Andy Martino, SNY.tv | Twitter |
By the accounts of those who knew him, Hank Steinbrenner was a good soul. A man who pursued his enthusiasms, treated people with respect, and used his family money to support charitable endeavors like the Hank's Yanks youth baseball team.
When Steinbrenner died on Tuesday at 63 after what the Yankees called "a longstanding health issue," tributes poured in from people who'd spent time with him.
"Whatever you thought of Hank Steinbrenner as a team owner, I can tell you he was a good guy," veteran sportswriter Wallace Matthews tweeted. "Very likable and genuine. Excellent musician on guitar and piano. I will miss talking to him about non-baseball matters."
For those who didn't know Steinbrenner, we remember that his brief time in the limelight brought the sort of old-school entertainment that has become scarce in the increasingly corporate and sanitized landscape of baseball.
In the tradition of his iconic father, George, and the public opposite of his reserved brother, Hal, Hank Steinbrenner was the last great tabloid sports owner in New York, a general partner who could command a back page simply by answering his phone.
New York Times national baseball writer Tyler Kepner shared a representative example, writing on Twitter that Steinbrenner had called him after Alex Rodriguez opted out of his contract during a World Series game.
"Will never forget walking into Red Sox clubhouse in Denver after they won 07 WS," Kepner wrote. "Cell phone rings. It's Hank Steinbrenner. ARod had just opted out. "Does he want to go into the Hall of Fame as a Yankee or a Toledo Mud Hen?" he said. Those were the days."
In the early 2000s, as George Steinbrenner's health declined, Hank began to take a more active role with the Yankees. His most memorable moment came in the winter after the 2007 season, when the Yanks were among the teams negotiating with the Minnesota Twins to trade for ace Johan Santana. Among his quotes during that time:
- "I'm not going to be played against the Red Sox. That's not something I'll do. That's not something the Yankees should ever do, and that's I think what they're trying to do now."
- "Nothing is really decided at this point… I'm still leaning towards doing it. There's others leaning not to do it. There are some others that are leaning to do it also. Disagreements within the organization. Nothing major, but just different opinions. I've changed my opinion a couple times… I always told [general manager Brian Cashman], 'I'm going to make the final decisions because when you're the owner, you should.'"
- "I think the Twins realize our offer is the best one… I feel confident they're not going to trade him before checking with us one last time and I think they think we've already made the best offer."
In today's game, we almost never hear that type of candor from a club official, especially during a negotiation.
It's not necessarily productive for the team, but it's great fun for the fans -- and this is the entertainment business, after all. A little bit of Steinbrennerian flair generates interest and gives us all something to chew on.
Steinbrenner wasn't done after the Santana talks. When Yankees pitcher Chien-Ming Wang suffered a serious injury running the bases in an interleague game, he told SNY's Anthony McCarron, then with the Daily News, "I just think it's time the N.L joined the 21st century."
That's tabloid gold. It wasn't destined to last long; for most of this decade, Hal Steinbrenner has served as a more measured steward of the franchise.
Hank kept his title but faded to the background. Perhaps he burned too hot even for New York. But he sure was fun while he lasted as the voice of the Yankees, and we'll likely never see the likes of him in a position like that again.