|AP Interview: Yankees boss Hank Steinbrenner promises patience (really), but team better win|
|Written by Admin|
|Saturday, 26 January 2008 06:18|
Over and over again, he emphasized his philosophy - the New York Yankees' new doctrine - of tolerance, of deliberation, of long-term planning. That, however, only goes so far.
He is, after all, a Steinbrenner.
``I will be patient with the young pitchers and players. There's no question about that because I know how these players develop,'' he said. ``But as far as missing the playoffs - if we miss the playoffs by the end of this year, I don't know how patient I'll be. But it won't be against the players. It won't be a matter of that. It will be a matter of maybe certain people in the organization could have done something else.''
Spring training was three weeks away, and the first warning had been issued.
Meet the new boss. Not exactly the same as the old boss, but still a lot alike.
Since October's first-round loss to Cleveland, George Steinbrenner has stepped aside and turned management of baseball's most-storied team over to his two sons - 50-year-old Hank and 39-year-old Hal.
George Steinbrenner, now 77, does show up at the office most days, hungry for World Series title No. 27. His health appeared to deteriorate after he collapsed in December 2003 during a memorial service for football great Otto Graham in Sarasota, Fla., and again in October 2006 while watching his granddaughter perform in a play at Chapel Hill, N.C.
He hardly spoke in public the last two seasons, preferring to issue grandiose statements through his spokesman.
``I got to spend a lot more time with him than the other kids. It's been tough for all of us, though,'' Hank Steinbrenner said. ``As a father he was great, as a boss he was ...''
He paused and started to chuckle.
``Everybody knows how he was as a boss.''
The standard for hyperactive, hyperventilating, hyper just about everything. No detail was too small to get involved in. No word was left unsaid.
Fire this guy! Trade that guy! Blast this one in the tabloids!
Steinbrenner grew up watching the show. He even traveled with the team for parts of the 1985 and 1986 seasons, learning under Lou Piniella, Woody Woodward and Clyde King, before getting out of baseball and concentrating on Kinsman Farm, the Steinbrenner thoroughbred stable in Ocala.
His dad repeatedly tried to lure him back to the Yankees, saying it was time to ``let the young elephants into the tent.''
Steinbrenner, like most people, didn't believe it.
``He just couldn't do it,'' he said. ``It didn't matter to me. I was doing other stuff at the time. This is something that was just a necessity now.
``We're keepers of the flame, I guess,'' he concluded.
Steinbrenner has a spacious office on the third-base side of Legends Field, an autographed 1978 World Series ball next to a family photo on his desk, a poster of Babe Ruth on one wall and an Alex Rodriguez commemorative 500th home run bat mounted behind him. A miniature drag racer - he drives - is on the front of the desk, and a Fender Stratocaster guitar is on the floor near the door. He can walk out to a terrace every once in a while to catch a smoke.
Wearing a light blue polo shirt and navy blazer - not his father's ever-present white turtleneck - Steinbrenner spoke for two hours Thursday about his plans and goals for a team that figures to be different this year with Joe Girardi replacing Joe Torre as manager after seven seasons without a World Series title.
Steinbrenner has become more the voice of the Yankees than Bob Sheppard, speaking out on possible trades and signings, ruminating each week on the status of talks to acquire Johan Santana from the Minnesota Twins.
``I don't particularly necessarily enjoy it. It was kind of thrust upon me. At some point, if you're going to be a leader, you've got to step up and you can't hide in the office,'' he said. ``Unless it can directly affect negotiations, the fans do deserve to know what's going on. There's no problem with that. Whether other people have a problem with that, I really don't give a damn. They don't buy the tickets, all right?''
Brian Cashman, the general manager since late 1997, prefers not to comment on moves until they are finalized. Steinbrenner realizes that.
``There's a famous line from the movie 'Patton' where Patton has gotten himself in trouble again by saying something to the press. And he told his aide, his captain, 'The next time I start to do something like that stop me,''' Steinbrenner said. ``Then the guy says, 'Well, I'll give you a gentle nudge.' And he says, 'No, you give me a swift kick in the ass.' So I told Brian that one time.''
Sure sounds like his father there.
``Hal is more reserved than George,'' said Howard Rubenstein, the longtime family and Yankees spokesman. ``Hank is really a pretty accurate reflection. When I first saw the pictures in the paper, I had to do a double take.''
Like his father, Hank Steinbrenner will defend the Yankees against other teams envious of their winning and wealth. He was angered after the release of the Mitchell Report, which implicated 20 present and former Yankees in the use of steroids and human growth hormone. Some questioned whether the Yankees' run of four World Series titles in five years from 1996-2000 was drug-fueled.
``Don't make any mistake about it: Our team in the late 90s beat everybody, and we beat everybody because we were that much better than everybody,'' he said. ``And they had just as many players doing stuff - all the teams. I guarantee you go through every team in baseball, and they all have the same basic percentage of players doing stuff. They just weren't as good as us. You think the Red Sox didn't have players doing stuff back then? Give me a ... break. They just weren't as good as us, and neither was anybody else.''
Although his father was an assistant college football coach, Steinbrenner's background is more soccer - he played at Central Methodist and coached at Ocala Vanguard High.
In the early 1990s, the Yankees were approached to buy a 33 percent interest in England's Tottenham Hotspur for about $32 million. New York passed, a decision Hank regrets.
