Keidel: Yankees Lost Without The Boss

By Jason Keidel
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Bless those of you who endured the rain and watched in pain as the Yankees continue their journey from gamers to geldings. You deserve more than a free, overpriced Poland Spring and a cup of ice cream with a wooden spoon. You get three free tickets, which you’d understandably sell the moment you received them. Heck, I feel I deserve a medal just for watching the wretched contest until 2 a.m.

As Kate Smith’s recorded rendition of “God Bless America” swirled around an empty stadium, you had to wonder what would swirl through the mind of a former owner. Not just any owner, of course, but George M. Steinbrenner III. You call him King George or, more often and affectionately, “The Boss.”

After watching Boston batter, baffle, and beat the Yanks for three games – and seemingly every important game since 2004 –I recall a call into Mike Francesa’s show yesterday, just an anonymous voice from a young man yearning for yesterday. And I took a front row seat, next to him, on that journey back to better times.

You’ll point to 2009, when the Yanks lost their first eight to Boston and still won the World Series. But that squad was infused with fresh faces eager for a title, led by two franchise players (CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira) with twenty fingers and no rings. Do any of you really think this incarnation of the Bronx Bombers is landing anywhere near a pennant (much less a World Series title)? Steinbrenner would have his itchy finger perilously close to the trade trigger. Heads would indeed roll.

I miss the man. I miss the missives, the fumes billowing from his office, the overreaction to a spring loss where he scolds every Yankee from the trainer to the manager to the 12th pitcher in the bullpen, questioning everything short of their sexual orientation.

I miss him. He was the impossible dichotomy of being the best and worst of baseball, an amalgam of clashing characteristics he extracted from his boyhood heroes, from Douglas MacArthur to Otto Graham to his father.

I miss the man. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and turned it into platinum, much the way he took his $10 million investment in the 1973 Yankees and grew it into a $5 billion empire (when you include YES Network).  More than his money was invested in that team, and we knew it. We knew, even when he acted the fool, that he was our fool whose mission was to remold the Yankees into winners, at any cost, any price, any sacrifice. He cared the way we cared. He was never a member of the martini-swilling, dot com or oil baron bunch who used sports as de facto target practice, a way to waste some time and a few billion on ballplayers. As much as a billionaire could be one of us, Steinbrenner was.

Depending on who you are and whom you love, Steinbrenner was either an ornery, obnoxious, surly, sarcastic, and caustic crusader whose goal in life was to remind you that he owned the Yankees and you didn’t, or he was…

…the philanthropic pillar of his gated community, who gave countless millions to charity without asking for one pat on his broad back, who plucked Doc and Darryl from baseballs scrap heap, saving them from themselves while getting them the extra rings they should have won with the Mets.

Perhaps George was all the above, more like us than we like to think, a microcosm of mankind who merely had a larger platform on which to perform. Or maybe he was just a jerk, a spoiled, overbearing blowhard who treated losing with an obdurate, adolescent immaturity, as though the rules (he was suspended twice from baseball) of the game and life applied to all but the King.

But we know if The Boss were around today, Joe Girardi would be in a conference room right now, trembling like George Costanza in the face and fury of Yankee ownership. No coddling after being swept by the contemptible Red Sox. This is a terminable (if not capital) offense.

If you’re 25, you didn’t see Steinbrenner at his best or his worst, which, oddly but honestly, were often the same. I assure you he’d be going Paul O’Neill on his team right now, taking the symbolic bat to every skull in the clubhouse. The team would listen and, perhaps, spark a streak of wins. They would play like each game were their last, at least.

Since the Bronx Zoo days the Bronx Bombers have been decidedly corporate, which works when you’re winning. But now it just sounds and feels more like a euphemism for “soft.” David Ortiz just defecated on Yankee Stadium, and the Yankees just watched, even embraced, his histrionics. Think the Boss would have taken that?

Even the World Series win in 2009 felt somewhat sterile, with Joe Buck unable to hand the hardware to a Blubbering Boss who was always quick to thank New York and New Yorkers for supporting his club. And it was one of a few times I never doubted his veracity. The Yankees were his life, and we assumed that’s just how owners rolled until he receded.

The dynasty ended around the time Steinbrenner collapsed at Graham’s funeral in 2003. He was never the same after that, nor were his beloved Bombers, who made the World Series that year, and didn’t return for six years, until his progeny (or “young lions” as he loved to call his kids) had a handle on the family business.

Steinbrenner neither threw a ball nor hit one, yet he meant more to his legions than any Yankee with a number on his back. He was, after all, The Boss. And I, for one, in this era or errant Yankees wrapped pinstripes and pulsing with indifference, miss him.

Boston has won their last six games at Yankee Stadium. That needn’t bother you. What bothers you is the alarming apathy with which they play: with no fire, no juice, no urgency, and no anger. The Yankees don’t play hard or smart, can’t run, pitch, or play the field.

