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Perspectives: The Hal Steinbrenner Press Conference

by Paul Semendinger

July 2, 2021

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With no game yesterday or last night, I decided to break down the Zoom call that Hal Steinbrenner had with the NYY reporters.

In what follows, I will discuss the questions that resonated the most with me by sharing the general question, providing Mr. Steinbrenner’s general answers, and then giving my take.

The first question asked of Hal Steinbrenner was what frustrates him the most about this team.

Steinbrenner answered, “The inconsistency, particularly of the offense.” He also talked about the Yankees poor base running. He called the Yankees’ poor offense “perplexing.”

MY TAKE – I agree. This has been a problem. The Yankees offense this year has been a huge disappointment. It’s not the only problem, but it is a big problem. In some ways it has been perplexing. These players should be doing better. But, as long time baseball fans and players know, players get hot and players get cold. Sometimes players just have down seasons. It is frustrating and unfortunate that this is happening for the Yankees this year. So many of the hitters just have not hit as they should.

But, the fact that the lineup has no balance, is mostly all right-handed, and is made up primarily of hitters who have similar styles and approaches (most often relying just on the long ball) was a problem that many (including me) documented before the season – and for years before. The fact that using one main approach and then finding that that approach isn’t working isn’t perplexing. Many non-experts saw this for years.

This answer from Mr. Steinbrenner was disappointing. If we can see this, then surely, the Yankees should have as well.

I was also disappointed that in this initial statement, Mr. Steinbrenner did not address many of the other big concerns including the poor fundamentals, the fact that the Yankees often seem to give up and act defeated, and the point made over the weekend by Yankees announcers that the team was not prepared for the games. That’s the big problem. There just is no excuse for the team being unprepared. The fact that that wasn’t addressed was disappointing.

Steinbrenner was then asked if he had the right staff to lead this team.

His answer was “Absolutely. “ He then talked about the hard work the coaches put in, that they have all had success with these players, and that the players respect them all.

MY TAKE – I would not expect any other answer than what Steinbrenner gave unless the organization was calling the press conference to fire someone. This answer was exactly what the boss should say.

Do I agree with all of that? Only partially. Not all of these coaches have had success. Many are new to the organization. None have been on pennant winners. They do not have long histories of success. Like with the manager, the Yankees have coaches who are untested over long periods.

Like Steinbrenner, I too believe in the coaches. I think the Yankees picked quality people. The problem is that the results haven’t been there.

And when a team makes as many fundamental mistakes as this team has, going on four years now, the blame for this has to reside with the manager and his coaches. If the blame isn’t on the coaches and the manager for this, I don’t know who would get them blame. Their job is preparing the team to play. An unprepared team is a direct reflection of the manager and coaches. It can be no other way.

Steinbrenner was then asked if he was good with the organizational philosophy – the reliance on analytics for decision making.

He responded that he is a big fan of the performance science. He then said that the organization still has a good balance of listening to the analytics people and the “baseball” people.

MY TAKE – I am going to have to trust the answer. I’m not part of the inner-workings of the Yankees. I hope this is the case, I hope that the Yankees evaluate all aspects of the players and their abilities by listening to the scouts, and by looking at the numbers.

The fact that this isn’t working these last few years, doesn’t mean that it won’t work. Like anything, there does need to be a balance. I hope the Yankees are using a balanced approach.

It is also possible that the Yankees need some new voices and new perspectives. Maybe the people behind the scenes need to do a better job or other people need to be brought in. There are good scouts and good analysts. Are the people the Yankees relying on the best? What is their track record of success?

On this, we have to trust that the organization has the right “behind-the-scenes” people in place. If the Yankees go on a run or win it all, they will all be hailed as geniuses.

After a question about being compared to his father, Hal Steinbrenner was asked about the roster. In short, is it good enough or will there be wheeling and dealing?

Steinbrenner responded that the roster seemed great coming out of Spring Training, but that injuries have hurt them – particularly the injuries to Corey Kluber and Luis Severino. He also mentioned Aaron Hicks’ injury.

Further, Steinbrenner stated that if they feel that there is a piece that will help put the Yankees over the top, that they’ll seriously look at it including considering going over the luxury tax threshold. (Steinbrenner cited the Masahiro Tanaka signing as proof he would exceed the cap.)

MY TAKE – I was high on the Corey Kluber signing. I still am. It was a great move. BUT, for the owner to feel that his team is not competing because of this injury and the loss of Luis Severino makes him seem a bit out of touch. This was not a good answer. Both of these players were and are injury risks. Neither had pitched in years. A championship team should not, and cannot, put that much stock in hoping that long-injured players come back and compete at the highest levels – enough to carry a team to a pennant which is what Steinbrenner implied. He basically said that it is the injuries to Kluber and Sevrino that are the reasons why this club has struggled so much. That’s just not true – or if that was the design, it was a bad approach. Severino and Kluber were nice parts, but they were never supposed to be the core elements of the pitching staff.

This is also true for Aaron Hicks. All one needs to do is see his history to know that he can’t be counted on to play regularly. He, too, was coming back from injury.

