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.
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.
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!
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.
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.”
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.
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.