He'd be interested in purchasing Tottenham or maybe Nottingham Forest - for the right price. He has no desire to add an NFL, NBA or NHL team to the Steinbrenner family holdings.
``The only thing would be a soccer team, a major soccer team in Europe, probably at this point preferably in the Premier League. That's always a possibility for me,'' he said. ``We'll just have to see what happens.''
Soccer passion aside, Steinbrenner admits there's a lot of his father in him. He went to Culver Military Academy in Indiana, a school four generations of Steinbrenners have attended. He loved history, just as his father and grandfather did, thought growing up that he'd want to be a senator, and mentions his admiration for Jefferson, Lincoln and Kennedy.
``If I didn't get my schoolwork done I'd be in study hall, but I'd be reading Churchill's memoirs or I'd be reading the racing form,'' he said. ``You know - sneaking.''
He was 15 when his father led a group that bought the Yankees from CBS in 1973 for a net price of $8.7 million. Now, it's a business that took in $415 million last year.
His title is senior vice president of the Yankees, while brother Hal is chairman of Yankee Global Enterprises, the holding company for the franchise and its approximately 35 percent stake in the YES Network. The duo will wind up as the team's two general partners, according to Hank Steinbrenner, who is leaving the titles up to the lawyers.
In the current structure, team president Randy Levine and chief operating officer Lonn Trost report to the brothers, with frequent conference calls. When player decisions are involved, Cashman joins in. George Steinbrenner is the elder counselor.
``Their strengths complement each other, and the philosophy and commitment that their father established and continues to advocate has not changed,'' Levine said. ``No three people are identical. They all have their individual traits and qualities. George Steinbrenner is a historical figure, and I think with a little more experience, they can be everything their dad is.''
Rubenstein has noticed a difference in the way decisions have been made. For years, Rubenstein would have to talk George Steinbrenner out of impetuous decisions and statements. The brothers don't adhere to their father's speak first, then think method.
``George was George. There was only King George,'' Rubenstein said. ``Now there's a lot of discussion back and forth. I see there's a real consensus there.''
After days of deliberation last October, the group decided to offer Torre a contract to return for a 13th season as manager - with a paycut. When Torre rejected it, terming it ``an insult,'' Hank Steinbrenner fired back and told the New York Post: ``Where was Joe's career in '95 when my dad hired him?''
``I just, you know, lost my cool and probably said some things I shouldn't have said. But they were valid points. It's reality. But the bottom line is it was stupid,'' he said, looking back. ``I don't want to criticize Joe. He was obviously an extremely effective manager for us. He was perfect for that team at that time.''
On Cashman's recommendation, the team hired Girardi over fan favorite Don Mattingly, captain of those 1980s teams that always fell short.
Girardi's Yankees will be different than Torre's. Steinbrenner specifically mentions he will be excellent with his handling of young pitchers such as Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy.
``I think he's got a little bit of fire to him,'' Steinbrenner said. ``Hopefully a good cross between Billy Martin and Joe Torre, like right in the middle there somewhere.''
It's clear Steinbrenner is a great admirer of Martin, the manager his father hired and got rid of five times from 1975-88. He wishes he would have had more time to speak with Martin, who died in a Christmas car crash in 1989.
He was impressed with Martin's knowledge of rules and strategy, and with his love of the pinstripes, calling him ``the Bobby Knight of baseball.''
``Billy, he could have had an 'NY' branded on his forehead and he wouldn't have minded. There was nobody that loved the Yankees more than Billy did or as much.''
He's also a great admirer of A-Rod, saying he will be a leader of the Yankees in the next few years along with team captain Derek Jeter.
Still, if he had one player to send to the plate with the season on the line, it wouldn't be Jeter. It wouldn't be A-Rod. It wouldn't even be Mr. October himself, Reggie Jackson.
Steinbrenner would send up Mattingly.
``I'm no super scout or super expert, but he's the greatest clutch hitter I've ever seen since we've owned the team, anywhere in baseball,'' Steinbrenner said. ``Reggie was more just strictly home runs, though. A lot of strikeouts as well. I'm not so sure seventh game of the World Series, bottom of the ninth, if I wouldn't want Mattingly up there ahead of anybody else. The only other two would be Reggie and Brett, George Brett. But as far as getting any kind of hit necessary, Mattingly would be your guy.''
Steinbrenner plans to be in New York a lot during the regular season. He'll stay at the Regency Hotel on Park Avenue, just like his father. He'll use his dad's office at Yankee Stadium.
And George Steinbrenner remains involved. Hank Steinbrenner said the job of consigliere suits him well.
``He's here every day usually. He'll take his time coming in, but he's here every day. He'll read his mail. He'll read the clippings. Then I'll go in, and we'll talk quite a bit about certain things,'' Hank said. ``I don't want to get into what. Obviously, Santana is one.''
He's uncertain how far to go for Santana. But he's content to head into the 2008 season going with the kids. Chamberlain might start the season as a setup man before moving into the rotation, but that's up to Girardi.
``There's no pressure from me. I don't care if Chamberlain or Hughes or Kennedy have four bad starts in a row,'' Steinbrenner said. ``A lot of the fans seem to want to keep all our young pitchers, and that's great. I think that's fantastic. But they've got to remember that later on if these guys go through growing pains, don't turn against them all of a sudden.''
Wait though. Even with that, there is the bottom line.
``You've got to win,'' he said. ``Otherwise, there's no reason being in it.''