Wednesday, March 13, 2013

'Where are the Yankees I loved to hate?' George Vecsey, NY Times

3/12/13, "Where Are the Yankees I Loved to Hate?" George Vecsey, NY Times

"In their current disorienting austerity drive, the Sons of Boss have it backward.

If I am not mistaken, part of the Yankees’ charter, registered with Major League Baseball, guarantees that the Yankees will spend money, stockpile talent and thoroughly grind the rest of baseball into the pavement. 

Instead, the heirs of George Steinbrenner are quivering in front of the baseball luxury tax like any ordinary midmarket, middle-American weenie franchise. This is the organization that blasts Sinatra or Minnelli into the pungent Bronx night air, proclaiming New York as the city that never sleeps. Apparently, Tampa-on-Hudson now tucks in early and pulls the covers over its head. 

I speak here as a lifelong Brooklyn Dodgers fan who suffered terribly in my youth. The Yankees were always throwing some Kuzava at us in the early autumn, somebody they had purchased to plug a hole in their left-handed pitching, whatever they needed. 

True, they have won only one World Series and two other pennants since 2000, but it’s thesharklike intent that counts. To this day, it remains the Yankees’ responsibility to wreck other childhoods the way they ruined mine. The boogeyman, sounding like Mel Allen or John Sterling, is supposed to give inferiority complexes to half of New York and superiority complexes to the other half. 

The Yankees became what they are today by going out and getting Babe Ruth. They squeezed Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio, questioning their loyalty and their patriotism, accusing them of greed, but they got them, and they kept them. George Weiss tried to cut Mickey Mantle’s salary because the Mick did not repeat as triple crown champion. That’s the Yankee way. Mickey, we can always sell you to Kansas City. 

I know things are different now in the age of free agency and hotshot agents and luxury taxes, but the essential role of the Yankees remains the same: dominate, brutalize, “a boot stamping on a human face — forever,” as Orwell wrote. 

This is the Stockholm syndrome of baseball, in which the hostage identifies with the captor. Instead, the Yankees are showing why heirs should not be allowed to inherit an estate. The Boss built the Yankees by any means possible. He was suspended once for illegal campaign donations and another time for consorting with a gambler to gather information on one of his best players, Dave Winfield. 

This was the Yankee way. Anything goes. 

Now his sons and heirs are trying to cut the budget to avoid luxury taxes. Who runs the Yankees? Somebody with the red born-on-the-Fourth-of-July Steinbrenner blood, or some watery mix?

What would Attila the Hun do? What would Tony Soprano do? What would Donald Trump do?

Here’s one symptom of everything wrong with the current Yankees: 

Brian Cashman, the general manager, has quite clearly gone middle-age crazy, apparently so bored with life that he seeks new challenges. 

I thought this was what golf is for. 

Instead, Cashman goes rappelling down buildings. He goes sky diving. He dislocates his ankle in a second episode because he cannot get enough of flying like a bird. 

The Boss hated it when general managers tried to have a life. He locked them up in their hotel rooms when the Yankees lost a game. He called them back from airports when they were going to visit their families for a day. He once told a publicist to leave home on Christmas Day to prepare for a news conference. 

In this current foolishness of sky diving, the Boss would have personally escorted Cashman up for a third time — without a minder, without a parachute. You want to fly? Here, go fly.
The sight of the general manager hobbling around camp is an indication the Yankees have lost their way. 

The biggest story of spring training has been the injuries — Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira, along with the rehabilitation of the graybeards Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. Alex Rodriguez is rehabilitating his ravaged body, a nonperson, seemingly barred from sight. 

In the bad old days, the Boss would have dropped a dime on A-Rod, letting people in baseball and the news media know that A-Rod’s various breakdowns are from his cough drops or his favorite brand of coffee or something else. The Boss would have known how to undermine an employee who was not earning his keep. 

The Yankees are making fools of themselves by tossing out names like Scott Rolen or Derrek Lee, retired players. Cashman wants reporters to flick their thumbs on Twitter to check if Chipper Jones wants to play. Chipper would probably listen to the Mets before the Yankees. In fact, why haven’t the Mets thought of that? 

Meantime, what is it with Cashman? Can you get the bends from jumping out of an airplane? 

The Yankees seem in danger of wanting to be the Atlanta Braves, who, after dominating their league for more than a decade, decided they could not spend like champions. They lost their nerve. 

Admittedly, baseball is a tricky business. The Red Sox and the Phillies imploded. The best-run franchises are the Cardinals and the Giants, at the moment.  

The Yankees did not get where they are by worrying about some luxury tax. They blatantly ran a major league farm team, salting Clete Boyer and Ralph Terry in Kansas City until they were needed. They wanted Roger Maris? They got Roger Maris. He gave them two of the greatest seasons the Yankees ever received. That was a different ownership, to be sure, but dominance is in the water, the Harlem River that flows past.

Now, in the post-Boss years, the Yankees shed serviceable players like Russell Martin and Nick Swisher without replacing them. This book balancing is humiliating to Yankees fans — but who cares about Yankees fans? More important, this squeamish behavior is disorienting to Yankees victims, who want consistency from their tormentors. 

Perhaps the Yankees are affected by the proximity to their down-on-their-luck neighbors in Queens, who have not been the same since the Madoff scandal broke. But Mets fans know how to suffer. Mets thinking goes like this: Great, we can find cut-rate tickets floating around the Internet this summer. 

The diminished attendance at the Big Theme Park in the Bronx suggests the Yankees are not making the projected profits. The gaping spaces in the expensive seats do not necessarily mean people are scarfing down the wine and the goodies in the restaurants and clubs at the House That Shrimp Built. It means they are staying away. 

The Boss would know what to do. He would send his general manager to his room to pursue suitable replacements for Granderson and Teixeira. He would put out a news release denouncing this wimpy mention of Lee and Rolen and Jones. The Boss would be blustering around, making life miserable for everybody. His longtime victims expect nothing less."

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