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Hall of Fame case for George Steinbrenner


On Monday, December 9, the Today’s Game committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame, which covers the years 1988-2018 — will vote on candidates for the 2019 induction class. Between now and then we will take a look at the ten candidates, one-by-one, to assess their Hall worthiness.

And yes, we did this two years ago, the last time the Today’s Game ballot was up for a vote, with most of the same candidates appearing. As such, a lot of this will be repeat material, some of it verbatim. Our view of this, however, is that if the Hall of Fame can keep recycling the same ballot, we can recycle our analysis of it to the extent it hasn’t changed. 

Next up: The Boss, George Steinbrenner 

The case for his induction:

There aren’t many good numbers to look when it’s an executive, rather than a former player, up for induction. And the ones that do exist — how many rings did the guy win? — are pretty crude and vague. On the surface, one might say “hey, George Steinbrenner owned the Yankees and the Yankees won seven world titles before he shuffled off this mortal coil, and that has to count for something!” But, as we’ll see below (a) it’s not so straightforward as “countin’ da rings” when it comes to Big Stein; and (b) he certainly has some demerits on his ledger to put it mildly.

That said, I’ve long attempted to make a case for Steinbrenner for the Hall of Fame. It’s not a case I’m passionate about, as Steinbrenner was a world class jackwagon, but it makes sense under my particular conception of the Hall of Fame as, primarily, a historical institution. The numbers lead the charge when it comes to players but both with them, and especially with executive types, I like to ask whether they had a significant historical impact (with said impact not being primarily infamous). Whether baseball became a richer entertainment and pursuit because of their presence and whether we can accurately tell the story of baseball in their era without including them.

It’s awfully hard to talk about baseball in the last quarter of the 20th century without mentioning George Steinbrenner’s name. And not just for the tabloid headlines he constantly generated.

Steinbrenner was a lot of things, but he made an important mark on baseball in that he was the first owner to take full advantage of free agency and forced other teams to keep pace. That pretty radically changed how teams were built and, though I know some of you disagree, made it more exciting to be a baseball fan. There’s a reason the hot stove season is the hot stove season, and that has an awful lot to do with teams — at least until the last year or two — making a point of going out and trying to sign big names and excite the fan base. Whether you think that’s a good thing or a bad thing, it certainly changed the game.

There are a lot of owners in the Hall of Fame who did far less than that, and if you want to make a case for Steinbrenner, you make it on (a) the Yankees’ return to prominence under him; and (b) that game-changing, damn-the-torpedoes approach to talent acquisition that came to the fore, mostly, because of him.

The case against his induction:

Rings are nice, but there is an argument to be made — a pretty strong one, actually — that the Yankees greatest successes during Big Stein’s reign were achieved in spite of him rather than because of him. He was suspended twice during his time as owner of the Yankees, once in the mid-70s thanks to illegal campaign contributions to Nixon and once in the early 90s thanks to him hiring a sleazeball to follow Dave Winfield around in an effort to dig up dirt on his star outfielder. There’s a strong argument that the seeds of the 1977-78 and then the 1996, 1998-2000 World Series championship teams were planted during Steinbrenner’s absence, with his underlings finally being given free rein to make smart moves Steinbrenner would have avoided in the name of merely BIG moves.

If you add all of that to the underlying character considerations which led to those absences — and if you are generally opposed to the sort of chaos and disorder he brought to the management of the Yankees during good times and bad — you have a pretty compelling case against The Boss. Personally, I was entertained by the chaos, but I appreciate that reasonable people disagree about all of that.

Would I vote for him?

I’ve gone back and forth on him for years, generally leaning yes because I’m a pushover for big personalities who have been dead for a while and who, thus, can no longer do harm. Steinbrenner was a piece of work, at times a bad guy and not the biggest reason for the Yankees’ success during his reign. At the same time he was definitely a transformative figure and an historic one. If you’re wanting to explain baseball history, you really can’t do it without including The Boss. I’d probably vote for him. He’s baseball’s weird uncle who makes everyone uncomfortable but hey, he’s family.

Will the Committee vote for him?

