Big George (“Mr. Steinbrenner,” as every Yankee employee refers to him, without fail) has made only sporadic appearances at his eponymous ﬁeld in Tampa this spring—he sits in his private box and occasionally waves—and his sons Hank and Hal have been conspicuously quiet this off-season. (Hank, reportedly the driving force behind offering A-Rod the ten-year, $275 million contract in December 2007, said only that he was “not personally angry” at the third-baseman and that the team would not try to void his contract.) Chief operating ofﬁcer Lonn Trost, the brains behind the cash cow that is the YES Network and the overseer of the construction of the new stadium, is loath to dip into personnel decisions. So it’d have to be general manager Brian Cashman, right? Well, one could argue he had his chance.
Before last season, Cashman—who gets along so well with the beat-reporter media hordes that he might as well be one of them; he certainly looks like a beat reporter—made a big show of the Yankees’ youth movement, eschewing big free-agent payouts (other than A-Rod, of course) to trust homegrown talent like Melky Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Phil Hughes, and Ian Kennedy to lay the foundation of a new dynasty. This plan worked terribly: Cabrera and Cano backslid, and Hughes and Kennedy bombed. Once the Yankees missed the postseason, out came the old checkbook, and in came Teixeira, Sabathia, and Burnett. (The two pitchers of the future, Hughes and Kennedy? They’ve both been optioned to Triple A; after Kennedy was sent to the minors, his locker was taken over by Kei Igawa’s translator.) Was this all Cashman’s decision? Is this the way he would like to have done it? Certainly not: Cashman, like his buddy Theo Epstein in Boston, fancied himself a sort of Billy Beane–Moneyball general manager, except with actual money. After last year invalidated his start-the-kids approach, the imperative was clear: Back to basics, spend the cash. Cashman probably would rather not do it this way, but he has worked for the Yankees his entire life and still has a great gig: general manager of the richest, most powerful team in sports, and he doesn’t even have to sit through George yelling at him anymore. So why not stick around? Cashman, it appears now, is just along for the ride, and more or less content about it.
Reporters usually have to chase players to get them to talk. With Nick Swisher, the opposite is happening: He’s chasing reporters.
Same goes for manager Joe Girardi. A longtime catcher in the major leagues and a manager for one tumultuous season with the Florida Marlins, the 44-year-old Midwesterner took over for Torre after a season in the YES broadcasting booth. He is modest, authoritative, well spoken (he has a degree in industrial engineering from Northwestern), and is a True Baseball Man. He takes considerable pride in focusing only on the diamond and avoiding all that swirls around it. This is an intelligent move, though it also sometimes makes it seem like he’s out of the loop. He met Teixeira, Burnett, and Sabathia for the ﬁrst time at the press conferences introducing them as Yankees, and he communicates with Rodriguez almost exclusively by text message. (“A-Rod texted me that he had the surgery,” he told reporters after a recent spring-training game. “That’s all I can tell you, because that’s all I know.”) A-Rod’s rehab, Rivera’s recovery from off-season surgery, which players will be going to which spring-training games—a lot of that lies outside of Girardi’s jurisdiction. He makes out the lineup, gives players occasional pep talks, answers reporters’ questions after the game ... and waits for further instruction. It’s not that he’s uninvolved or incompetent; far from it, in fact. It’s just that with the Yankees, being the manager doesn’t make you the boss.
“For me, it’s a lot of baseball, and a lot of family, and that’s all I worry myself with,” he says. “The face of the Yankees is the players, and Mr. Steinbrenner. Very seldom in this market is the manager the face, because of all the players that are here. I’m asked to manage the team, and that’s what they allow me to do.”
Girardi will take the fall if the Yankees don’t make the playoffs this year, though no one quite knows who will be wielding the ax.
The first game ever at the old Yankee Stadium was April 18, 1923, against the Boston Red Sox. Ofﬁcial attendance was 74,200, Babe Ruth hit a three-run homer, and John Philip Sousa played the national anthem at center ﬁeld. It’s a shame Steinbrenner hadn’t been born yet. He would have loved that.
There’s no real John Philip Sousa equivalent today, and it’s just as well, because it’d be tough to top that opener. Instead, on April 16, the Yankees will open their new playpen to pomp and circumstance in front of a sold-out crowd on a weekday-afternoon game against the Cleveland Indians. So far, the Yankees have been quiet on details, but you can expect all the greats, from Berra to Reggie, all dressed up in their uniforms, of course. The nostalgia will take them far, considering the Yankees haven’t won a World Series in nearly a decade and are moving into a stadium that has 1,100 ﬂat-panel, high-deﬁnition video monitors and whose luxury boxes have “touch-screen Internet-protocol phones” to order hot dogs. The Yankees’ individual-game tickets went on sale last week, and sales were brisk. Season-ticket renewals, despite a massive price hike for the best seats, have been steady, and recently, State Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh proposed legislation that calls for teams that take taxpayer funding to be required to offer “7 percent of all tickets at affordable prices,” which is not something you have to do if a team is having trouble selling tickets.