Brett Gardner comes to mind as the emblem of the team’s lethargy, when he stood stunned on third base as a ball squirted back to the backstop while he did nothing and Derek Jeter, equally stunned, glared at Gardner with disgust. Gardner is about the dumbest baserunner in baseball, which is a problem considering his specialty is running the bases. The Yankees are festooned with such contradictions, like A.J. Burnett, who grinds pies in the pie holes of everyone except the one who deserves it: his own. Burnett’s next big game in a big game will he his first. George Steinbrenner abhors pretty players like Burnett who never sniff their potential.

Yes, when a team plays poorly it looks like they’re not trying. But the Yankees spent a decade trying and losing, but not trying to lose. It was called the 1980s. This squad just feels different. There’s a hovering apathy to the team that I can’t put on paper. You just must watch them to feel it.

Joba Chamberlain is out until 2013 after Tommy John. His surgery clearly isn’t cosmetic, nor is his loss. Combine Joba’s injury with the whiff on Cliff Lee, Dandy Andy’s retirement, and Phil Hughes losing a good 6 mph off his fastball, the Yankees’ pitching is thinner than Edwar Ramirez.

It’s all part of a narrative, and not a pleasant one. Unless the Yankees land a legion of golden arms before July 31, fall will come too early for a team with rights to and rites of autumn. And the worst part is that they don’t care, and the one man who can fix it has fallen, taking our baseball soul with him.

Perhaps Bernie Williams, who roamed the most sacred spot in sports when the greatest team in sports was essential, can strum a song in centerfield. It should be a Simon and Garfunkel tune, wondering…Where have you gone, Boss?

Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com

www.twitter.com/JasonKeidel

Comments

One Comment

  1. Paul D says:

    I’m with you, JK, let’s call the funny police on this cat. “Rubber room for one, rubber room for one, anybody?”

    1. JK says:

      Mr. Auburn? Indeed. He and his friend, Harvey. (The imaginary rabbit.)

  2. Paul D says:

    And George belongs there because, like it or not, he created a new archetype in which to conduct the business of baseball. Before him, no team owned their own channel. He created YES and everyone else fell in line. He was a visionary and Keidel calling him a “a jerk,” or an ‘overbearing blowhard” is perhaps just a clear illustration of how much a journalist really understands what it is to lead in this world.

  3. Paul D says:

    Pete Rose belongs in the Hall because of his exploits as a baseball palyer. It’s.as simple as that. No degree of sanctimony willever diminish that.

    1. JK says:

      Correct. And there were no accusations of gambling on his team or sport while he played. All of his transgressions occurred while managing. Should he ever manage again? Probably not. But a spot in the HOF? He deserves his own wing.

  4. JK says:

    “Playing left field…Dale Auburn!”

    Beyond the bitterness and sarcasm, I’m not sure you either had a point or care about sports. If you think the bulk of both fan bases care about subsidies, you’re way off the scent, son.

    Or, you could just be drunk, in which case I say “Salud!”

    1. Dale Auburn says:

      No, most fans care about WINNING, but the subsidies are also a valid concern, especially when we’re subsidizing a team that chooses to LOSE.

      If one team isn’t willing to WIN, then my tax dollars should subsidize another team that is.

  5. Dale Auburn says:

    “The Boss” is irrelevant. The Yankees lost because they CHOSE to lose.

    The Yankees and other local teams have received MILLIONS of New York City taxpayer dollars over the years, in the form of tax breaks, new stadiums, and ticker-tape parades. It’s only fair that the teams return the favor by (1) winning every game they play at home, and (2) reimbursing us when they decide to lose.

    Therefore, I propose that the City Council immediately enact a new law… If a sports franchise is based in New York City and receives ANY form of city funding (e.g. tax breaks, new stadium, ticker-tape parade), then said franchise MUST win EVERY game it plays at ANY venue within the City limits. The fine for losing a game would be equal to the total payroll for said game.

    Under that rule, the Yankees would owe a fine equal to the combined Yankee and Red Sox payrolls for last night’s game. That should be enough to make up for wasted public subsidies, and it should give the team a clear incentive to actually win, and thus support the taxpayers who are financially supporting them.

  6. Ellen says:

    I’m from Boston and really don’t know as much about the game of baseball as a lot of you other guys do, but It seems to me that George Stienbrenner was more of a baseball fan then anything else. Sounds like his love of the team plus his furry when they didn’t win comes across like a lot of Yankee and Red Sox fans. Could be that George was the ultimate Yankee fan.

    1. JK says:

      What the haters do is focus exclusively on his gaffes. There were plenty, to be sure, but almost every fan on Earth secretly wants Steinbrenner to own their team. They will never say it, of course.

      1. Ellen says:

        JK. ya, like lets say the Boston Red Sox for instance. Not putting down my team mind you, but hell who wouldn’t want a guy like Stienbrenner owning your team.

