Wednesday, February 11, 2004
Badness of King George
By Jim Caple
Look, I respect George Steinbrenner for his commitment to winning. I wish my local team had his win-at-all-costs attitude instead of being satisfied with just being "good enough.''
But why does Steinbrenner have to be such a jerk about everything?
Winning championships doesn't have to come with an ego so inflated it should be floating down Broadway in the Macy's parade. Going to the World Series doesn't mean you have to treat your employees as if they were a lower form of animal, like e-mail spammers and telephone solicitors. Being competitive does not mean checking your humanity at the door, at least not unless you give the attendant a decent tip.
Other owners have run baseball teams -- and some have even won the World Series -- without embarrassing themselves and tormenting employees in the process.
Did Ted Turner ever hire a thug to dig up dirt on John Smoltz?
Has Tom Hicks ever showed up with a fat lip and a broken hand and claim he beat up two Dodgers fans in an elevator who were bad-mouthing his team?
Was Mike Ilitch ever convicted of a felony? Even for selling Little Caesar's Meatsa pizza?
And still someone is claiming that Steinbrenner is good for baseball? Give me a break. This is a man who has been banned from baseball as often as Pete Rose and Joe Jackson combined. Unfortunately, he's been given a "Get Out of Jail Card" each time to return and plague baseball fans again.
He changed managers 17 times in his first 17 seasons. He fired Yogi Berra 16 games into the season and sent his general manager to deliver the news. He labeled Hall of Famer Dave Winfield "Mr. May'' for the audacity of hitting only 26 home runs and driving in just 114 runs in a season the Yankees finished in second place. He fired Billy Martin five times and re-hired him four times, and probably would have re-hired him yet again had Martin not been killed in a car accident (let's just thank God they buried Billy).
After embarrassing his sport and his organization for two decades, Steinbrenner learned his lesson for a brief period, hiring good people and then letting Joe Torre and Brian Cashman do their jobs while he sat back and stayed out of the spotlight (more or less). It paid off. The Yankees won four world championships, including three in a row, and Steinbrenner has gone almost an entire decade without firing his manager, which is like the Jackson family going 10 months without some horribly dysfunctional incident.
But when the Yankees world championship run abruptly ended on Luis Gonzalez's bloop hit, the old George returned. With the Yankees drought at 1,204 days and mounting, we have a return to the bad, old George.
Last year he considered cutting the medical coverage for his lowest-paid employees and insulted Derek Jeter by saying he partied too much. This year he made everyone work the day after Thanksgiving, which effectively slashed their annual vacations in half. After a period of clubhouse harmony, he's stockpiling a roster of overpriced malcontents such as Kevin Brown and Gary Sheffield.
It's only a matter of time before he hires some creep to follow Jeter around.
Steinbrenner may be great for the tabloid back pages but he's brought more black eyes to the sport than Billy Martin at a convention of marshmallow salesmen. He uses his vast revenues to drive up prices for everyone else, complains constantly and thinks his is the only team that matters.
I'm not saying Steinbrenner has to go, which would be silly seeing as how he's going to hang around even longer than the taste of a Yankee Stadium hot dog. But would it kill him to treat people a little nicer?
|George Steinbrenner has never been shy about calling out his personnel.|
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.