Chip off the old Boss

Yankees chairman off to a running (mouth) start

On Hank Steinbrenner

April 24, 2008|By PETER SCHMUCK

It's time to add another item to the growing list of things that point toward a new competitive era for the Orioles:

Hank Steinbrenner.

There apparently is a little-known rule in the American League East that requires at least one of the division's managing general partners to act like a fruitcake at all times, and -- since Peter Angelos seems to have come to his senses and Vince Naimoli has left the building -- it appears to be Hank's turn.

I realize Hank is technically the "co-chairman" with his brother Hal, but he's running the franchise and doing such a bang-up job that New York magazine already has a Web page titled "Hank's Greatest Hits."

Let's review: In his relatively short time at the helm, he has made headlines for kicking popular manager Joe Torre to the curb, calling Red Sox Nation "a bunch of [expletive]," blasting small-market opponents for playing too aggressively against a Yankees team that "subsidizes" them through revenue sharing and approving the excavation of a section of the new Yankee Stadium to unearth the David Ortiz jersey that was buried there by a Sox-loving construction worker bent on cursing the Yankees.

Most recently, he took a page from his dad's old playbook and publicly second-guessed new manager Joe Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman in The New York Times for supposedly mishandling top pitching prospect Joba Chamberlain.

"You don't have a guy with a 100-mph fastball and keep him as a setup guy," he told the Times. "You just don't do that. You have to be an idiot to do that."

Of course, the only one who really has to be an idiot is the guy who thinks he knows more about running a baseball team and developing young talent than the professionals he pays top dollar to do just that, but if Hank wants to micromanage the Yankees into oblivion, who outside of New York is going to argue?

This is great news for anyone who remembers the 1980s, when George Steinbrenner lost his touch and the Yankees dropped off the American League radar for more than a decade. It was only after The Boss was suspended by commissioner Fay Vincent in 1990 that the Yankees regained their footing and emerged anew as baseball's most dominant team. That happened largely under the watch of Torre -- whom Hank pushed out the door after 12 straight playoff appearances -- and Cashman, who might be next.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox remain ascendant and the other three teams in the American League East seem to be moving in a positive direction.

The Orioles are in particular position to benefit if Hank steers the Yankees onto the rocks. Club president Andy MacPhail has pulled off two major trades to make the Orioles younger and deeper, and he's conserving payroll that presumably will be spent to compete with the Yankees for top free agents when the time is right.

The Yankees are doing some retooling, too, though it's hard to call it rebuilding when you're still spending well more than $200 million on salaries. They have several promising young pitchers who are expected to form the nucleus of a strong starting rotation someday, but Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy have been getting knocked around regularly this year and that has been reflected in the Yankees' sluggish start.

They got off to an even worse start last year, but there is more reason for concern this time. The calm that Torre brought to a difficult situation has been replaced by the intensity of Girardi, whose managerial acumen has never been tested in the caldron of emotion and expectation that is New York, and there is no way to predict how the two young starters will rebound from their early struggles.

Throw Hammerhead Hank into the mix, and who knows what might happen? Baltimore fans can only hope it's a toxic combination that creates an opening near the top of the standings that the Orioles can grow into over the next couple of years.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on most Saturdays and Sundays.

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