I saw only bits and pieces of the George Steinbrenner Yankeeography this week. At some point, I’ll sit down and watch this entire odd to the Boss, but what I saw was reminiscent of a distinct era in Yankee history, one long gone.
The Boss of the 1970s and 1980s was a man unto himself. He was loud and brash. He wanted the Yankees; he wanted headlines; he wanted championships. Despite his early promises of hands off management, he courted controversy and attention as a moth to a flame.
Steinbrenner’s shenanigans worked in the late 1970s as the Yankees won. The team members hated each other, and many players had a love-hate relationship with their boss – the Boss. Yet, the Bronx Zoo years remains one of the more colorful eras in Yankee and New York history, and nostalgia for that era reigns supreme. Whether we should yearn for those days of Billy and Thurmon and Reggie is another question entirely.
In the 1980s, a few years removed from the Yanks’ last world title, George wore thin. He hired, fired and rehired managers on a whim and was impatient with his GMs. A revolving door of players came and went, oftentimes in a matter of months as George tried to put together a team according to his and his so-called Baseball People’s ideas, and the farm system was neglected. The Yanks won more regular season games in the 1980s than any other AL team but post-season success eluded them.
In the 1990s, a new Boss emerged. Suspended at the start of the decade, George couldn’t interfere, and Gene Michael, Brian Cashman and the Yanks’ Front Office were free from the constraints and demands of the Boss. A last-place finish in 1991 guanranteed them Derek Jeter in the following year’s draft, and the rest is history.
George came back and let his employees run the team. He would roar, but it was all for show. No one was fired, and the good times rolled.
Today, George is ailing. Rumors of Alzheimer’s have swirled around him for the better part of the decade, and he rarely makes appearances at games. He speaks primarily through Howard Rubenstein and has turned control of the team over to his sons and daughters.
This week though George showed up at the office for a few hours, and he made some headlines. Promising to come to New York for the playoffs, he said, “Let’s keep it going.”. And that was it. No threats if failure follows; no promises of an easy October. Just a weak encouragement.
Once upon a time, we would yearn for George-inspired stories. Nothing makes for better headline fodder than a roaring lion. But that’s not George anymore. His influence is on the wane, and while we might pine for the Boss-inspired Years of Terror, the Yankees are better off without it.