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Après George le Déluge

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BASEBALL MEN: Injuries spoiled manager Joe Girardi's debut. GM Brian Cashman seems to be staying—for now.
Illustrations by Lyndon Hayes  

One of George Steinbrenner’s gifts was a flair for bombastic, belligerent showmanship. The trait seemed to have made a latent appearance in Hank: For most of his 51 years, Hank had strenuously avoided any real role with the Yankees. But now that it had been thrust upon him—complete with a media-friendly, tear-jerking anecdote about Piniella’s telling Hank his father needs him now—Hank started the season playing the son-of-the-Boss part to the hilt. He was everywhere during spring training in Tampa, scowling, chain-smoking, firing off headline-ready quotes.

He’d gotten a head start during the fall of 2007, all but wishing Joe Torre, the four-time World Series–winning manager, good riddance. Then Hank dared Alex Rodriguez to leave town, and A-Rod backed down, signing a contract worth $275 million. As the regular season began, Hank seemed to revel in his almost-daily presence in the sports pages. He’d sound off on everything from the urgency of moving Joba Chamberlain from the bull pen to the starting rotation to the backwardness of the National League for refusing to add the designated hitter.

But it soon became apparent that sounding off was pretty much all Hank did. His high profile in the spring turned out to be a matter of geography: Training camp is in Tampa, in his backyard. “I watch the [regular season] games at home on TV, or I’ll watch ’em here at the office, or the first part of ’em, and then watch the second part at home, wherever I happen to be, my girlfriend’s house, whatever,” he told me affably one afternoon in the middle of the season. Some things still got him huffing and puffing, like the delay in making Chamberlain a starting pitcher. “See, the Red Sox did it right, with Buchholz and Lester. They brought them along as starters and nothing else. So Buchholz throws a no-hitter last year, Lester throws one this year. Well, Chamberlain could have thrown one already, I think, had he been brought along that way. And that’s the way he should have been brought along.”

Yet for all Hank’s regular-guy charm, his tendency to splutter like a sports-radio caller has often come across as graceless, never more so than when he was leaving an 11–3 rout by the Red Sox in late August, just the second Yankees home game he had attended all year. “They sucked,” he said while storming across the parking lot.

Because Hank, unlike his father, hasn’t backed up the blather by firing or blaming anyone inside the organization, he quickly went from endearing to irrelevant. One indelible indicator of how he’s viewed within the organization came from Suzyn Waldman, the fiercely loyal Yankees radio broadcaster. In May, during an interview on WFAN, Waldman casually said, “I don’t think anybody pays attention” to Hank’s pronouncements. Accurate as her analysis is, the fact that Waldman was willing to say it publicly, without worry of discipline by Yankees management, was a telling indication of the political dynamic: No one is scared of Hank.

Hal is the stealth Steinbrenner. Back in 2002, when he was in charge of the family’s hotel properties, Hal stepped in to undo one of his father’s worst ideas—slashing the dental benefits of low-ranking Yankees staffers. George needed to punish someone after the team, big winners in the regular season, flamed out in the first round of the playoffs. He didn’t seem to care about the public-relations nightmare. Until Hal talked his father down, even offering to pay the dental premiums out of his own pocket. Yet Hal made his case so quietly that his actions weren’t publicly known until the following year.

Hal’s arrival as Yankees executive vice-president during the winter was overshadowed by his older brother’s bluster, but he was diligently learning the organization and asserting himself in ways that Hank didn’t. Hank is heavyset, perpetually rumpled, and favors shapeless blue blazers; Hal looks as if he parts his hair with a razor blade, and he is buff enough to sport Under Armour short-sleeve shirts.

As the season began, Hal’s primary focus was working with Randy Levine, the team president, to oversee completion of the new stadium. Levine was one of Rudy Giuliani’s most powerful deputy mayors. In 2000, Levine left City Hall for the Yankees, becoming George Steinbrenner’s chief aide in expanding the team’s business reach. Hal’s other guide, and currently the key person in the baseball power structure, is Brian Cashman, the Yankees’ general manager since 1998. Like Levine, Cashman is a savvy political player. Three years ago, he was on the verge of walking away from the Yankees unless handed complete control of baseball operations; Steinbrenner, in what may turn out to have been his last important act as owner, agreed.


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