30 December 2002

The King of the Tabloids...

Leave it to George Steinbrenner to be a bone-head and make some good points at the same time. In an interview with the NY Daily News, the Yankees' principal owner responded to criticism from John Henry and Larry Luccino of the Red Sox, mentioned some of his noted conflicts and problems over his thirty years as Yankees' owner, but took responsibility for them, and criticized Joe Torre and Derek Jeter.

On the state of the team he bought in 1972: When I first saw the team picture, it looked like a poster for birth control. (Mike) Kekich and (Fritz) Peterson had their wife-swapping deal. The Yankees were a doormat. I went to spring training and saw a lot of things I didn't like. I remember writing on an empty lineup card to Ralph Houk, "These men need haircuts." They didn't look like a team.

Of course, they were a team, but a mediocre one. If Steinbrenner has done nothing else as the Yankees owner over the last three decades, he has made the organization a team. It took a while, but the whole organization is run well now, and they succeed not just because they spend money, but because they spend it wisely. Such was not always the case.

On Joe Torre: Joe is the greatest friend I've ever had as a manager. It's a great relationship. I don't want to destroy that, but I will tell you this: I want his whole staff to understand that they have got to do better this year. I will not see him drop back into the way he was before. Right now he's a sure-fire Hall of Famer. Before he came to the Yankees he didn't even have a job. Three different times as manager he didn't deliver, and was fired. Look how far he's come. He's come that way because of an organization, and he's got to remember that. I'm glad that Joe is an icon. He's a hell of a guy, a tremendous manager and tremendous figure for New York. I just want his coaches to understand that just being a friend of Joe Torre's is not enough. They've got to produce for him. Joe Torre and his staff have heard the bugle.

An icon? Yes. A sure-fire Hall of Famer? No. Joe is borderline at best, because despite the four World Championships, the rest of his managerial record can best be described as "unspectacular." His success in Yankee Pinstripes may be seen by some of the voters as a happy coincidence for him, and so he may lose a little support. On the other hand (where, in case you haven't heard, I have five fingers) his four World Series titles would be two more than any other manager not in the HoF, so he'll probably get in eventually. But definintely not "sure-fire."

And Torre can only do as much as the players on his roster will allow. Granted, the Yanks had the highest payroll in baseball last year, but they're also an aging club, and nobody's going to win in the playoffs with a team ERA of 8.21.

On Bud Selig: I am a Bud Selig man. I consider him a good friend. He's a master at building people together. But while I'm loyal to Bud Selig, the biggest beneficiary in this whole plan are the Milwaukee Brewers. That doesn't seem quite right. I don't know how he sleeps at night sometimes.

Got to hand it to George there. By most accounts, Selig is very people-savvy, but also manipulative and quietly self-serving. At least Steinbrenner is openly self-serving.

On how the new CBA will change how the Yankees spend money: It's got to change it. That's a real chunk. A lot of people's whole payrolls are that. It's caused us to make slices. What we've tried to do is eliminate those perks and fringes that we would be granting without thinking. How many cell phones do we have out there? How many cars do we have out there?

That's it George, those couple dozen cell phones at $29.99/month are really what's putting you in the red, not the $200,000,000 you'll have to spend on players salaries, revenue sharing and luxury taxes. Better go out and get those No-Frills urinal cakes, too. Those SYSCO cakes cost ten cents more! Each!

On Red Sox owner John Henry's criticism of the Jose Contreras signing as "a big risk": That's just ridiculous. It makes him look stupid because they did everything they could to get him, including offering more money than we did. They offered $10 million to get him away from us. I give credit to Mr. Contreras. He wanted to play for the Yankees.

Well I'm not sure exactly why someone deserves "credit" for deciding to sign with the most powerful team in major league baseball, but as far as the question of risk goes, duh. It's all risk. There are no sure things in real, competitive sports.

On Lucchino calling the Yankees an "evil empire": That's B.S. That's how a sick person thinks. I've learned this about Lucchino: he's baseball's foremost chameleon of all time. He changes colors depending on where's he's standing. He's been at Baltimore and he deserted them there, and then went out to San Diego, and look at what trouble they're in out there. When he was in San Diego, he was a big man for the small markets. Now he's in Boston and he's for the big markets. [...] He talks out of both sides of his mouth. He has trouble talking out of the front of it.

