George Steinbrenner: 1930-2010

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The news is everywhere now. George Steinbrenner has died.

My spiritual beliefs are, at best, conflicted, but I comfort myself with the idea of a great Baseball Valhalla in which all of those who made their mark on the game — for better and for worse — and have since passed now reside. I picture a nice calm, composed and orderly person working the front of the room. Maybe Branch Rickey.  He makes sure no one gets too loud and everyone is sitting at the right table.

That man’s world changed this morning, because Big Stein just opened the door, demanded a seat near the stage, started ordering stuff that’s not on the menu and slipped a twenty to the bandleader to play something with some pep.

In so doing he’d only be keeping true to form.  As we’ll hear over and over again in the coming days, George Steinbrenner changed everything about baseball. He did so without apology.  He did so for one simple reason: because he wanted to win. He was greedy for victory and glory, and in saying so I don’t think I’m saying anything with which he would disagree.  He bought a sports team. The object of sports is to win. Anyone not greedy for such a thing got into the business for the wrong reasons.

I’m not a believer in whitewashing things when someone dies because the last thing we should be doing when we lose someone is telling lies that push their true essence further away from us. To ignore the unpleasant facts — that Steinbrenner was pain in the ass; that his ethics left much to be desired; that for a good decade there he did more to impede the Yankees’ on-the-field success than he did to help it — would be to lose the man a second time, first in body then in spirit.  He was what he was.

And what he was, contrary to what many people have said for so many years, was good for the game of baseball.  For decades before his arrival on the scene — and for some time afterwards, actually — baseball was a boy’s club of collusion and gentleman’s agreements that did far more harm than good.  George Steinbrenner was no gentleman, thank God, because if he was there’s a good chance that players would still be making terrible money and monied old blue-bloods would be agreeing who should play where, to the competitive detriment of the game.

Steinbrenner wasn’t a point man on free agency, but if it wasn’t for him it may very well have been a different beast.  It was Steinbrenner who gave Catfish Hunter that million dollar deal when Charlie O. Finely frittered away his monopolistic rights on Hunter’s contract.  It was Steinbrenner who went after Reggie Jackson, making one of free agency’s first big splashes.  It was Steinbrenner’s money and willingness to use it that caused the other owners to launch a collusion scheme in the 80s that ended up busting the free market open wider for the players in the long run than might have otherwise happened. Steinbrenner wasn’t a saint here — he grudgingly went along with collusion — but he was certainly a prime actor in forming the current free and, in my opinion anyway, fair market labor faces today, and that’s been good for the game overall.

And of course his impact on the Yankees is incalculable. Books have been written about what Steinbrenner meant to the Yankees and what the Yankees mean to baseball.  Many of us chafe at their hegemony, but baseball in the 20th and early 21st centuries cannot be understood without reference to that team, and while there was a brief ten or eleven year respite in the 60s and 70s, most of us living today came to baseball in a Yankees-dominated world in one form or another.  We may not love baseball because of that, but it certainly hasn’t prevented us from loving it either, no matter how much we grouse.

But there’s plenty of time to reflect on his objective legacy, and I’m sure we’ll be doing that more as the day goes on.  In the meantime, we should all just reflect on the force of nature that was George Steinbrenner. The flair. Flair which, truth be told, I figured would have had him dying on the eve of the seventh game of the World Series.
Or maybe on Opening Day. But All-Star day is pretty good too, as
far as these things go.

“Waiter! Keep that shrimp cocktail coming! Don’t you know who I AM!”

Yes, we do Mr. Steinbrenner. Yes we do.

Oakland A’s officials taking a tour of a possible waterfront ballpark site

OAKLAND, CA - FEBRUARY 19:  A Maersk Line container ship sits docked in a berth  at the Port of Oakland on February 19, 2015 in Oakland, California. International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) longshoremen at the Port of Oakland took the day shift off today to attend a union meeting amidst ongoing contract negotiations between dockworkers and terminal operators at west coast ports. The port closure, the seventh one this month, has left 12 container ships stuck at the dock with no workers to load and unload them. The ILWU members at 29 West Coast ports have been without a contract for 9 months. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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The Oakland Athletics’ ballpark saga has gone on for years now, with false starts in Fremont and San Jose, lawsuits and seemingly interminable talks with the City of Oakland over a new place on the current Coliseum site. That’s all complicated, of course, by the presence of the Raiders, on whose address — be it Oakland, Las Vegas or someplace else — the A’s future is still largely contingent.

