The relative peace and prosperity of the Joe Torre years made it easy to forget what a dysfunctional family the Yankees were - and will be again, if Hank Steinbrenner doesn't watch what he says. This is what people mean when they say you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.
Four World Series titles in Torre's first five seasons as manager did plenty to soothe the savage beast that George Steinbrenner used to be. After going 18 years without winning it all, The Boss burst into tears just about every time he hoisted the trophy after that and he even kissed Bud Selig once. What we've learned in the days since is that King George wasn't just softening, he was slowing down.
What makes the Yankees the Yankees is an institutional memory second to none. And for those who worried about succession, that much remains the same. No organization in sports wants to win more, no matter who the boss is, and none are perpetually wound so tight. Few are as eager to put their money where their mouth is - nor their foot, for that matter - which brings us back to the current generation.
Hank Steinbrenner may yet learn to like those manufactured controversies his daddy so dearly loved. But it's going to take time and some practice. That was confirmed earlier this week, when Hank answered his phone and told a reporter that ``only an idiot'' wouldn't move Joba Chamberlain from the bullpen to the starting rotation, and fast.
That statement is wrong on so many levels that it's hard to know where to begin. Chamberlain in the role of set-up man for closer Mariano Rivera might be the most reliable thing the Yankees have going at the moment, and for every baseball man who projects him as the next Josh Beckett, there are just as many who believe he could be the next Rivera.
Trying to find out which it is without sufficiently grooming Chamberlain for either makes it possible he'll fail at both. The plan all along was for Chamberlain to begin the season in the bullpen to protect his arm, then ease him into a starting role later in the season.
So even if you accept Hank's defense - he said a day later his remarks were taken out of context, that he only meant Chamberlain should become a starter ``sooner or later'' - the fact is that he should have known better.
One of his father's strengths was picking his spots. George loved managing the Yankees more than most of his managers did, and he loved being on the back page of the tabloids more than all of them combined. But even he usually waited until the middle of May to begin meddling. Hank's fingerprints were all over the club's decision last fall to shoo away Torre, and now he's undercutting not just the man he hired to be Torre's successor, Joe Girardi, but GM Brian Cashman as well.
Being the son of the boss is never easy. George earned the title and plenty of loyalty in the bargain because he did more than simply sign the checks. He was demanding - that's embedded in the Yankees' DNA - but he knew when to back off and let Cashman's expertise or Torre's gentler instincts rule the day. George also could be found wandering the empty concourses before games telling vendors how to make the pretzels, or directing traffic out of the players' parking lot afterward.
The respect that garnered him isn't transferred automatically from father to son the way assets like ballplayers and resin bags are. It has to be earned.
If Hank is half as smart as he thinks, he'll remember that, and make sure his brain is engaged the next time he opens his mouth. He knows it's taboo to talk about next year in New York, as evidenced by what he said the day after he let Torre walk: ``None of us think we can win the championship every year, but that's the goal. Period.''
The problem is the Yankees look with each passing day like a team stuck in a tough division that might make better use of the season by retooling, beginning with the weak starting rotation that prompted Steinbrenner's ``Chamberlain-to-the-rescue'' suggestion in the first place.
Hank has already let it be known he wasn't too thrilled when his baseball people let Johan Santana get away and sign with the crosstown Mets. But a few more headlines like that will only make it harder for Cashman to find the pitchers the Yankees need, and for Girardi to keep the pitchers they have happy. Even the old man could tell him that's no way to run a ballclub.
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Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org

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