Ouch. Lucchino and Steinbrenner are historically enemies, but Lucchino seems to haveearned this. It's pretty tough to justify criticisms of a guy who just wants to win, and will do whatever it takes to accomplish that. Sounds like sour grapes coming from Lucchino to me, though Steinbrenne rcould be a more gracious winner at times.

On the possibility of a partially state funded replacement for Yankee Stadium: Stadiums are being built everywhere by cities. Very few of them are built privately, and the one in San Francisco (PacBell) has deep financial problems, from what I hear. Building a stadium in New York costs two or three times what it would anywhere else, because of the labor unions and their power. And that's OK with me. I'm not against them. It's still a big puzzle that has got to be answered.

Well, yas and no. Yes, PacBell has problems, but no, it's not the same. While it's true that it may cost twice as much to build Yankee Stadium, the Sequel as it did to build PacBell Park, it's also true that the Yankees take in about 50% more revenue annually than the Giants do, according to Forbes. And while Pacific Bell probably paid a pretty penny to have their name inscribed upon the Giants new home, how much more would Coca-Cola, or McDonald's, or Microsoft pay to have their name(s) on the new home of the Yankees?

"Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I'm Bobby Murcer, and welcome to The House That M&M/Mars Built, Wendy's Ballpark on the US Department of the Interior Waterfront at the New York Times South Bronx, presented by Visa, It's Everywhere You Want To Be..."

On his suspension for giving gambler Howard Spira $40,000 to find damaging information on Dave Winfield : That was a very tough one to take. He did what he realistically thought was the right thing to do.

Umm, yeah!? An owner is consorting with gamblers to find damaging personal info on one of his star players to justify getting out of his contract? I'd say suspending you was exactly the right thing to do. Heck, it turned out to be the best thing to happen to the Yankees since Mickey Mantle.

On his relationship with a guy like Spira:

Bad hookup. Bad hookup. There were reasons, but no reason would've been good enough to have done that.

Well, at least he acknowledges a mistake.

On cheap-shots taken at him over the years:

I'm sure a lot of the shots have been very well–deserved.

Wow, acknowledging more mistakes, potentially.

On Derek Jeter as a potential Yankees Captain: I don't think now is the right time. I want to see Jetes truly focused. He wasn't totally focused last year. He had the highest number of errors he's had in some time. He wasn't himself.

As far as trying and being a warrior, I wouldn't put anyone ahead of him. But how much better would he be if he didn't have all his other activities? I tell him this all the time. I say, 'Jetes, you can't be everything to everybody. You've got to focus on what's important.' The charitable things he does are important. A certain amount (of his outside pursuits) are good for him and for the team, but there comes a point when it isn't, and I think we're getting close to that point.

He makes enough money that he doesn't need a lot of the commercials. I'm not going to stick my nose into his family's business. They are very fine people, (but) if his dad doesn't see that, he should see it. When I read in the paper that he's out until 3 a.m. in New York City going to a birthday party, I won't lie. That doesn't sit well with me. That was in violation of Joe's curfew. That's the focus I'm talking about.

Jeter's still a young man. He'll be a very good candidate for the captaincy. But he's got to show me and the other players that that's not the right way. He's got to make sure his undivided, unfettered attention is given to baseball. I just wish he'd eliminate some of the less important things and he'd be right back to where he was in the past.

David Pinto thinks that Steinbrenner has a point, and I have to concur, at least to a degree. Jeter had 14 errors last year, which were the most he's had since...well, 2001, when he made 15. In fact, Jeter has only one full season in which he's made fewer than 14 errors, 1998, when he made nine, so George doesn't exactly know what he's talking about there. However, his defense has slipped, even from the lows at which it previously resided. According to Baseball Prospectus, Jeter's defense was 27 runs worse than an average shortstop in 2002, not his career low, but still pretty bad. Overall, Jeter's 5.9 wins above replacement (WARP1) in 2002, which combines his hitting and fileding contributions, was the worst of his career. (That works out to over $3 million/win!) Mind you, he's never been a good defensive SS, despite what Tim McCarver tells you, but he was at least only slightly below average until 1999. I guess the thrill and excitement of being part of the Team of the Century went to his head, and he stopped working on defense. Boy of Summer said, three months ago, that Jeter needs to work more on his defense than he does on his Fleet commercials. Of course, Nomar's defense doesn't seem to have suffered from filming those commercials. Leaders lead by example first.

Show us that you want to be a leader, Derek. Show us that in the annals of history, you will deserve to be mentioned in the same paragraph as Alex and Nomar.

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