Since George Steinbrenner, “The Boss,” bought the team in the 1973, there has been no baseball team more deeply connected to its owner (though the Cowboys and Jerry Jones are right up there, too) than the Yankees. However, Yankees have sold a 49 percent equity stake in the YES Network to News Corporation, leading to speculation about the future of the team. Many have wondered aloud if the purchase of the large stake in YES would be a precursor to a much bigger and more significant sale: the sale of the New York Yankees.
Since the team was purchased by Steinbrenner, the Yankees have been all about spending and targeting the marquee free agents, often with mixed success. That said, such tactics have resulted in seven World Series titles, a ton of playoff appearances, and a plethora of American League pennants. More importantly, with the Yankees blazing the trail in sports by being among the first to develop their own television network, partnering with the latest New York City basketball team, the Nets, before the team blew up in popularity with its move to Brooklyn, and building the brand, the team has become one of the highest-valued and most successful teams in sports from a financial perspective.
The pomp and circumstance of the Yankees, the notoriety and the globalization of the brand has made it the Yanks the It-Team in Major League Baseball, even if it is largely based on reputation rather than recent results on the field. The culmination of these factors has impacted the product on the field; players want to come to New York because, 1) the huge payday as a result of all of those deals; 2) the opportunity to play with other players of a high caliber who are attracted to the Bronx for similar reasons; and 3) be a part of the Yankees brand. Yanks Go Yard’s own Matt Hunter wrote recently about the appreciation Yankees fans should have for the Steinbrenner family compared to other owners.
But here’s the rub: the Yankees have already been altered in the baseball operations aspects of the team with the changing of the guard from George to his sons Hal and Hank, despite the never-changing mission to win each and every year. (Thankfully, Hal is the most involved in baseball affairs, as Hank’s lasting legacy will be Alex Rodriguez’s current contract.) Can you imagine George Steinbrenner’s reaction to this most recent ALCS debacle? Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi would have been hitchhiking back to the Bronx before the Tigers put their American League Champions t-shirts on, and Zach Greinke, Josh Hamilton would have been the latest to wear pinstripes, joining 2011 offseason addition Prince Fielder, who’d serve as the primary DH. That was the George way.
Hal is different. No money issues ever constrained George. Hal has given Cashman a directive to get the team below the $189 million luxury tax threshold in 2014 in order to combat the ballooning expense, something that has been taken quite seriously. I understand the huge monetary implications should the Yankees not reach this number, but can you imagine The Boss being stopped from spending because it would incur a fine, regardless of the amount? I can’t. This mission has had the Yankees showing remarkable fiscal restraint when looking to retain players, or signing new ones. In doing so, the running of Yankees of even 10 years ago is a stark comparison to the operation of the team’s baseball operations now.
While financial conservatism may seem like it’s not the “Yankee way,” this is the way of the Yankees for the foreseeable future under the Hal Regime. That’s not a bad thing, when you think about all the success the Tampa Bay Rays have had by paying their players in sunscreen and sunshine. Money doesn’t necessarily equate to wins, and free agents don’t promise championships (right, Anaheim and Detroit?). It’s clear that Hal’s reign will be one that is more thoughtful and less impetuous than his father’s, and slightly more budgeted. More importantly, this could be the way of the future if the smoke signals that are being floated turn out to be a fire, and the Steinbrenner family does sell the team.
Matt already touched on the issues with Jeffrey Loria, while those of us in the tri-state have watched the long saga of the Wilpons and the Mets. These owners have compromised the integrity of their franchises, and embarrassed the league in the process that is true. But even good owners don’t have the pedigree of the Steinbrenners over the years. Nolan Ryan & Co. have a great front office and ownership group in Texas, and their seasons have ended in bitter disappointments the last three years; Andrew Freidman could be the best in the business, and yet his only World Series appearance in one of the toughest divisions in the sport was a bust with an owner who simply cannot afford to spend like his AL East counterparts; Jack Zduriencik is seemingly the master of finding pitchers, and yet the rest of the roster has led to miserable seasons since the Mariners last playoff appearance in 2001. Good ownership doesn’t promise any more success than bad ownership.
For Yankee fans, we know what we have. Regardless of the way they go about it, the Steinbrenner family has always been about what the Yankees have been about, even before George came into the picture: winning championships. Though George Steinbrenner might have been more apt to spend, and Hal Steinbrenner might be more money conscious and thrifty (hello, Raul Ibanez) with his money, the Yankees have always done whatever is necessary in order to put the best team on the field. (Note: spending money doesn’t always mean that the best team is on the field; the best team on the field isn’t always stacked with marquee players- take a look at the San Francisco Giants.) For the time being, it seems like the Steinbrenners will remain owners, and we should appreciate their efforts. But we should also keep an eye to the sky for any more smoke signals. As fans, we know what we have in the current ownership, but we don’t know what we’d get if the Yankees were sold. That is a scary thought when you take a look at the ownership of other teams around the league. Hopefully, the YES deal with News Corporation is not a sign of a future sale of the team. But if it is, the operation of the Yankees as we know it could be changed forever.