Hank’s constant comments and the business of baseball

Chuck's going to DC, whether he wants to or not
Lebron creates shoe in Mattingly's homage

We all know what Hank Steinbrenner has been up to this off-season. Not a day goes by without Hank’s name appearing somewhere in the newspapers.

Part of this constant attention stems from the New York sports media’s tendency to write about anything — literally anything — no matter how mundane in an effort to fill the space between the playoffs and Spring Training. Once-a-week football games and the pathetic Knicks can only draw so many readers.

The other half of Hank’s ubiquitous presence comes from his inability to keep his trap shut. At every turn this off-season, Hank has issued a comment. Joe Torre gets fired? Hank fires back. A-Rod opts out? Hank won’t talk him until he changes his mind. A deadline for Johan Santana? Well, only a little bit.

Fans and bloggers have enjoyed poking fun at Hank, but we’ve also grown wary of his comments. Last week, at the Fast Company FC Now blog, Jason Del Rey delved into Hank Steinbrenner’s tendency to publicize his every move in the Johan Satana dealings. Del Ray wondered if Hanks’ approach represents a good business strategy for a billion-dollar business such as the Yankees.

His answer — with an assist from New York Times beat writer Tyler Kepner — is probably not:

Is this any way to run a business? Commenting to the media on every twist and turn of negotiations for a major acquisition that will greatly affect the product on the field — the product that is directly correlated to the team’s billion-dollar valuation?

The business of sports, in many ways, is unlike any other sector of the business world. But, at the same, time, could you imagine a big-time financial or tech CEO holding court for the press every time there is a development in talks for a takeover of a large competitor? Maybe it wouldn’t crush the negotiations, but couldn’t it make them unnecessarily more difficult?

“I think the Twins were puzzled early on,” The New York Times Yankees beat writer Tyler Kepner wrote to me in an e-mail.

“I don’t get any sense that it’s part of a business strategy,” he added, speaking of Hank’s general vocal approach…”It complicates the job of the baseball operations staff, but all general managers would rather keep almost everything secret.”

It’s often easy to forget that baseball is very much a business. Teams sign players for a myriad reasons, but chief among those is return on investment. How can a general manager justify a multi-million-dollar signing of a player who may not deliver? Howcan a chief executive bank the next ten years of success on one player?

On the surface, fans see it as a simply calculation that includes wants, needs, desires and movable pieces, but it’s rarely that simply. In business negotiations as in baseball, it’s better not to show all of your cards. Hank has yet to demonstrate that he can do this, and as Del Rey notes, Hank’s big mouth could derail negotiations or it could drive up the price of a desired commodity. The New York Yankees, a successful business valued at around $1 billion, would be better of if their new chief executive kept some company secrets to himself.

Chuck's going to DC, whether he wants to or not
Lebron creates shoe in Mattingly's homage
  • Rich

    My view is that Hank, after having been practically humiliated when he worked for the Yankees under his overbearing father in the ’80s, wants to remind everyone that he has now ascended to the power chair. For example, he continually uses the pronoun “I” instead of “we” when discussing who will make the decision on Santana, A-Rod, etc. in his near daily “state of the Yankees” interviews with every reporter who calls him.

    I think it’s interesting that it was recently reported that Hal, who has, in contrast, chosen not to make public statements to the media, equally shares all decision making authority with Hank in both financial and baseball matters.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if Hal leaked that information to publicly remind Hank about that division of authority.

  • huuz

    until Hank *clearly* does/says something that is detrimental, I say, “who cares”

    let him yap away. at least we have something to discuss. clearly Cashman’s power hasn’t been compromised as much as we all worry about…he might be learning how to operate in a “new environment” as he divulged a few weeks ago, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is worse. my vote is for a wait-and-see evaluation to this situation.

    i am personally optimistic about the whole thing. recall there were worries on a number of blogs during ST last year when swindol was ousted from the Yanks…people wondered if the Yanks *might* get sold. despite the Boss’ heavy hand at times, i think we all appreciate the backing of the Steinbrenner family for our beloved team.

