Commentary

Canyon of Zeroes

How would The Boss have reacted to this October's parade of disappointments?

Updated: October 19, 2012, 9:29 PM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

DETROIT -- It's the kind of slogan that would make a pretty good bumper sticker.

WWGD: What Would George Do?

And it's a question that I know is on the lips of a lot of Yankees fans today, especially those who were raised on what Brian Cashman called "The Steinbrenner Philosophy," which translates roughly to Win or Die.

For the uninitiated, George is of course, George M. Steinbrenner III, the autocratic late New York Yankees owner whose outsized demands and comic-book rages earned him the nickname The Boss.

Steinbrenner
AP Photo/Richard DrewGeorge Steinbrenner, for whom losing was never an option, would not tolerate this season's disappointment.

And The Boss did not take kindly to the type of public humiliation that his Yankees subjected the organization and its fan base to in the American League Championship Series, in which they were unceremoniously swept, being held to only six runs in four games.

Back before the turn of the last century, that kind of transgression would have caused heads to roll down the Grand Concourse like bowling balls at Times Square Lanes.

But this is a kinder, gentler Steinbrenner regime, one concerned less with the W-L column than the bottom line, and no one is likely to lose his or her job at the hands of Hal Steinbrenner, a self-confessed "finance nerd."

That is not likely to satisfy a bloodthirsty generation of fans for whom anything less than a parade down Lower Broadway in early November is abject failure, and because of the intense pressure to win, even the greatest victories are greeted with more relief than joy.

For those people, let's indulge the fantasy for a moment, shall we?

What would George do?

Let's start from the top.

The first thing he would do is berate his older son, Hank, for negotiating what is now indisputably the worst contract in the history of professional sports, the deal that extended Alex Rodriguez for 10 more years and a minimum of $275 million.

The next tongue-lashing would go to George's other son, Prince Hal the younger, for being so foolish as to suggest the Yankees cut payroll rather than stuff the holes in the roster with freshly minted dollar bills.

Then, he would tell GM Brian Cashman not to plan any Christmas vacation, because he would be spending the holidays in his office at 161st Street and River Avenue in the Bronx.

He would send his manager, Joe Girardi, a loudly ticking clock to remind him that his contract is up at the end of next season. He also would deliver to his doorstep a new bench coach, preferably someone like Stick Michael or Stump Merrill, who could step into the manager's job at a moment's notice if, say, the Yankees lose the first two spring training games of 2013.

Kevin Long? Enjoy your new duties as the hitting coach for the Piscataway, N.J., Little League.

Even the traveling secretary, Ben Tuliebitz, gets sentenced to a year of riding his bicycle to work after putting the Yankees on a train that broke down on the way home from Baltimore after Game 2 of the ALDS.

Now, on to the players.

Not even The Boss would have much of an appetite for eating $114 million of his own money, so the odds are he would accept the fact that he and Alex Rodriguez are forever joined. Then, he would proceed to make A-Rod's life hell with a continuous series of public and private insults. No doubt, he would still have Howie Spira's phone number.

For Nick Swisher, a chauffeured ride to the airport. For Curtis Granderson, $2 million, lovely parting gifts and the Yankees' home board game as going-away presents. For Robinson Cano, some (thinly) veiled threats to produce "or else" if he wants to get that big contract he's banking on when he becomes a free agent in 2014.

CC Sabathia gets a lifetime membership to Weight Watchers and an order to straighten out his Yankees cap. Russell Martin gets a three-year deal, but at half the money he would have gotten if only he had signed during spring training. And The Boss lets everyone know it.

Andruw Jones is reduced to picking up Derek Jeter's dry cleaning. Eduardo Nuñez is forced to wear a baseball glove 24 hours a day for the entire winter. Mark Teixeira is ordered to winter ball to learn how to bunt.

And too much walking around his new 30,000-square-foot mansion is blamed for weakening Jeter's ankle, causing it to snap in Game 2 of the ALCS.

This is what used to pass for tough leadership around here. This is the way The Boss got results. This is how he was able to build the character necessary in players to become a True Yankee.

Alas, all that took place back in the 1900s, when cellphones still came with battery packs and the Internet was just a gleam in Al Gore's eye.

It was all ridiculous, of course, all melodrama and overreaction and false hustle. Plus, it was simply not accurate; the great Yankees teams of 1996-2003 were built largely on moves made while The Boss was safely out of the way, on suspension from Major League Baseball for his dastardly deeds.

These days, nobody rules like The Boss anymore. Team-building, not team dismantling, is the rule of the day. The Blame Game is out; nurture and moral support are in.

To members of a generation that inherited the legacy of a man who refused not just to lose gracefully, but to lose at all, this must seem like a dark and hopeless age.

To them, the era in which the premature end of a baseball season was followed by mass hysteria, bloodshed and firings has its own special name.

The Good Old Days.

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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