Archive for the ‘Steinbrenners: The New Class’ Category

It Was the Age of Wisdom, It Was the Age of Foolishness

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

I have a lot of friends who aren’t baseball fans. Not one of them knows who owns the Red Sox or Cubs or Dodgers (granted, the Dodgers themselves aren’t too sure about that at the moment, but you get my point). But all of them know who George Steinbrenner is.

Or, I guess I should say, who he was. I was alerted to Steinbrenner’s death — long approaching, but still somehow sudden — by texts from several friends who couldn’t tell you what a cutter is or even, in some cases, how many innings there are in a game, but who saw the news about Steinbrenner and knew their Yankees-fan friend who was at work without steady internet access would want to know right away. Not many owners become household names (or end up on Seinfeld), but Steinbrenner’s force of personality set him apart and ensured that, no matter how much you might have wanted to, you could not ignore him.

In many ways Steinbrenner made it easy to be a Yankees fan, at least from my high school years on: all the money he spent on players, all the winning, all the World Series games. And he also — non-Yankees fans, bear with me — made it harder, because he could be such a bully, a felon, so tactless, embodying a number of traits which I personally didn’t wish to defend or associate myself with. Of course he had a better side, too, giving millions to charity and staying loyal to friends and some employees long after common sense required him to; but often I rolled my eyes at his silly statements to the media, or the horror stories that emerged of his treatment of underlings, and even at his spending. I loved that he was willing to invest his money back in the team, no matter what, but sometimes it was downright embarrassing, how much he outspent absolutely everyone else. I could defend it because it was allowed but I couldn’t pretend it seemed entirely fair.

On the other hand – the Yankees played in New York, so of course they had the most money, right? One of New York Magazine’s Steinbrenner posts had an excellent quote from The Boss:

“The first few years I was here, I didn’t thoroughly understand how mentally tough New Yorkers are. It’s a great trait in people… I used to get greatly hurt by some of the things that were written. But I don’t anymore. You learn to handle it. If the fans don’t think you’re striving to be the best in New York, they’ll gobble you up, and I don’t blame ‘em. An army travels on its stomach, and New York City travels on its heart and its love for the Yankees. We are New York. We are the biggest and the best, and we should be No. 1. And when you reward New York, it reaches out to you. It goes beyond what any other city can do.”

Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that New York “travels on its heart and its love for the Yankees.” Or that the Yankees “are New York” – that would eliminate many of my good friends, who, transplanted from other cities or rooting from the Mets, absolutely loathe the Yankees and would rather cut off certain fingers than ever clap for the Bombers. But never mind. That’s the ultimate New York quote, and the ultimate Yankees quote: “We are the biggest and the best, and we should be No. 1.” This is exactly what most New Yorkers think, and why so much of the rest of the country does not like New York — and even as I acknowledge how myopic and obnoxious the attitude is, well, I kind of think that way about New York too. Of course New York is the center of the universe – if not here, then where? Why should Kansas City even dream of beating New York at ANYTHING? So why wouldn’t we have the most money and the most championships? Isn’t it natural?

Except that it isn’t, really – see the Knicks, if you need an example, or the Jets or the Rangers for many years. New York may feel it deserves to win at everything, but the universe doesn’t always agree. And the thing is, Steinbrenner took winning as the Yankees’ birthright, but he didn’t just leave it at that: he gave nearly everything he had to make it happen. Sometimes too much, probably, and sometimes it was unfair, and unsporting, and distasteful. But whatever you might fault him for, he didn’t leave anything on the field.

It was hard to watch Steinbrenner in recent years, obviously seriously ailing and not entirely with it, and the Yankees refusing to acknowledge that fact openly. Maybe that’s what Steinbrenner wanted, I don’t know. But when someone on Twitter (I’ve forgotten who) compared the team’s persistent release of “statements from owner George Steinbrenner” to Weekend at Bernie’s, well, it wasn’t tactful but it didn’t seem too far off the mark to me, either. I was genuinely moved by Steinbrenner’s death, to a degree that really surprised me, actually, but I am glad not to have to watch any more of those moments.

