The Steinbrenner Compromise

Steinbrenner's stewardship of the Yankees has lessons for CF97 today.

Whatever happens at 10:30 today, let's hope owner Andrew Hauptman shakes the micro-management bug

George Steinbrenner is remembered fondly at this point, the gentling filter of time rendering neutral the outrage and frustration he engendered at one time among the sports-afflicted. He's Costanza's crazy boss on Seinfeld; he's the baseball owner who appeared on Saturday Night Live.

In real life, though, there was no filter. He fired people by the truckload, fired them for any reason and no reason at all. He fired and re-hired Billy Martin five times, and that was a guy who could call his own press conference! He was the master of the irascible note - "Have Nos. 15, 1, 28 cut their hair," that sort of thing. He'd invite strangers to dinner and then order for them.

Steinbrenner's actions are the logical conclusion to someone who buys into the fallacy that "If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself." Sure, he was irascible and short-tempered - many people are. What made Steinbrenner Steinbrenner was his unreflective surety that He Had The Answers, and that any failures, however small, that happened around him had to be someone else's fault.

The Yankees, under the meddling Steinbrenner, were fabulously well-funded and famously dysfunctional. Everyone constantly looked over their shoulder. No one would speak on the record. Harvey Greene summed up the pervasive atmosphere of fear and paranoia in speaking to the New York Times:

"When the team was on the road, you'd come back to your hotel late at night, and if your phone light was on, you knew that either there had been a death in the family or George was looking for you. After a while, you started to hope that there had been a death in the family." - Harvey Greene, former Yankees Director of Media Relations

That they brought home two World Series crowns in '78 and '79 is a testament to the primacy of talent in sporting competition - these were expensive teams losing massive amounts of money, but bursting with talent. Despite continued massive investment, though, Steinbrenner's Yankees could never reproduce the form that won those two titles. The turmoil, unimpeachable because its source was the owner, took its toll. The farm system cratered as prospects were constantly dealt four-for-one for superstars. The superstars hated each other. It was a mess.

So what changed? What turned the Yankees from a traveling road-show of dysfunction into the year-on-year contenders who dominated baseball for a decade or more, starting in the mid 90s? It's really quite simple: George got suspended, and while he was suspended, he learned that keeping his hands off made things better. He left the baseball decisions to a baseball man - Gene Michael - and won the World Series in '96, '98, '99 and 2000.

At 10:30 this morning, Andrew Hauptman is going to hold a press conference, likely to introduce a new manager for the Chicago Fire. All of the whispers point to either Frank Yallop or Jesse Marsch sitting next to him, but those same whispers have Hauptman involved in every aspect of the roster-building process.

Here's to hoping whoever's sitting there gets the deference Gene Michael got. Here's to hoping Hauptman can learn the lessons Steinbrenner took to heart.

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