  7. Paul D says:

    the point is that maybe some sense of that accountability that was prevelant when old Steingrabber was around could be of some use today. Girardi should be made to tremble. I’m old enough to have an all too clear idea of what he was. When he was suspended in ’90, we were throwing parties because the tyrant had been temporarily deposed. His reign was filled with sporadic championships, a bizarre love-hate relationship with Billy Martin, and even incidents invoving private citizens- marshmellow salesmen- that just made you shake your head. But it’s that sense of accountability that I think is his most positive legacy.

    1. JK says:

      Thank you, Paul. Amazing how people extract a fraction of what they read. Once they’ve obsessed over one sentence, the rest of the piece is moot.

      Steinbrenner did some awful things. But, as you say, his injection of accountability was one of the reasons they won SEVEN World Series titles. As the Mets and their fans if they’d take some of that action over the last 35 years.

    2. JK says:

      You’ll also notice, Ellen, that the haters and Kool-Aid guzzlers are incapable of reasonable dialogue or debate. They must insult everyone with whom they disagree. So, if they don’t like your opinion, you’re instantly and automatically “utterly stupid” and a “moron” and a number of unprintable things. Why actually try to learn from each other when we can just shout obscenities and insults?

  8. JK says:

    Indeed. Ignore all the parts where I call him all the things you loathe. But thanks for reading, nonetheless.

  9. Dave Lapoint says:

    Utter stupidity. The reason the Yankees are sucking is because Hank is trying his hardest to be a Mini-George.

  10. mike says:

    Total nonsense. Steinbrenner was completely out of it in 2009 and even in 1996-2000, he was a shadow of his former self. In fact, almost every Yankees observer concluded then that his relative lack of involvement was why they were winning after 18 years of failure. Now that the yanks are “struggling” (2 games out with 100 to play) of course the press waxes nostalgic for a guy they pilloried when he was around.

  11. Stephen Maruscak says:

    Tell Mike to get off the basketball and talk about the “SWEEP” of his beloved Yankee’s. He can only drool on-and-on about them when they are winning.

  12. RonnieMAz says:

    Everyone knew the Yankees were going to suck this year after they lost the Cliff Lee bid. They did nothing else in the offseason but plan for him to join the team. No big surprise this year – the Yanks couldn’t hold on at the end of last year in the playoffs, remember?

  13. Pete says:

    Give me a break, Gabe Paul built the 77-78 Championship teams and Gene Michael built the 90’s teams. When George’s ego took over and he thought he could do it, things went in the dumpster. George’s early big moves were bringing in Ken Griffey, Sr., Omar Moreno, Dave Collins, Dave Lapoint, Luis Tiant, Joe & Phil Neikro, all a bunch of losers! And lets not forget that he wanted to get rid of Mattingly too! And the Billy Martin fiascos! What a joke!

  14. EvilEmpire17 says:

    This is as much a home run of a column as WFAN.com has ever published. Amen Jason.

    1. JK says:

      Thank you, sir. The above haters ignored the part where I italicized the man’s flaws. But facts should never interfere with their rants.

      1. Pete says:

        Sorry, JK but I am not a hater. I have been a Yankee fan all my life. I think George should be in the Hall, for both his favorable and unfavorable contributions to the sport. He certainly changed the sport. At his worst he was a huge embarrassment. But I think Hal and Randy Lavine are even worse! We certainly have to thank him for $2500/game seat prices. Thanks Stenbrenner’s!

  15. JK says:

    You will get much resistance on the HOF, bud, but I’m inclined to agree with you. And I agree with your second point, as well. I see no guts, no desperation on this squad. They certainly are paid to play with urgency.

    1. Kurt Spitzner says:

      I ALSO THINK PETE ROSE BELONGS IN THE HOF AS A PLAYER SINCE THERES NO PROOF OF HIM DOING WRONG AS SUCH BUT SINCE HE LIED ABOUT WHAT HE DID AS A MANAGER MOST THINK HE IS UNDESERVING,BUT THAT IS STILL NOT THE CASE!NOBODY WILL EVER DO WHAT HE DID AS A PLAYER JUST AS NOBODY WILL EVER DO FOR ANY FRANCHISE WHAT GEORGE DID FOR THE NY YANKEES AS AN OWNER REGARDLESS OF WHAT ELSE HE MAY HAVE DONE IN OTHER AREAS!AND NO I AM NOT A YANKEE FAN I AM A FAN OF THE TEAM FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF TOWN THAT HOPEFULLY WILL BE OWNED BY EINHORN IN A FEW YEARS!BUT HE STILL WILL NEVER BE GEORGE STEINBRENNER AND NOR WILL ANYONE ELSE!

  16. Kurt Spitzner says:

    AND HE BELONGS IN THE HALL OF FAME,TOO!
    IT SAD BUT THIS TEAM HAS NO HEART NO MATTER WHERE YOU LOOK AROUND IN THE WORDS OF JERRY GARCIA,AND UNTIL THEY FIND ONE TO REPLACE GEORGE’S THEY ARE ONLY DESTINED FOR MEDIOCRITY AS FAR AS YANKEE STANDARDS GO.

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