I don’t know what to expect from Hank and Hal; whether they’ll carry on in a relatively quiet, businesslike way (well – that’s Hal carrying on, with Hank tied up in a safe house somewhere), or whether they’ll… gulp… sell the team, or who knows what.  Either way we won’t have George Steinbrenner to kick around anymore. He was wrong about a lot of things, but I think he understood New York pretty well – how tough it can be, and how great. He was determined to be on the right side of the city, and for the last 15 years of his life, although he took a ton of justified criticism along the way, he generally was. That was a hard-fought victory, and I hope it was a satisfying enough reward for all the entertainment we got out of watching him work.

The Best of "Oedipus Bronx"

Friday, February 29th, 2008

The New York Times’ Play Magazine has a highly entertaining article on what I like to think of as Steinbrenners: The New Class. It’s by Jonathan Mahler, who wrote the excellent Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning (don’t let the clunky ESPN miniseries put you off). If you’re at all interested in the topic it’s well worth reading the entire thing, but here are a few quotes that caught my eye:

*On Jessica Steinbrenner’s ex:

“Before Lopez, Jessica, who is in her mid-40s, was married to Joseph Molloy, who served briefly as the team’s general partner when Steinbrenner was banned from baseball in the early 1990s. (Molloy is now a physical-education teacher at a middle school in Tampa; Jessica keeps an office at Legends Field but devotes most of her time to the family’s horses.)”

From general partner of the Yankees to middle school gym teacher. That guy’s head must still be spinning.

*Jennifer Swindal Steinbrenner on the openings left by the DUI arrest and subsequent divorce of her ex-husband Steve Swindal:

“… Jennifer avoided discussing the change in management caused by her ex-husband’s departure. Instead, she dismissed her tabloid divorce, and the resulting upheaval within the Yankees, with peppy spin. “It couldn’t have been scripted any better,” she told me.”

Really? Not any better?

*On the new Stadium’s field:

“…the rain tarp will be moved from the first-base side of the field to the third-base side so that Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, the Yankees’ two most valuable assets, will have something soft to land on when they dive after foul balls…”

This is great. Sorry, Shelley Duncan! Pay real close attention to those fielding lessons with Tino, and try not to break anything when you and your very affordable contract crash into cold , hard metal!

*The money quote, Hank on the Red Sox:

“Red Sox Nation?” Hank says. “What a bunch of [expletive] that is. That was a creation of the Red Sox and ESPN, which is filled with Red Sox fans. Go anywhere in America and you won’t see Red Sox hats and jackets, you’ll see Yankee hats and jackets. This is a Yankee country. We’re going to put the Yankees back on top and restore the universe to order.”

I’m still trying to figure out whether to cringe or laugh over this one; I suppose since everyone already thinks of the Yankees as arrogant, you may as well embrace that identity and make it your own. And really — if he’d said something diplomatic about what a great organization Boston has, you’d have been bored to tears, right? Just give in.

Release your anger… with our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict and bring order to the galaxy…

*A surprisingly honest assessment of the team from everyone’s favorite alleged Joe Torre backstabber Randy Levine:

“The Yankees today are an entertainment company with a baseball team at its core,” Randy Levine, the team’s president, told me recently, ticking off some of the club’s less visible businesses, including its memorabilia company, Yankees-Steiner Collectibles, which sells players’ game-used uniforms and gear, and its partnership with the Japanese media company Yomiuri Shimbun, the owner of the Yomiuri Giants.

Personally I think sports are entertainment in and of themselves, but that’s not the point here; Levine is acknowledging that the actual Yankees are now almost incidental to the massive corporation they’re part of. The team is always central to the fans, of course, but not so much to the owners:

Last summer, when Goldman Sachs was shopping around its approximately 40 percent stake in YES, the network was valued at around $3 billion. According to Forbes magazine, the team itself isn’t worth half that.

That’s the reality of modern big market sports. But it makes me nervous, because it’s shades of Cablevision — which is such a vast empire that no matter what a disgrace the Knicks mutate into, their owners, the Dolans, feel virtually no ill effects financially. Obviously the Yankees, as big as they are, aren’t a monster like Cablevision, but I’m traumatized from years of Isiah Thomas basketball and I do worry. The timeline at the end of the Play story reminded me, much to my horror, that Cablevision actually tried to buy a big share of the Yankees back in 1998, and came extremely close to an agreement; the deal collapsed because Steinbrenner wouldn’t give up control.

Whatever George Steinbrenner’s faults — and they were many — let us never forget that his stubbornness spared New York baseball from the staggering horrorshow that is Jim Dolan. In my book, that that makes up for quite a few illegal Nixon campaign contributions.