Baseball

Their Old Familiar Ways

I miss George Steinbrenner. Miss his bluster and arrogance, all hidden under his impersonation as commander-in-owner. He played Patton in pinstripes whose seriousness begat so much unintentional humor. Most of all, I appreciated Steinbrenner for the acts of skullduggery he attempted to perpetrate. Dave Winfield and Howie Spira, the courtship and subsequent accumulated dismissals of Billy Martin, and the (unproven) belief I have that he mandated Don Zimmer to wear a neck brace and leave Fenway Park on a stretcher after Pedro Martinez discarded Popeye like an empty tin. The whole run of nonsense was cheap and the sign of an anxious man. It also proved entertaining. The petulant owner will not in any way, shape or form get embarrassed by someone else. He is more than capable of embarrassing himself, thank you very much. He would have been the first to embellish his own capabilities of such a skill.

When Steinbrenner died in 2010, part of the Yankee underhandedness went with him. His son Hank decided to enter the fray and bicker with the Red Sox and small market teams, but the comments lacked the genuine venom spewed by George. He had an inherent dislike for all things non-Yankees and did little to hide his displeasure. Hank entered ownership with a similar loud-mouthed approach, but he’s cooled in recent years, yelling for the sake of yelling not because (as was often the case with George) his warped baseball sensibility and uneven pursuit of justice stoked his competitiveness, but because it seemed the Yankee thing to do.

With Hank’s retreat into the shadows, the Yankees fit the status quo of sport teams not owned by Jerry Jones: they were defined by their players, not their owner. The change of pace was nice, but too tame. Polite, but too banal. The Yankees became just another organization with over 25 World Series Championships. They even trimmed payroll, almost retooled their organization in attempts recapture the glory of over ten years ago.

Were the Yankees on track to become just another organization?

The unease, the boredom, the media irrelevancy. Let that play out in Cleveland.

Fear not. The baseball nightmare ( opposed to a real life nightmare which involves Robin Williams and Jim Belushi each with a microphone and a state-of-the-art sound system) appears to be over. The Yankees are back to acting like their old selves.

You know the story. It feels normal, feels right. The Yankees spend reckless (in years and salary towards Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and Hiroki Kuroda.) The past years of thrifty purchases and bargain-hunting free agents appear to be over. The Yankees are thankfully back to treating their problems in the manner of an NBA star stopping a paternity suit: throw enough money at anything and expect the problem to go away.

No more waiting for prospects. Spend, spend, spend. Win the off-season. To hell with the regular season.

In the midst of their spree, the Yankees and Robinson Cano could not come to terms on a deal. The free agent second baseman signed with the Mariners and then the Ghost of George reappeared in front of everyone, using team president Randy Levine as his muse. Levine said he felt bad for Cano because he (Levine) believes Cano is disappointed he’s not a Yankee. Instead he has to toil in obscurity in the Pacific Northwest where the most excitement he’ll have is catching a giant fish like Sean Kemp did at the beginning of “NBA Inside Stuff” and scour the city for the “Fraiser” Virtual Reality Tour. Okay, so I made up the last two sentences of the quote.

George would be so proud. The touches of the passive aggressive patronization of a former player would warm his heart. George thought nothing was better, bigger, and more relevant than the New York Yankees. No one left the organization on good terms unless they retired a Yankee. He ran his organization with that mindset and picked battles with anyone who got in his way. Even though he may not be around, the spirit of him lives through the careless spending and anxiousness of the organization. And of course through the sympathy Levine conveyed towards Cano. It’s nice to have that mindset back, even if it sets the organization back for a number of years.

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