  • kunaldo

    I dunno guys, I dont really get annoyed with Hank…..sure, the santana situation is frustrating b/c nothing’s getting done, but from a fan’s POV, I somebody keeping us informed on the direction of the yanks FO…granted, I understand why it isnt exactly good business(just like cashman was pissed about torre making the joba rules public)

    anyways, FWIW, tim kurkjian said he expects the yanks to get santana on today’s sportscenter…i dunno, i found that interesting, even though everyone else is saying the mets are the frontrunner…

  • Bo

    Be honest. Is Hank really affecting the Santana talks? He has them thinking about taking low level prospects and the Yanks get to keep Hughes, IPK, Melky etc.

    How is that a bad thing?

  • Jeff

    I do think what Hank does is detrimental to the team’s ability to aquire free agents. You can’t play poker if you show your hand. Utterly stupid. If someone is to address the media on the Yankees behalf it should be the GM.
    I hate the Sox but I really do envy their approach.

  • Steve S

    Its a valid point but I do think within the context if baseball its somewhat less important and might actually be helpful. Sometimes showing your hand can help. Of course thats the sometimes, he may have to keep some things close to his vest. Which he did when he renegotiated with Arod. There is no point to rush to judgment and so far he has been pretty good- he has spent money to keep people we need, he has explored trades and even endorsed young players.

  • huuz

    i agree with Jeff about not showing your hand, but bluffing is another part of playing poker. it might be wishful thinking to say that Hank has had a master plan in place and all of these media comments are carefully crafted to meet his ultimate goal…but he also might be a bit smarter than we give him credit…? i don’t know, i’m just throwing this out there as an option.

    besides, is there any baseball fan who did not already think that the Yanks were interested in Santana…regardless of Hank’s comments? i doubt it. people have speculated that santana would be heading to the Yanks for years now…

  • steve (different one)

    it is worth noting that NO ONE knew the Yankees were talking to A-Rod again for about a week. it seems like maybe he does know when he does need to shut up.

    the fact is that no one really knows what it going on with Johan. wasn’t it reported during the winter meetings that a deal with the Red Sox was “imminent”?

    seems to me like there is nothing but BS that filters through the media, and you can add Hank’s commentary to that pile of BS. maybe it means something, maybe it doesn’t.

    maybe he has been bluffing the whole time. or maybe he really is an idiot.

    maybe he is just new to the job and he is going to have to learn some things.

    we don’t really know yet.

    so far, i think he overpaid Rivera a little, but besides that, i think he’s been pretty successful this off-season. it was clearly going to be a time of transition, and it could have gone much, much worse.

    i am thrilled with Girardi, thrilled with Eiland, thrilled with retaining Kevin Long, A-Rod, Posada, Pettitte, and Mariano.

    maybe the “overpaying” was the cost of smoothing things over with the “Torre” loyalists. but it worked.

    this is a strong team going into 2008 with or without Santana.

  • http://itsaboutthemoney.blogspot.com Jason R.

    For some reason, Hank’s adopted the approach to return every call from every writer that wants to speak with him. He’s trying the “transparent” approach, rather than a “less is more” approach. Maybe he’s trying to out-quote his dad. Maybe it’s just his style. But personally, I’d prefer the GM to do the GM-ing things, leaving final say on all ‘big ticket’ issues to the CEO.

    It’s a noble idea to attempt to be available for all credentialed writers but it’s foolish to actually comment on the record to them all.

    Memo to Hankenstein: http://itsaboutthemoney.blogspot.com/2008/01/memo-to-hank-reposting.html

  • Bo

    Free agents choose where to go because of the money.

    Did his big mouth cause them to lose Mo, ARod, Posada, Andy P???

    I think we can bash him and criticize him when his mouth actually costs the Yankees.

    So far hes batting 1000. They’ve signed everyone they wanted and they havent made a bone head trade.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Ben K.

      Nobody’s bashing him. It’s a thought piece wondering if he’s overplaying his hand. Think about it.

