Once the driving force behind the Yankees, George Steinbrenner has faded from public view over the last six or seven years. He no longer roars with the ferocity he displayed in the 1970s and 1980s. He no longer embraces his team as he did when they won in the 1990s. His statements are filtered through a press representative, and his children are in charge of the team.
Still, the Cult of Steinbrenner lives on in the Yankees Universe. As the team celebrated its 27th World Championship last month, Hal Steinbrenner said, “This one’s for you, dad.” George wasn’t at the stadium; he was at home in Tampa, reportedly watching on television.
This week, this attention to George’s role with the Yankees took a turn for the bizarre, and as Bryan Hoch story on MLB.com last night said that the Boss was “active” during the off-season team meetings, a few fans started wondering if we were witnessing a remake of Weekend at Bernie’s. Of course, old age and the health problems that come with it are no laughing matter, but the Yankee leadership’s constant attention to George rings odd.
As the day wore on, and the Yanks’ officials stopped to talk to the press, they maintained a narrative about Steinbrenner’s participation. Brian Cashman spoke with Mark Feinsand. “He wants to win again,” Cashman said. Don’t we all, Brian?
So what, I am left to wonder, is going on here? Is it some quest for a Yankee identity? For the better part of the last four decades, George Steinbrenner and the Yankees were synonymous with each other. Steinbrenner’s fire and drive to win brought the Yankes out of a World Series drought but into dysfunction. His obsessive need to win led to overspending in the 1980s with little results, and by the time the Boss’s legal problems forced him out of the game in the early 1990s, the organization was a mess. In the 1990s, George’s spending along with a tempered temper and more faith in his Baseball People restored the team to greatness.
Now, we don’t quite know what is wrong with him. We know he had a fainting spell back in 2003, but we also know that he has rarely made public statements or conducted in-person interviews since then. Now 79, George seems to be in declining health. We’ve heard rumblings of Alzheimer’s for four or five years, but the Yankees have kept his status close to the vest.
In a way, then, those in charge now want to project the same image of the team that it had when George was there. They want to be known as the team not afraid to spend, spend, spend, and the team that demands perfection in the form of a trophy every year or else.
One day, George will be with us no longer. The Yankees will have to forge ahead with his business-minded son Hal at the helm and a bevy of baseball talent building the Bronx Bombers. For now, as George and his family try to reclaim a tortured legacy, we’ll listen to the Yankees as they honor him and work to build a team with him. The Days of George though — the glory days of rage and insanity — are over.