There was once a man named George Steinbrenner, whose love for bluster and domination was matched only by his love for spending.
Jeffrey Loria this man was not, but he picked his placement well, for Steinbrenner chose to spend recklessly in the one city where he could, with the one fan base that would spend just as recklessly to come and watch players on whom he had spent recklessly before.
This man had a great and storied run as the owner of a baseball team, winning the titles he so publicly craved (although, it should be noted, not without his serendipitous removal from the game, which was what allowed the moves that led to the team’s greatest moments). He left a dominant baseball empire that had everything it needed to just keep spending and just keep winning.
But this man also had a son — two, in fact. One inherited his brain, and one his mouth. While the one who inherited his mouth quickly moved to all but run the team into the ground, giving a 10-year deal to a player who will likely go down in history as the most tainted superstar in baseball, it’s the other one — the smart one — that could be causing the team trouble now.
Hal Steinbrenner has basically been in charge of the Yankees for the past few years, and he has worked with general manager Brian Cashman on what looks like it could only be a sideshow to the Yankees’ usual game: lowering New York’s payroll. While the Yankees get enough money from TV revenue and such that they don’t have to worry about crossing the luxury tax threshold — where they pay, say, the worth of four players’ salaries just to cover the tax penalty — Steinbrenner thought it would be swell to get under that threshold, at least for one year. The thinking goes that if the Yankees could get below the mark for a season, their luxury tax payments would reset, and they would stop shoveling money aimlessly into penalties and instead waste it on actual players.
But in this magical tale of George the father, Hank the loud-mouthed son (who has since been taken off of major decisions) and Hal the high-brained child, Hal has run headlong into the character that fed the beast of George Steinbrenner’s spending for so long: New York fans. While a market like Miami may get upset when its team is picked apart, the vitriol of a fan base that has spent years lapping up the flood of money from the Steinbrenners into the Yankees’ championship coffers is something else.
Hal is apparently finding that out the hard way. Concern is mounting that the Yankees may be pulling the purse strings a little too tight — especially when it comes to re-signing Robinson Cano, who the team is relying on to be the core of New York’s future. Now, as Wallace Matthews of ESPN reports, not only is Cano lined up to break the Yankees’ bank if necessary, but the rest of the team may be ready for a George Steinbrenner-style makeover if needed.
What was once “an absolute mandate” — to get the team to a payroll of $189 million by 2014 — is now being questioned, and the Yankees may budge on their previous practice of not extending players until their contracts are up by working out a deal with Cano this season. The main catalyst appears to be some very angry fans.
Matthews reports that a baseball insider says Hal was “‘freaked out’ by the negative reaction from Yankees fans at what they perceived to be a trend toward ‘cheapness’ from a club that had always been known for wild extravagance.”
With the fans wanting results from the Yankees like what they’ve seen in other years, Hal’s sideshow of payroll deduction seems less like a fun project and more like a horrible extracurricular choice. As different as he’s been from his father, Hal can quickly count the pennies from TV viewership and ticket sales to know that saving a little here could mean a huge dent elsewhere — not to mention leave the Yankees short of what has always been their ultimate goal, and his, too: winning the World Series.
So, with just a few seasons passed since the end of George Steinbrenner’s reign in Gotham, the Yankees seem to be ready to go back to how he directed his team, criticism and all, for so many years. No matter the brains, no matter the bluster, no matter the well intentions of the sons, it appears that no one can run the Yankees quite like George.
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