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Contrast of Two Steinbrenner Styles

I recently saw the YES Network’s Meredith Marakovits interview of Hal Steinbrenner, and was surprised to hear the following.

“Look, we enter every October with the mindset of winning the championship and we failed to do that”. “There’s no way to sugarcoat that and we’re all disappointed for the fans’ sake”.

“We had some good games in there, had a great division series; but, in the end, in October, we failed”.

“That does not mean the season, of course, was a failure”.

Regardless of whether or not I think it was a failure, or any of the talking heads on radio and TV feel that way isn’t important. The fact that the owner feels that way is what struck me.

Since Hal’s father, George bought the team in 1973 until his retirement in 2007, there had been one single goal each year; win the World Series. Short of that, players got traded, General Managers, Managers and Coaches got fired, or re assigned, at a ridiculous rate.

The win now at all costs attitude was great, but the other side of George left a lot to be desired.

Back in those days, I always wanted them to be more patient; avoiding the Willie McGee, Jay Buhner, Fred McGriff or Doug Drabek type trades and build from within, with smart trades and free agent signings, as we eventually saw when Gene Michael took over as George was hit with a lifetime ban over the Howie Spira / Dave Winfield fiasco.

At that point in time, I think most Yankee fans rejoiced at the ban.

It’s funny how history seems to rewrite itself. For you readers out there that do not remember the 1979 through 1991 period (Buck Showalter began the turnaround in 1992), it was a very frustrating time, many bad moves, trades, free agent signings, and a managerial carousel.

There were some good teams for sure, 1985 was an excellent team that won 97 games, 1983 was also a very good team, but not many others, and we had to watch ex-Yankees develop and thrive on other teams.

Hal’s Father George, had no patience, and nothing short of winning a World Series was considered a success. I for one, was not a fan of his. But as a fan of the team, you always knew he would not accept losing, under any circumstance and would do anything to win. However, he was extremely impetuous.

As an example, in 1980, after a long and loyal career as a Yankee coach, Dick Howser managed the Yankees to 103 regular-season victories. The Royals swept the Yankees, 3-0 in the American League Championship Series, and George over reacted and fired Howser.

A year Later Bob Lemon took the Yankees to the 1981 World Series, they lost, and George issued an apology to the fans. George later promised Lemon that he would manage the full season in 1982, and then fired him a few weeks into the 1982 season.

He also fired Yogi Berra in 1985 after 14 games.

Now, it’s almost like that entire period never happened.

When George is mentioned these days on Radio and TV coverage, none of that is mentioned, and on the YES Network, we see his plaque in Monument Park.

But to be fair, he also did a lot of good things for people, ex-players, coaches and employees and he could make fun of himself, as we saw on Saturday Night Live, Miller Light commercials, and even Seinfeld was ok with him.

He once stated, and I paraphrase, “If you do something good for someone, and more than 2 people know about it, you did it for the wrong reason”.

As we found out years later, he did a lot of good and helpful things for amateur athletes, students and kids that was never known until recently.

The night the Cincinnati Reds won the 1990 World Series, just so happened to be the night George hosted Saturday Night Live, and in his opening monologue, he congratulated Lou Piniella. A Classy move, considering he fired him two years earlier.

Now, we have his more patient and business like son, Hal, telling us that 2019 wasn’t a failure.

That depends on what you are measuring failure against.

When your goal in February is to win it all in October, and you fall short of the goal, what is the correct way to describe the season?

Yes, the season had many good moments, and many great stories by the “next man up” crew. But they lost in the end. Period.

George measured failure by not winning World Series trophies, maybe failure in this case is measured by an economic outcome. The Yankees generated significant revenue during 2018 (* according to Statista) of somewhere in the neighborhood of $680 Million. I don’t think that dropped off in 2019. So in that respect, Hal, no it wasn’t a failure to you and the shareholders. But to us fans, that watch and listen every night, it was a failure in my opinion, and I’ll bet George would agree.

Maybe, that mindset is why 2010-2019 was the first decade since the 1910s that the Yankees didn’t get to the World Series, and first decade since the 1980s that they didn’t win a World Series, while their value and revenues sky rocketed.

The management of the team has done a great job to this point building this young core. But, they have also let a few opportunities fly by. For example, there is very little chance in 2017 George would have sat by and watched the Astros get Justin Verlander so he can get under the luxury tax threshold, instead of making every possible effort to win a World Series.

You could probably say the same thing about Gerrit Cole in 2018.

No one is accusing Hal of being cheap by any stretch of the imagination, but he is more penny wise then his father ever was.

How do you think the Yankees would have done in 2017 -2019 with those two on the staff? There’s no way to be sure, but I would have liked their chances, and they could have had both of them, but it was a financial decision Hal made with Verlander, it wasn’t because they asked for too much in return.

On the flip side, if George was still running the team you could make the argument that either Manny Machado or Bryce Harper would have been a Yankee last year, and I for one was happy neither one wore the pinstripes. And who knows if any of the baby bombers would still be here, or if they would have been traded for retread old veterans?

So it can go both ways, for sure.

Two very different approaches by the two Steinbrenner men.

At the end of the day, what works best? An all-out — cost means nothing, impetuous approach to win, or a more patient, penny wise, deliberated approach with a diminished level of expectation?

If you’re keeping score, as of 2019 its George 6 Hal 1, so far.


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