Steinbrenner drops hint of who may follow him

Torre negotiations put spotlight on son-in-law

Boss' sons passed over



April 12, 2004|By Ken Davidoff | Ken Davidoff,NEWSDAY

Finally, after years of hype, we have an actual sighting of a species we figured to be a mere invention of George Steinbrenner's overactive imagination.

We see a young elephant, and his name is Steve Swindal.

With Joe Torre's three-year, $19.2 million contract extension came unprecedented publicity for one of The Boss' deputies, or, as he so often calls them, the "young elephants." The rest of the image - not surprisingly, being that he is the "big elephant" - is that he someday intends to depart the "tent" he has constructed.

It's interesting that Steinbrenner turned to his son-in-law, the 48-year-old Swindal, rather than either of his sons, 35-year-old Hal or 46-year-old Hank, to serve as his point man in negotiations with Torre. It could point to the New York Yankees' direction should The Boss - who lists his birthday as July 4, 1930, but is suspected of being a year or two older - ever slow down, by choice or because of health issues.

In Friday's news conference to announce Torre's extension, Swindal received a prime seat, sharing a table with Torre and his wife, Ali. Then he conducted an interview with YES' Suzyn Waldman, the first time Yankees fans have seen an extended conversation with any of The Boss' three general partners (with Hank and Hal Steinbrenner serving as the other two).

"I don't need the public part," the humble Swindal said Friday. "I like working for the Yankees, whatever it is."

Hank Steinbrenner is virtually invisible in the Yankees' universe, choosing to spend most of his time with The Boss' horse racing interests. Hal Steinbrenner often appears at Legends Field in Tampa, Fla., but seems to lack the passion for running a baseball team.

If anything, Hal Steinbrenner serves as a good balance for his father's tyranny. Last year, when George Steinbrenner once again considered cutting his employees' dental plan (after opting against it at the end of 2002), Hal spoke up and said he would pay $150,000 out of his own pocket to keep the plan afloat. The Boss backed off.

Not surprisingly, emotional exchanges are common in the Steinbrenner family. Hal Steinbrenner watched most of Game 6 of last year's World Series in a remote Yankee Stadium office after he and his father had it out in the early going.

Swindal, while lacking Steinbrenner blood, has his father-in-law's passion. Associates say Swindal still is upset that Torre brought in Jeff Weaver to pitch (and lose) Game 4 of last year's Fall Classic. Fortunately for Yankees employees, Swindal tends to treat employees far more nicely.

During his negotiations with Swindal, Torre said: "I really had a sense that he wanted everybody to be satisfied. It wasn't like he had to win. It was a very comfortable situation for me. I have a lot of respect for the way he did it."

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