There was a time I thought he’d get in easily on that historic basis, but I think I wildly underestimated the Hall of Fame electorate’s dislike of him. Last time he was on the ballot, in 2016, I gather he didn’t gain anywhere near the 12 votes he needed from the Veterans Committee, and I doubt that changes any time soon. Just today, for example, we learned that White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf is on the committee this year. Steinbrenner may be a long dead historical figure to you and me, but Reinsdorf spent a good chunk of his professional life butting heads with him. Pat Gillick, John Schuerholz, Paul Beeston and Andy MacPhail are all executives who (a) have long been in the Selig/Manfred camp when it comes to business matters in baseball; and (b) may thus be loathe to honor a guy who drove Bud Selig crazy. Steinbrenner would need a vote from at least one of those guys and ALL of the remaining members of the panel, which includes Tony La Russa and Joe Morgan, neither of whom strike me as Steinbrenner guys.

To put it mildly, Steinbrenner didn’t have the same sorts of allies among the baseball establishment as a lot of the executives who did get into Cooperstown had. I think the chances of his being elected are almost zero. 

Giants beat Mariners again in road game playing at home

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SAN FRANCISCO — The nomadic Mariners are taking their bats from the Bay Area to Southern California for three more “home games” on the road.

Wilmer Flores hit a go-ahead, two-run triple in the seventh inning of the Giants’ 6-4 win Thursday that sent Seattle to a second home defeat played in San Francisco’s ballpark because of dangerous air quality in Western Washington.

The series was moved because of smoke from all the West Coast wildfires. Now, the Mariners are altering their air travel reservations once more and headed to San Diego for a weekend series at Petco Park.

“It’s disappointing, but its the world we’re living in in 2020,” Mariners starter Nick Margevicius said. “There’s a lot of things we can’t control, a lot of things in the season, a lot of things in the world right now.”

Darin Ruf homered in the second inning to back Giants starter Tyler Anderson, who hurt his own cause when he was ejected in the bottom of the third by plate umpire Edwin Moscoso for emphatically expressing his displeasure with a walk to Kyle Lewis.

“Tyler knows that that just can’t happen,” mangaer Gabe Kapler said. “It puts us in a really tough spot.”

Wandy Peralta followed Anderson and threw 49 pitches over a career-high three innings, and Rico Garcia (1-1) worked one inning for his first major league win. Sam Selman finished for his first career save, stranding two runners when Lewis lined out and Kyle Seager flied out.

“Peralta came up huge for us,” Kapler said. “As tough as that was it was equally rewarding and in some ways inspiring to see him come out and give us the length that he did and battle. It gave us a chance to climb back into the game. I thought our guys continued to be resilient.”

JP Crawford hit a two-run single in the second following RBI singles by Tim Lopes and Phillip Ervin, but Seattle’s bullpen couldn’t hold a three-run lead.

Margevicius was staked to an early lead but Kendall Graveman (0-3) couldn’t hold it. The Mariners capitalized in the second after Anderson hit Seager in the backside.

Seattle has fared better against San Diego this season after losing all four to San Francisco. Manager Scott Servais had prepared himself for the possibility his club might have to stay on the road a little longer.

“I think with our players and everybody else it was going to be a two-day trip. That’s what we were led to believe that everything was going to clear up in Seattle,” Servais said. “We can’t control the weather it’s bigger than all of us and with what’s going on there with the smoke. Certainly understand why we have to go but I don’t think anybody was really prepared for it.”

Brandon Crawford contributed a sacrifice fly and Evan Longoria and Alex Dickerson RBI singles for the Giants.

Austin Slater returned at designated hitter for San Francisco and went 0 for 2 with a walk as he works back from a painful right elbow. Luis Basabe singled in the sixth for his first career hit and also stole his first base.

“I didn’t think about it,” said Basabe, who will gift the special souvenir ball to his mother. “I was just happy to get the opportunity.”

Justin Smoak made his Giants home debut as a pinch hitter in the sixth facing his former club after he signed a minor league deal earlier this month following his release by the Brewers.

Anderson, who was trying to win consecutive starts for the first time this season, received his second career ejection. The other was Aug. 13, 2016, while with Colorado.