The post-George still-Steinbrenner Era begins

Hal Steinbrenner watches over his New York Yankees during yesterday's win over Tampa. Credit: AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

George Steinbrenner always had impeccable timing. He knew when to hire and fire managers in such a way that would generate the most publicity for the Yankees. He knew which free agents his team should have; he knew when his incendiary statements would garner the most outrageous coverage on New York’s back pages. And whether he realized it or not, he knew when to die.

As callous as that sounds, George Steinbrenner’s death could not have come during a better year for the Yankees than in 2010 for this is the year the estate tax has lapsed. Prior to 2010, those with estates of over $3.5 million were taxed at a rate of 45 percent. After 2010, those with estates over $1 million will be taxed at a rate of 55 percent. This year, though, Congress allowed the estate tax to go uncollected, and although some Senators wish to restore the tax retroactively to January 1, for now the Yankees are off the hook.

For the post-George Era, it’s hard to understate the impact this good luck has on the Yankees. Estimates from Forbes Magazine pegged Steinbrenner’s worth at over $1 billion, and the Yankee heirs would have had to liquidate some of his holdings to raise the money for a $450-$500 million government bill. Despite the value of the Yankees, the family apparently doesn’t have that much cash on hand, and the Steinbrenners may have had to sell a large chunk of the team to do so.

The point though is moot. As Forbes’ William Barrett wrote, the family has spent a lot of lately working to avoid that reality. The team is controlled by a variety of holding companies of which the various Steinbrenner children are the controlling shareholders. Major League Baseball officially recognized Hank and Hal Steinbrenner as the team’s day-to-day operations heads in 2008, a move made to protect the family’s control over the club. The family, says the Associated Press, wants to avoid falling into the same trap that plagued the Wrigley’s when then-Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley died in 1977.

But questions surrounding club ownership remain. Do the Steinbrenners want to cash in on their billion-dollar gem? Do the sons want to be as involved as the father was? So far, the family has given every indication that they will not be selling the Yankees, as Joel Sherman wrote on Friday. The Post scribe, well-connected in the upper echelons of the Yankee Front Office, offers up this revealing take about life after George initially stepped down:

Hank Steinbrenner — think a combination of hot-headed Sonny and underwhelming Fredo — briefly oversaw baseball operations after the 2007 season. He quickly burned out, not fully understanding the time and scrutiny that came with the job, especially if you were going to try to be Boss Jr. with loud proclamations.

Hal stepped into the breach, though it felt more out of responsibility to the family business than love for the job. So there was an assumption that whenever George died, so to would the Steinbrenner obligation to owning the franchise. It was not hard to imagine a frenzy of the super-rich bidding to buy the Yankees after George’s death.

Reserved and protective of his privacy, Hal projected the wrong fit for the job. Except Hal did a funny thing: He changed the way the Yankees Boss operates. Over the past few years, he learned he actually could run the Yankees under the radar. He has managed leadership without bluster or much inspection of his private life. He rarely speaks in public, offering almost none of the state of the Yankees messages that his father could deliver multiple times a day, especially in bad times. Does Hal burn to run the Yankees like his father? No. However, he has learned to like this job, and — as it turns out — the Yankees are in the Steinbrenner family blood now; George’s four children all having grown up in pinstripes.

Randy Levine, current team president, succinctly summed up the family’s thinking. “They have no plans to sell. There are no succession issues,” he said to Sherman.

Hal is, as Sherman puts it, the “cautious” version of George Steinbrenner. Whereas George’s brashness made baseball popular and rich off the field, Hal plans to own the game on the field. He’s a quiet and collected individual who knows when to delegate and knows when to step in. He’s willing to support a high-payroll team and understands that victories equals dollars in the world where Yankees and the YES Network dominate New York.

In one of the better business columns written about the Yankees post-George, Joe Nocera of The Times explains how George got lucky. The Yankees became so valuable because of their preeminent place in the country’s number one media market and because they started winning at the right time in the nation’s economic path. George happened to be the guy holding the reins, and although he made a lot of good decisions, he made some bad ones too. He didn’t sell when the chance arrived, and good fortune smiled down upon him. In a smaller market — had he bought the Indians as he so desired — George Steinbrenner might just be another irascible owner lost to the pages of baseball business history.

With a history of sports ownership in tow, the next generation of Steinbrenners will look to build on their wealth through wise investments. Luck always plays a part of the capitalist market, but so too does diversifying and smart management. According to one British tabloid, the family may bid £450 million on the Totteham Hotspurs with Hank taking his turn atop that Premier League team. Baseball owners have a mixed track record within the EPL, but it’s a start. The club reportedly has no interest in buying into the NFL, NBA or NHL.

For now, fans should see nothing new. The Steinbrenner family will invest and try to win those championships. The looming axe won’t be there to fall, but the pressures of a high payroll will remain. It is, after all, always beneficial to be in the business of winning. That’s what George was, and that is what his children should be.

Steinbrenners in talks to sell Yanks to Dolans

James Dolan may be the next Yankee owner. (AP Photo/Jeff Christensen, file)

When Hank and Hal Steinbrenner took over control of the Yanks from their ailing father George, many fans feared the the family would try to cash in on their billion-dollar asset. Although Yankee fans knew the destructive tendencies wrought by King George during his team, they also came to love George’s singular focus on winning and knew that any other potential ownership group brought with it fears of a heavy hand and bad baseball minds.

Today, multiple New York media outlets confirm what we were dreading: The Steinbrenners are in talks with the Dolan family concerning the Yanks. Although neither side would confirm the talks, a source close to the Yanks said that a deal could be reached before the All Star Break. At that point, the other owners would have to vote to approve the deal.

