On June 11, after the Yankees had dropped their eight straight game to the Red Sox, there was no outburst from ownership. On June 23, after the Yankees had lost five of six, including the final two games of the Nationals series, Joe Girardi’s job was not publicly threatened. The Red Sox had rolled since beating the Yankees, widening their division lead to five games. Still, all they got was a visit from Brian Cashman. There was no statement to the newspapers, no subtle threat that if things didn’t turn around, heads would roll.
Such are the days post George Steinbrenner. As recently as a few years ago, The Boss was still working his old angle. He hadn’t fired a manager on an impulse in over a decade, but it seemed he was ready to let Joe Torre have it. In 2005, when the team got off to a slow star, Steinbrenner mused, “It is unbelievable to me that the highest-paid team in baseball would start the season in such a deep funk. They are not playing like true Yankees. They have the talent to win and they are not winning. I expect Joe Torre, his complete coaching staff and the team to turn this around.”
The Yankees turned it around that year, but found themselves in a similar spot in 2007. After an April sweep at the hands of the Red Sox, the Boss again threatened Torre’s job. They made a turnaround in the second half, though, and convincingly took a playoff spot, only to find themselves down 2-0 to the Indians. Said Steinbrenner: “His job is on the line. I think we’re paying him a lot of money. He’s the highest-paid manager in baseball, so I don’t think we’d take him back if we don’t win this series.” The Yankees did not win the series, and although they made a PR effort to bring back Torre, it did not appear to be a sincere one.
As the 2007 season turned over, it appeared as though there would be a successor to Big Stein: his eldest son, Hank. It was a natural fit. Right away he displayed the temperament of his father, constantly issuing public statements that sometimes made us laugh, sometimes made us cringe. He certainly looked the part, but he clearly wasn’t a natural at it like his father. But it appeared we did have our succeeding Steinbrener.
Over that winter, Hank personally negotiated a new deal for Alex Rodriguez, after the superstar opted out of his contract. Brian Cashman had said multiple times that the team would not negotiate with the superstar if he exercised the opt-out clause in his contract. Yet once A-Rod came begging back to the team, Hank was receptive.
Then came the Johan Santana situation. The Yanks were going to be major players in the sweepstakes, and the Twins knew what they were dealing with. They insisted on the inclusion of Phil Hughes in the package, and Hank took the bait. He said that they’d add Hughes, but that there was an expiration date on the offer. What that was supposed to accomplish, none of us knew. It blew over, though, and by that time Brian Cashman and Hank’s younger brother Hal had wrested enough power to decline a deal for Santana.
Since then, Hank has been mostly silent. Jim Baumbach of Newsday tackles the subject in a recent article. He has quotes from multiple Yankees executives claiming that Hank is “intimately involved” with the team’s doings, but there’s never any concrete roles mentioned. In fact, Baumbach said he had trouble tracking down Hank at his office, and noted that his employees “described him as not quite a 9-to-5-er.”
Most surprisingly, Hankenstein has changed his phone number. That must have irked a reporter or two, who could just hit up his speed dial for an easy quote. According to Baumbach, Stein “was sick of seeing his words get twisted in the papers and then see himself get ripped for it.” He can view it that way, but it doesn’t seem his words were twisted much. It seems to me that they were just misguided words in the first place.
At his height, maybe George Steinbrenner would have fired Joe Girardi after the Yankees eight straight loss to the Red Sox. Maybe if Hank and not Hal had been named general partner, the same would have happened. The Yankees made the right choices along the way, and they’re reaping the benefits now. This is to say that I don’t think anyone really misses the outbursts of Hank Steinbrenner.