    • Alvaro

      He overpaid for all of those guys. The Yankees have handed out 4 silly contracts this offseason and yet refuse to lock up guys like Wang and Cano to long term deals that will cost them now but save them later.

  • Rich

    Batting 1.00 when you are overpaying every player in question is hardly an accomplishment.

    Hank needs to let his GM handle any and all negotiations.

  • CB

    Please don’t blame the “media” for Hank’s comments or what people make from them. Sure things are dead now and they need to fill space (just like ESPN is doing and most sports blogs) but at any time of the year, in nearly any market, if the owner of a major franchise wants to talk it will be news.

    In LA if Jerry Buss would make comments to reporters about personnel moves everyday it would be major news everyday. If Bob Kraft made comments to the Boston press every time they called him, Kraft would be in the papers all the time. In London, if Malcolm Glazer wanted to speak about personnel moves Manchester United was making it would be front page news everyday.

    Hank has consciously decided to take this approach. That’s his decision and his responsibility. He is part owner of the one of the 5 most important sports teams in the world. If he wants to talk he’s going to get a major platform.

    Why he’s doing this is puzzling. While it may not have hurt them yet, it’s hard to imagine how this will help the team. This is way past negotiating through the media.

    Think about it from Santana’s perspective. He hasn’t said a word about any of this. Do you think he likes the Yankee’s owner saying on a daily basis, “I like Santana but I don’t think he’s worth the young players and money.”

    Santana may not care but I could also see that making him unhappy to hear over and over again as this thing drags out. It’s clear that Hank already ticked off Rivera during those negotiations. That worked out fine in the end but things got much more heated and dragged out than was necessary. And that was with a Yankee legend who everyone knew wanted to come back.

    Players will go where the money is the greatest. But these public comments can only hurt the team or be neutral for the team. They can’t help the yankees.

    • Alvaro

      Why? Try insecure, egotistical and none too smart. To those who say his comments haven’t hurt the Yankees, ask yourself – are they helping?

      It appears pretty certain that Cash will be gone after this season and while he’s made his share of blunders (and has consistently failed to upgrade the bench) his loss will mean one less competent, rational person in the org.

  • Jeff

    I do appreciate the family investing their love for the game and making the team great throught their open pockets.
    I think there may be some method to the Steinbrenner madness. I always felt that Torre and George played good cop bad cop to motivate players. Maybe Hank wants to use his words to help the organization. However, in negotiating for free agents I think he would be much better off saying a lot less.
    One comment that got me this year was when he was talking of the Santana deal and he said that we are still in it, he liked our deal best, and he felt confident that the Twins would not pull the trigger without getting back to him first. The last part is just dumb. If I am a GM and I read that I basically think there may be one last chance to get him to sweeten the deal.

  • nick blasioli

    sure you can say that hank has done a great job resigning the players that he did…but, can you honestly say that the yankees have improved from last year…i have to say no…right now , unless arod has another fantastic year…the yanks might not make the playoffs…i still like george in charge….

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph P.

      Once again, I ask why we are talking about the playoffs when pitchers and catchers haven’t even reported yet.

      Playoffs?!? Playoffs?!? Who said anything about playoffs?!?

  • nick blasioli

    this is the time of year that you load up your team to make the playoffs..you have to do it on paper first…you dont wait until its to late and try to fortify your team….nows the time pal….

    • dan

      Since when do you have to do it on paper? Did the ’06 Tigers or ’05 White Sox do it on paper?

    • Rich

      The paper is Hughes, Joba, Kennedy, and bunch of kids who can play a role in the pen. That’s why the team will be improved.

  • Steve S

    I also think we should give him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps people in the industry are frustrated but in the case of Santana I think it worked out. His ultimatum ultimately proved that the Red Sox weren’t in this legitimately. Its also proved that the Twins were not that in love with the Red Sox offer. We dont know if the Twins and Sox were colluding but if there is a suspicion, Hanks method was the best way to handle it. Lay it on the line in public and force their hand. Which he did, and it became apparent that everyone is bluffing.