By Mike Vaccaro
What would become of Brian Cashman (top right) and Kevin Long (bottom right) if George Steinbrenner were still alive?
He never lingers all that far away from the surface, even 49 months after his passing. Sometimes, it seems like the Yankees ought to issue a plastic bracelet alongside their other iconic stand-bys, the interlocking “NY” and the pinstripes, the bracelets etched with four letters: “WWGD.”
As in: “What Would George Do?”
It is a mantra especially relevant when the Yankees find themselves in times of trouble, and especially now, when misty, water-colored memories tend to replace the actual record when it comes to Steinbrenner — and with the Yankees falling ever deeper into trouble, thanks to Tuesday’s 7-4 loss to the Astros.
And clearly, there is no man immune to the tug of Steinbrenner’s latter-day persona as a demanding-but-benevolent despot.
“I think he’d be frustrated with the inconsistencies of our club,” Joe Girardi said the other night, asked how The Boss would have judged the season so far. So there was the Yankees manager essentially joining the chorus of WWGD, whose refrain often wonders if the poor man would be a little restless in repose, given the increasingly very real possibility that the Yankees might miss the playoffs a second straight year.
Well, here’s one guarantee:
Losing to the low-payroll, low-octane, low-expectation Astros like this wouldn’t have sat well. In truth, even in his most patient years, losing to lousy teams sat with The Boss about as well as losing to the Mets or the Red Sox. And those responses were always back-page gold.
BOSS: HOUSTON? WE HAVE A PROBLEM!
BOSS: WE LOOK LIKE ASS-TROS
BOSS: SIGN RUSNEY NOW!!!
Yes. This would be fun.
WWGD? Look, in fairness, even when The Boss had his fastest fastball — say, the dawn of his first champions in 1977 through the dusk of his dynasty in 2000 — he wasn’t always what we remember him to be. Three examples:
He would spare no expense in the pursuit of titles
Remember: Steinbrenner probably cost his team the playoffs in 1988 by refusing to break ranks with his collusive partners and sign Jack Morris when he was desperate to be a Yankee. And in 1996, he nearly lost David Cone because he panicked when fans didn’t return in droves from the strike.
He wouldn’t have stood for baseball slamming his star player
You heard this a lot last year at this time, as the Yankees stood idly by and let the world bash Alex Rodriguez, meaning there are a lot of Yankees fans too young to remember these two words: Howard Spira.
Heads would have already rolled!!
Steinbrenner could be a flighty owner, but those years mostly featured a steadily unreliable drunk (Billy Martin), a green rookie (Lou Piniella), a GM acting as a manager (Gene Michael), overmatched good guys (Bucky Dent, Stump Merrill), an insubordinate grump (Dallas Green). The fact is he had three managers in the last 20 years of his stewardship. The Mets had seven in those years. So did the Red Sox.
That said: Would George Steinbrenner, circa 1985 or so, be happy the Yankees now trail the Orioles by 8 ¹/₂ games in the East, and are four behind Seattle in the wild card? No. Would he have been as calm as his son, Hal, when the Young Boss declared in Baltimore the other day: “They’ve got to step it up and they know it.”
No. Vintage George would have added this: “It’s up to Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman to see us to the end here.” And it probably wouldn’t be an issue if hitting coach Kevin Long should be in trouble, because Vintage George would have fired him LAST year (and probably rehired him this May, and re-fired him in July).
Coaches always did have the shelf life of milk left too long on a table under VG. And so did GMs. Cashman would be the one under the interrogation lamp now.
BOSS: CASH OR CARRY OUT!
BOSS: CAPTAIN NEEDS TO CRUNCH
Yes, what may be most fascinating to ponder is what VG would’ve thought of Derek Jeter’s farewell tour. Remember, the final time he sparred with an icon (following in the proud tradition of Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield and Don Mattingly) was in 2003, when he suggested Jeter may have been enjoying one too many last calls. That ended up with the two co-starring in a Visa commercial (though not nearly as fun as the old George-and-Billy Miller Lite ad).
“Derek will have the rest of his life to enjoy retirement,” VG might chide, “but he still has a responsibility to the Yankees. He needs to remember that.”
The rest? Well, there is always this quote: “We are the Yankees. When you don’t win the World Series, it is a bitter disappointment and not a successful year.”
That wasn’t George Steinbrenner. That was Randy Levine, rather famously, in 2011. Maybe he isn’t a headline magnet. The flamboyance may be missing. But the spirit lingers. And as another empty October lurks, it festers.