The city has tried to get the A’s interested in a waterfront site for several years now. There are a lot of problems with that due mostly to zoning and regulatory matters, as well as proximity to transit and other practical concerns. The artist’s renderings are often pretty, but it takes more than artist’s renderings to make a good ballpark plan.

But no one is giving up on that and, it seems, even the A’s are willing to at least listen to such proposals now:

Oakland A’s co-owner John Fisher is expected to join officials Thursday for a hush-hush tour of the Port of Oakland’s Howard Terminal, a cargo-loading area near Jack London Square that Mayor Libby Schaaf tirelessly promotes as “a fantastic site for a ballpark.”

Guess it ain’t so “hush-hush” anymore. As with all Oakland ballpark stories, however, feel free to continue snoozing until someone gives us a real reason to wake up.

Note: The above photo is from the Port of Oakland. I have no idea what the proximity of the working part of the city’s port is to where they’d build a ballpark, but I used this picture because I love the story about how George Lucas spotted those things from an airplane as he was leaving Oakland or San Francisco or whatever and used them as inspiration for the AT-AT Imperial Walkers in “Empire Strikes Back.” Which may be a totally aprocyphal story, but one I love so much that I told it to my kids when we flew in to Oakland back in June and will choose to believe despite whatever evidence you provide.

Wade Davis? Greg Holland? Who needs ’em?

KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 21: Joakim Soria #48 of the Kansas City Royals throws in the eighth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Kauffman Stadium on August 21, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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The story of the two-time defending AL champion and current defending World Series champ Kansas City Royals cannot be told without talking at length about their bullpen.

In 2014, Wade Davis, Greg Holland and Kelvin Herrera formed a shutdown brigade that not only made it next to impossible for the opposition to mount late rallies, but managed something which seemed utterly impossible before 2014: they turned Ned Yost into a tactical genius. Indeed, the only time Yost got criticism at all that fall was when he messed with the autopilot formula that had that three-headed monster handling the 7th, 8th and 9th innings.

Much the same happened in 2015, of course, despite Holland’s sharp decline and eventual injury. Davis and Herrera continued their dominance. They were joined by Ryan Madson and a cast of other effective relievers who, along with timely hitting, great defense and good health, helped propel the Royals to the title.

This year had not been quite the same story. Holland has been out all year and Davis, while effective when he’s pitched, has missed time due to injury. As has longtime contributor and presumptive next-man-up Luke Hochevar. Herrera is basically still Herrera, but Ned Yost has been presented with a decidedly different set of choices. Lots of choices and Ned Yost don’t always go together well, but lately that hasn’t mattered.

Last night the Royals’ bullpen came in to a close game and tossed three scoreless innings. That set a franchise record with 32 straight scoreless frames, besting the previous record set back in the club’s inaugural season in 1969. The streak is a huge part of why the Royals have won nine games in a row.

Unlike the success of 2014-15, the streak is not a three-man show. As Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star notes, eight different relievers have appeared for Kansas City during the streak, with Joakim Soria and Matt Strahm leading the crew with five and a third innings pitched. Herrera has tossed five scoreless. Otherwise it’s been a group effort with even Peter Moylan offering a couple of scoreless frames. And here you thought Moylan was, I dunno, gearing up for the upcoming Brisbane Bandits season. Nope.

The Royals are still not, in my view anyway, a lock to make the postseason. It’s a a crowded field right now. They’re seven and a half back in the AL Central and four back in the Wild Card with a bunch of teams in front of them. But they’re certainly playing themselves back into the conversation. They’re interesting. And they’re doing it in much the same way they’ve done it the past two years. Only with different dudes doing the do.