I also didn’t like the answer, “If there is a piece that will help put us over the top, that we’ll seriously look at it.” I would have preferred a different response. I would have lied to hear, “If there is a player that will help this team win, I want that player.” (Setting the bar at “putting us over the top” is a high bar – sometimes it’s not one player that does that. Couching the answer with that qualifier allows the Yankees to stand pat stating, “We just couldn’t get THE impact player we needed”).

Also stating that the player would be “seriously looked at” is disappointing. I’m sure the Yankees seriously looked at Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Bryce Harper, and so many others over the years. They seriously looked… and passed. I want the owner of the Yankees to say, “I will not stop until I have the best team on the field. I will do whatever it takes to put a winning team out there. “ I don’t want the Yankees to seriously look, I want them to seriously do – I want them to take action.

Regarding the Tanaka signing, with all due respect, that was a long time ago. 2014 to be exact. The fact that the Yankees signed Masahiro Tanaka in 2014 is not relevant in the least to this club. In recent years, the Yankees have passed on a host of difference makers.

Steinbrenner was asked about the balance on the team – is it too right handed? Is the fact that it is not overly athletic, not great defensively, etc. a problem? These concerns have been present for a few years and the Yankees have doubled down on this approach. Has that been the right move?

Mr. Steinbrenner responded that this was a better question for Brian Cashman than him.

Steinbrenner did say that the Yankees go after the players that they feel will make the most impact, that he would prefer a more balanced team, but that the question was better directed at Brian Cashman.

MY TAKE – The Yankees do not go after the players that would make the most impact. They work (as we all do) within a budget. I wish that Mr. Steinbrenner has been more clear here stating something like, “We cannot acquire every big name player every year. I do put limits on what the team can spend. We try to get the most bang for the buck while being among the biggest spenders in the sport.” That would have been a more accurate answer in my opinion.

I do think it’s clear that the Yankees have passed on players who would have made a huge impact over the years – players who actually helped other teams win pennants and World Series. I would have liked to hear Mr. Steinbrenner explain why the Yankees use the luxury tax as a hard cap while also being the most valuable franchise in the sport.

Hal Steinbrenner was asked if he was considering or would consider replacing Aaron Boone or Brian Cashman in season.

He responded, for all intents and purposes, that no, he would not. He replied that he likes to see a complete body of work before making a decision.

MY TAKE – Again, this is a very fair and reasonable response and it is what we should have expected him to say..

I would argue that we have seen a long body of work and that any change wouldn’t be rash. A change now could save the season or even next season. I have argued that it would be beneficial for the team’s long term planning to see if a different manager can get these players to play a better brand of baseball this season. The only way to find out is to make a change.

Many brilliant, good, and competent managers and general managers have been fired in baseball history. A manager who is great for one situation or team might not be the best person for another situation or team. Sticking with a model that isn’t working also isn’t a sound strategy.

While I might disagree with this overly patient approach, and while I will see these next few months as a wasted opportunity if they Yankees don’t turn this around (which I don’t think they can or will) I greatly appreciate Steinbrenner’s faith and loyalty toward his employees. That takes guts. Tremendous guts.

Steinbrenner also stated that the players respect Aaron Boone and that they want to play for him, and want to win for him. He also noted that Boone deserves credit for keeping the clubhouse together in this difficult year.

I think it’s time for a change. I do not think a change at this point is a knee-jerk reaction, but I do greatly appreciate the fact that they players respect Aaron Boone and want to win for him.

Steinbrenner was asked who deserves the blame for this season. He replied that they all do, including himself, Brian Cashman, and Aaron Boone, but most of the responsibility falls on the players.

MY TAKE – That’s a bold statement. On many levels, I agree. It’s up to the players to perform. I also like that the owner is challenging the players to step up. He didn’t use these words, but he basically said, “They have the talent, now they need to be winners.” I like that. Maybe that creates a fire. He said this all not in a challenging manner, but very respectfully.

On the other hand… if the manager isn’t the person who is responsible for getting the most out of the players, than what, exactly, is a manager’s responsibility?

A pointed question was asked about the perception (if nothing else) around baseball that the Yankees are too heavy on the analytics side and not enough on the baseball side.

Mr. Steinbrenner responded that that was not the case at his level, that he involves baseball people and analytics people in all his decisions. He seemed to indicate that at another level of the organization that might not be the case.

MY TAKE – This was an interesting response. The owner seemed to be saying that it is possible that the general manager or other decision makers are not being as balanced as he is. Implied in this answer might be a tone of disappointment. Maybe. Steinbrenner did say that he works extremely well with the decision makers including Brian Cashman so this could be just me reading into his response.

Steinbrenner was asked if he is angry or disappointed with the team.

He said he was.

MY TAKE – I think we all agree.

My question is what are they going to do about it…

SUMMARY:

I believe Hal Steinbrenner did a fine job with this conference. The answers he gave were reasonable and balanced. By and large, he said what I expected him to say.

I wish he would say, “There is nothing that will stand between the Yankees and the playoffs. I will do whatever is necessary for this team to win.” That’s what fans want to hear – especially fans of the Yankees.

On the other hand, we all appreciate bosses who are balanced, patient, reasonable, and forgiving. Hal Steinbrenner seems to be all of those things.

In the end, his approach might turn out to be the right one.

Only time will tell.

#HalSteinbrenner

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