Remember Hank Steinbrenner?

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He used to matter.  Or at least he seemed like he did.  He certainly was front and center in the media.  Now? He’s the invisible man.

Which is a great thing for the Yankees — it’s always easier to run an organization when the drama level is low — but it’s a terrible thing for reporters and bloggers and stuff.  I mean, who can forget some of Hank’s greatest hits: 

  • Giving the kiss-off to Alex Rodriguez, saying “I don’t want anybody on my team that doesn’t want to be a Yankee,” and than letting A-Rod come crawling back to him. Sure, he ended up giving Rodriguez a raise, but the drama of it kept us all warm in those dark months of November 2007.
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  • Denouncing Red Sox Nation and ESPN in one fell swoop: “Red Sox Nation? What a bunch of bulls**t that is . . . That was a creation of the Red Sox and ESPN, which is filled with Red Sox fans . . .” And give the man bonus points for style: that rant actually got him inducted into Red Sox Nation.
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  • Telling the Tampa Bay Rays and any other have-nots in baseball exactly where they stand: “I don’t want these teams in general to forget who subsidizes a lot of them, and it’s the Yankees, the Red Sox, Dodgers, Mets . . .”  It’s funny, because it’s true!
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  • Personally, my favorite Hank moment was when he played good cop (or maybe crazy cop) to brother Hal and Brian Cashman’s bad cop in the Johan Santana trade discussions with the Twins before the 2008 season. As the Newsday article notes, the Yankees had little actual interest in acquiring Santana, yet because Hank kept going on about it, Minnesota was led to believe that New York would eventually make a big offer. It never came, and the Twins ended up getting not much of anything for the best pitcher in baseball. You can’t train just anyone to negotiate like that. You’re either born crazy or you’re not.
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  • Also classic was when he excoriated the NL for not having the DH following Chien-Ming Wang’s injury while running the bases in interleague play, saying that the senior circuit needed to “join the modern age.”
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  • Finally, who can forget his ripping of the divisional playoff format for allowing a team like the 2008 Dodgers into the postseason while the Yankees sat on the outside looking in. Never mind that under no playoff system dating back to the advent of baseball would the 2008 Yankees have made the postseason.
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    Look, the point isn’t that he was well-advised to spout off on all of these topics.  Indeed, if he were my employee — and he appears to be Hal’s — I would have canned him sometime in late 2007.  The point is that an unleashed Hank Steinbrenner made baseball a lot of fun for a while.  Now that he’s apprently been given a gag order, however, the Yankees are back to being corporate and steady and boring.  As it was in the 50s and as it was after Big Stein’s apparent lobotomy in the mid-to-late 90s, the Yankees are once again U.S. Steel.

    For my part, I was always partial to the Bronx Zoo.  The parade of managers.  The feeling that anything can happen with the New York Yankees.  Now?  The best we get are rumors that  one boring celebrity might marry another.

    Come back, Hank.  We need you.

    MLB managers weigh in on anthem protests

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    No other Major League Baseball player has taken a knee during the National Anthem since Athletics’ catcher Bruce Maxwell‘s protest on Saturday night. The demonstration was sparked by President Donald Trump’s call for the boycott of the National Football League and the firing of any player who chose not to stand during the anthem. The comments drew harsh criticism from many NFL players, coaches and owners and more than a few in MLB have also lended their support. There is still one game left to play on Sunday, but it’s unclear whether any of Maxwell’s league-mates will show their solidarity by refusing to stand as well.

    Given a baseball culture that tends toward conformity more often than not, it seems unlikely. But it’s something league managers are prepared for — even if they don’t all agree with the demonstrations themselves.

    White Sox’ skipper Rick Renteria specifically addressed Maxwell’s protest on Sunday, speaking to the league’s policy of inclusivity:

    None of the White Sox knelt prior to their series finale against the Royals. Neither did members of the Pirates or the Cardinals, though St. Louis manager Mike Matheny and Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington both weighed in on the situation.

    Matheny called the president’s comments “hurtful” and, like the Cubs’ Joe Maddon, appeared content to leave the decision to protest up to each player.

    The Pirates, meanwhile, took a firmer tone. “We appreciate our players’ desire and ability to express their opinions respectfully and when done properly,” GM Huntington told Elizabeth Bloom of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “When done appropriately and properly, we certainly have respect for our players’ ability to voice their opinion.”

    Just what the Pirates consider “appropriate and proper” protocol was left up in the air, and club president Frank Coonelly offered no further insights in a separate statement to the press. Setting strict parameters for players to voice their opinions kind of puts them in a gray area, one they’ll have to clear up should someone elect to protest in the days to come, either with a bent knee and a hand over their heart or in some other fashion.

    Equally ambiguous were comments from Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts, who claimed to oppose the movement for personal, if misguided reasons, but also respected the right of his players to make an “educated” statement in protest.

    The Indians’ Terry Francona took what was perhaps the most balanced approach of the entire group:

    “It’s easy for me to sit here and say, ‘Well, I think this is the greatest country in the world,’ because I do,” Francona told MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian. “But, I also haven’t walked in other people’s shoes. So, until I think, not just our country, but our world, until we realize that, hey, people are actually equal — it shouldn’t be a revelation — and the different doesn’t mean less. It’s just different. We’ve got work to do.”

    These may all be moot points. Maxwell may be the only player to formally protest Trump’s comments, despite the good intentions of his teammates and fellow players around the league. Others may feel too ambivalent, threatened or uncomfortable to protest what the A’s catcher referred to as a “racial divide,” especially in a way that is routinely perceived as unpatriotic.

    Even if the protests made by NFL players and Bruce Maxwell fail to gain momentum, however, the underlying issues they speak to are not going away anytime soon. Here, then, is where MLB managers can help foster a more inclusive environment throughout the league, not only by showing respect for a player’s decision to stand against racism but by actively partnering with those who do so. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s a start.

    Nationals plan to activate Bryce Harper on Monday

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    The Nationals are planning to activate Bryce Harper from the 10-day disabled list on Monday, Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post reports. Janes adds that Harper has been taking his knee injury on a day-to-day basis, so if he experiences pain ahead of tomorrow’s series opener in Philadelphia, then the Nationals won’t activate him.

    Harper, 24, suffered a knee injury running out a grounder last month against the Giants. The Nationals hope to get him into some game action before the end of the regular season just so he can get acclimated in time for the playoffs.

    When Harper returns, he’ll look to improve on his .326/.419/.614 slash line with 29 home runs, 87 RBI, and 92 runs scored in 472 plate appearances.