Posted by: Mike Cornelius | October 21, 2012

Hal Steinbrenner Brings Overdue Reality To The Bronx

So it’s another early winter in the Bronx. With the Yankees’ season coming to a screeching and emphatic halt Thursday evening in Detroit, both fans and the New York media instantly turned to assigning blame for the Yankees postseason offensive meltdown and speculating on the team’s off-season moves.

I’ve been a Yankees fan all my life. That’s a product of growing up with a love of the Great Game in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., where of course my team was the Senators. But the Senators of old Griffith Stadium departed for Minnesota when I was still a young boy, and the Senators of RFK Stadium left for Texas my senior year in high school. When I wasn’t suffering from abandonment issues, the local team was almost always awful. So while I remained loyal to the Washington franchises of my youth (and in a classic display of a true fan’s illogic, I root for today’s Nationals, whose only relationship to the teams of my youth is the city they play in), my young psyche needed another, better team to root for. That team was the New York Yankees of Mantle and Maris, of Yogi and Whitey, and the spark plug Bobby Richardson at second base.

Through three decades of having no team in Washington, even as I moved to and lived in New England, I remained true to my pinstriped heroes in the Bronx. It’s easy for fans of other teams to forget that my loyalty during those years included many Yankees seasons during the late ‘60s, early ’70s, and early ‘90s that were decidedly Senators-like.

Perhaps it is because of those lean years that I never bought into George Steinbrenner’s logic that defined a successful season as one in which the Yankees won the World Series, with anything short of that amounting to utter failure. But as I read the first post-mortems after Detroit swept New York aside in the ALCS, I felt like I was decidedly in the minority. Sportswriters and fans alike elbowed one another out of the way in an effort to make the loudest or most dramatic statement on the need for wholesale change in New York’s management and lineup after the team’s postseason catastrophe.

From GM Brian Cashman to manager Joe Girardi, from center fielder Curtis Granderson to right fielder Nick Swisher to the entire right side of the infield in Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira, none were spared the hysterical calls for a firing or a trade. Of course the focus of the greatest amount of ire was third baseman Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod hit just .111 against the Tigers and .120 in the postseason. After dramatically pinch-hitting for him in Game Three of the ALDS, Girardi felt free to do so again and even to sit him entirely. When Rodriguez grounded out for the second out in the 9th inning of Game Four against Detroit, some wondered aloud if that was his last at-bat in pinstripes. Wildly unfounded rumors of trade talks with the Miami Marlins gained instant currency.

Rodriguez has always been a lightning rod because of his bloated salary and because with the exception of 2009, his postseason performances in New York have ranged from mediocre to miserable. His failure to hit against both Baltimore and Detroit was merely a continuation of what Yankee fans have seen in several Octobers since he arrived in the Bronx in 2004. But while that is certainly not the return one expects on a $275 million investment, there is almost no chance that A-Rod will be playing for anyone but New York next season. Over the five remaining years of his contract, he is owed $114 million in salary, $6 million in signing bonuses, and potentially millions more in incentive payments for reaching various home run milestones. For the Yankees to move A-Rod they would have to send along the money to satisfy the vast majority of those contractual obligations.

The Yankees, who are determined to get below the MLB salary cap by 2014 in order to avoid the stiff luxury tax that is part of the latest collective bargaining agreement, are unquestionably hamstrung by A-Rod’s contract. It is the painful legacy of Hank Steinbrenner’s brief tenure running the club, after George stepped aside and before younger brother Hal took over. Hank’s stewardship unfortunately coincided with A-Rod’s decision to opt out of the remainder of his old contract at the end of the 2007 season. After first wishing the slugger good riddance, Hank Steinbrenner then reversed course and despite the lack of evidence of a broad market for Rodriguez, essentially bid against himself and inked A-Rod to the ten-year deal that still has half its term to run. But as bad a deal as the contract may be, it scarcely makes sense for the Yankees to be paying almost all of it while getting absolutely nothing in return because A-Rod is wearing a different uniform.

While A-Rod and the Yankees are likely to remain wed, that doesn’t mean there won’t be roster changes. Every team, including whichever one eventually emerges as this year’s champion, spends the offseason trying to get better. Right fielder Swisher, whose free agent demands will almost certainly exceed what the Yankees can offer, seems certain to be playing elsewhere next spring. Catcher Russell Martin turned down a multi-year deal last spring; a decision that he may regret after a season in which he struggled for months to raise his batting average above .200. Fill-in closer Rafael Soriano may decide to test the open market. Role players like Eric Chavez, Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez will be carefully evaluated against others that become available over the winter. There’s certain to be a place in the rotation for Andy Pettitte, but the left-hander must decide if he wants to continue his comeback from a one-year retirement.

But the changes that occur aren’t likely to be of the wholesale variety, despite the hysterical wailing in the hours immediately after the Detroit sweep. That’s because Hal Steinbrenner and the rest of the team’s ownership and management appear to be finally free of the old man’s unrealistic demands. Steinbrenner’s statement after New York’s season ended did not include an apology to the fans for the lack of a 28th championship, as his father’s certainly would have. While acknowledging the bitter way in which the season ended, Steinbrenner praised the team for its accomplishments. Through forty games the Yankees were a .500 club, yet they rallied to win 95 times, the most in the American League while winning the AL Eastern Division crown for the 13th time in the last 17 years. They did that despite losing one member of their rotation in spring training, their starting left fielder a handful of games into the season and the best closer in history early in May; and despite having their ace make two trips to the DL and the surprising Pettitte lose two months to a broken ankle.

In the halcyon days of spring, when everything seems possible, fans in all 30 big league cities can dream the grand dream of a World Series championship. Inevitably, 29 of those dreams will be just that, and no more. This year my dream was one of the 29. But that does not diminish what the Yankees accomplished during the regular season, nor can it erase a championship history that dwarfs that of any other franchise. The 108th World Series starts on Wednesday and New York won’t be playing. But they played in 40 of the first 107, and they will play again. Hats off to the Tigers, who boast a potent lineup and outstanding starting pitching. The Yankees season ended in disappointment; but at long last in the Bronx, disappointment is not the same thing as failure.

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Responses

  1. Very nice, level-headed analysis. You’re right, it would be too easy to jump on the bandwagon and demand wholesale changes. And while changes will surely occur, this is, of course, a pretty solid team.
    I’m sure your guys will be reloaded for next year.
    Regards, Bill

    • Bill,
      Thanks as always for your kind words, and a special thank you for reblogging the post. I greatly appreciate the added exposure! Keep up your own great work.
      Mike

  2. Reblogged this on The On Deck Circle and commented:
    Very nice, level-headed analysis of the Yankees season. Even if you’re not a Yankees fan, it’s worth a read.

  3. Hard to feel sorry for the Yankees. Even harder to feel any sympathy for millionaire owners and players. The Baltimore series was great to watch. Your analysis was interesting, but again, no sympathy for the ?#!!% Yankees.
    P.S. I’m from the Bronx.

    • Nor do I expect any! Thanks for reading!
      Mike

  4. Good analysis. I myself a lifelong Yankee fan, was disappointed to say the least. I am not, nor have been, a fan of Rodriguez. If you look at his career, he has been good for Rodriguez, and not as much for his teams. But you are correct, the Yanks would be better off keeping him on the bench, then paying him to play elsewhere.


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