after a Yankees legend (Jeter Downs), the Red Sox added two more former Yankees last week. They acquired infielder Hoy Park, who had been designated for assignment by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Park went to Pittsburgh as part of the trade that brought Clay Holmes to New York. The Red Sox also signed free agent reliever Joely Rodriguez who spent last season as a Met after being traded for reliever Miguel Castro. 

As soon as I saw that the Pirates had DFA’d Park, my first thought was ‘future Red Sock’. Sure enough, it happened like clockwork.

Wondering when the Yankees will announce new contracts for general manager Brian Cashman and pitching coach Matt Blake. It seems odd while chasing free agent Aaron Judge and potential pitching options, the Yankees have not locked up two key members of the organization. I do not take this to mean they may not return, I think both will be back but the sooner their returns are announced, the better. 

Matt Blake (Photo Credit: Robert Sabo)

It will be interesting to see if the Yankees replace assistant hitting coach Hensley Meulens who left to become the hitting coach for the Colorado Rockies. The Yankees could just stand pat with only one assistant hitting coach (Desi Druschel) for hitting coach Dillon Lawson, but I feel there is value in an old school hitter to pair with analytics-driven coaches. I would love to see Brett Gardner rejoin the Yankees in this role.  As a former team leader, he has the command and respect of the clubhouse.

I thought it was funny the Los Angeles Angels acquired Mike Trout-lookalike Hunter Renfroe.

Hunter Renfroe

Mike Trout

Former Yankee prospect Janson Junk went to Milwaukee as part of the deal to bring Renfroe to Orange County, California. The Angels had previously acquired third baseman Gio Urshela from the Minnesota Twins, and signed former Dodgers starting pitcher Tyler Anderson, a free agent, so they are clearly trying to do something before Shohei Ohtani leaves. The Angels see Urshela as an option at third base and first base, and occasionally at short, second base or the outfield.  Anthony Rendon has struggled to stay healthy since he signed with the Angels so no doubt Gio will be manning third base more than the Angels currently expect. Good for him. 

I am always glad to get the Thanksgiving holiday behind us for no other reason than we are closer to the annual Baseball Winter Meetings. It is always my favorite week of the MLB offseason, and it was missed immensely last season after cancellation due to the lockout. The bittersweet part of the week is the Rule 5 Draft when multiple Yankee prospects are chosen annually. At least with the MLB portion of the draft, the Yankees can get the prospects back if they fail to stick on the Major League rosters for their new teams. The only time I am openly rooting for Yankee prospects to fail. 

As a baseball fan, I am sorry to hear that Bryce Harper needed Tommy John surgery. I wish him a speedy and full recovery and look forward to his return to MLB sometime next season for the Philadelphia Phillies. Baseball is better when Bryce is playing.

Happy Birthday to the YES Network’s Jack Curry (@JackCurryYES on Twitter)! Jack is 58 years old today. Looking forward to his breaking news that Aaron Judge has re-signed with the Yankees (I hope). I hope it is a wonderful birthday, Jack, and we look forward to your work in the coming year. 

As always, Go Yankees!

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