Those Dysfunctional Steinbrenners

The hubbub over the weekend concerning Jonathan Mahler’s piece in the New York Times sports magazine Play, about the sons of George Steinbrenner, concerned the following passage:

“Red Sox Nation?” Hank [Steinbrenner] says. “What a bunch of [expletive] that is. That was a creation of the Red Sox and ESPN, which is filled with Red Sox fans. Go anywhere in America and you won’t see Red Sox hats and jackets, you’ll see Yankee hats and jackets. This is a Yankee country. We’re going to put the Yankees back on top and restore the universe to order.”

To which we say, “You want the pink-hatted bandwagon jumping fans? You can have them.”

All that quote did was make Hank, the older, slower brother, sound callow, sort of like when Larry Lucchino went spouting off about the Evil Empire back in 2002. As always, the real story was to be found within.

Mahler, the author of the terrific Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx is Burning paints a picture of a dysfunctional family full of divorce and chauvinism with two brothers (Hank and Hal) who refer to their father by his first name and desperately vie for his approval. Mahler lays it all out with this quote:

“Like almost any family business with a patriarch and children, the long-term future of the Yankees will depend on the need to avoid sibling rivalries and other types of problems,” one of the team’s limited partners told me. “The question is going to be how they function as a family.”

Hank, the vocal one, is clearly the star of the show. Over the winter, he railed about Alex Rodriguez not wanting to be a Yankee, only to re-sign him anyway. He gave the tabloid heathens breathless updates about trading for Johan Santana, and made it clear he would have done it, putting the pressure squarely on Brian Cashman, who did not.

Silent Hal, meanwhile, makes a show of pretending not to care, until he asks Mahler how much of the story is going to be about him. Of course, how much the brothers actually have to do with running the team is open for debate.

“Hank is very, very comfortable with the press and very secure in his knowledge of baseball,” [Randy] Levine says. “And what he’s saying to the media isn’t inconsistent with Yankee policy.”

OK, so he’s a blowhard trying to be the son he never was for a father who cared more about Reggie Jackson than him. Or something like that. Hank will make for good copy, and Hal might freak out if he has to stare at that hideous H.R. Haldeman haircut on the backpage of the NY Post for the whole summer. All that will be fun.

But what really matters is how Cashman deals with all this. His contract is up at the end of this year, and with his track record he can pick and choose any job he wants in baseball (except, of course, for the one in this town). Hell, he could even go to Los Angeles and reunite with Joe Torre once the McCourt’s figure out that Ned Coletti has no business running a big league team.

Cashman has played it coy this winter. He didn’t ruffle any feathers when Hank went ahead and signed A-Rod without him, but he didn’t race in to sign an extension either. He got his way on Santana, and he didn’t have to go out and sign any stop-gaps of the Kyle Lohse variety to show he was doing something.

Cashman takes heat for having a high payroll, but he is very good at his job and even better at playing the tabloid/politics game. If he does leave, it’s not so much of a leap to predict anarchy with all these cooks and no chef.

So, the Yankees are back to being the Yankees again. Welcome back. Enjoy second place.