“Ever since Hal and Hank were appointed co-chairs of the team,” the source said, “the family has been pressuring them to sale. With the Knicks and Rangers in their pockets, the Dolans seemed to be a logical choice, and James has been chomping at the bit to run a baseball team.”

Early reports indicate that the Dolans will pay upwards of $1 billion for a controlling share of the team and the final price could top $1.2 billion. Yankee Global Enterprises, the holding company controlled by the Steinbrenners that owns both the Yankees and YES Network, will hold onto the TV station for now. Considering that George paid $10 million to buy the Yankees in 1973, the family is certainly turning a pretty penny from their 36 years of ownership.

This isn’t the first time that the Dolans, owners of the lucrative Cablevision empire, have expressed interest in buying the Yankees. In late 1998, Steinbrenner and the Dolans were rumored to be close to a sale of the team. George would have gotten $600 million while retaining control over the Yankees, but the deal fell through in March of 1999 over George’s continued involvement with the Yanks. Ownership, it seems, won by winning since that sale didn’t happen.

As the Steinbrenners get rich, though, the franchise and its fans are in for a bumpy ride full of uncertainty. James Dolan, the chair of both Cablevision and Madison Square Garden, has developed a reputation as a hands-on owner who isn’t very good at installing top player managers. On his watch, the Rangers missed the playoffs every year from 1998-2005 despite leading the NHL in payroll. They still aren’t a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference.

The Knicks, meanwhile, have been a walking disaster since the early 2000s. They haven’t finished a season above .500 in nearly a decade and haven’t won a playoff game since the 1990s. On Dolan’s watch, they suffered through the Isiah Thomas Era and spent millions on just one season of Larry Brown. The team has overpaid for overrated and old players, and Dolan was rated one of the worst owners in the league by Sports Illustrated.

Maybe this will work out for the best. Maybe the Yankees have too many good baseball minds in charge for the Dolans to ruin things. Maybe Cablevision will take a hands-off approach for its $1 billion investment. I can’t help but think though that we’ll miss the Steinbrenners more than we realize. [Read more…]

Meet the new Boss, not nearly the same as the old Boss

In what has become something of a Yankee Spring Training rite of passage these days, Hall Steinbrenner met with manager Joe Girardi yesterday, and the meeting was a very quite and cordial one. As Bryan Hoch reports, Hal didn’t stop to say much to the media and simply stopped by to talk to his manager. Then, he left. “When Hal comes down, the conversations are very meaningful. They’re right to the point and we talk a lot of baseball. It’s great,” Girardi said. “I feel like we’re always on the same page. He’s very open. The conversations are usually very constructive.”

The media still picks up these stories because, even though George has been out of the picture for a while now, it’s such a radical change from the way the Yanks operated from the early 1970s through the mid-2000s. Hal lets his baseball people run baseball ops and his business people run the business side of the franchise. He doesn’t overstep his bounds, and his employees don’t manage or play with the threat of the Boss looming over them. It is no coincidence that the team has improved as George has ceded power. The Yankee U, meanwhile, today pondered whether or not the Steinbrenner family would sell the team after George passes and if it would matter — interesting questions, indeed.

Hal — not Hank — on SBJ’s most influential list

The sports industry’s trade publication Sports Business Journal has unveiled their list of the top 50 most influential people in sports business. As is only appropriate, a Steinbrenner occupies a prime spot on that list, but it’s not the one people might expect.

Hal, the younger of the Steinbrenner children and the team’s current head, earned himself the 28th spot on the list. SBJ writes rather glowingly of Hal, who is making his debut on this list:

Several years of gradual but historic change within the Yankees camp were codified last month when Hal Steinbrenner received official designation as the team’s controlling executive, trumping his older and louder brother, Hank, who will remain overall head of baseball operations.

Much more calm and measured when compared with Hank or their father, George, but still a firm negotiator, Hal provides a rather different face to the Yankees as they prepare to move into their new stadium in the spring. That ballpark, a $1.3 billion edifice packed with revenue-generating opportunities, gives Hal ample room to put his own stamp on the franchise.

We have covered this territory as well, but it’s clear that people inside the industry regard Hal as the real executive holding the reins of power inside the Yankee organization now. Hank may garner the back pages, but all he seems good for right now is a quote. He can talk and talk and talk, but when push comes to shove, the ultimate decision will be Hal’s. That should be very good for the Yanks indeed.

Hal talks about … everything

For those of you whiling away this July 3 afternoon looking for a Yankee fix, Barry Bloom,’s national reporter, totally has you covered. He sat down for a very extensive chat with Hal Steinbrenner this week, and the resulting article is a tour de force on the everything from the new stadium to the state of Yankee economics to their approach to free agents in what may be relatively leaner times for the Yankees. It’s a good, long read for a holiday eve, and it delves extensively into an issue surrounding the new stadium that we’re tackling this weekend.

Hal ‘shocked’ by the rising sun

Hal Steinbrenner told Yankee reports that he was “shocked” by the Mets’ firing of Willie Randolph. Call it inept; call it embarrassing; one thing it ain’t is shocking. Meanwhile, Hal says that, once the firing blows over, the Yanks will figure out how to honor Willie this year. “Willie’s been a Yankee for a lot of years and he’s a great man,” the younger Steinbrenner said. “We need to let all the dust settle and see what happens here and go from there.”

The quiet counterbalance to bloviating Hank

While Hank Steinbrenner can shoot off his mouth all he wants these days, every now and then, a piece comes along that reminds us of the checks and balances in the Yankee organization. This time, we’ve got Kat O’Brien talking with a measured and calm Hal Steinbrenner. Hal, who noted that the season is a 162-game “marathon,” also said, “There’s nothing that makes me regret [not getting Santana].” Good thing, as BBTF notes, these two share equal power in the Yankee organization.