Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Pay No Attention to that Man Behind the Curtain
2007-02-09 05:57
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to

Here is an excerpt of Ken Auletta's profile on Howard Rubenstein, which appears in this week's New Yorker:

Rubenstein's signature client in recent years has been George Steinbrenner, the owner of the Yankees. For decades, Steinbrenner—the Boss, as he loved to be called—did not hesitate, when the spirit moved him, to ridicule his players and abuse his managers. He once called the pitcher Hideki Irabu "a fat pussy" toad and paid a professional gambler to dig up dirt on the outfielder Dave Winfield, and he had fired a succession of managers. Until recently, Steinbrenner was, like [Donald] Trump, one of the city's sacred monsters, capable of saying almost anything. Then he vanished, and in his stead were ghostly anodyne quotes attributed, of course, to his spokesman, Howard Rubenstein. When the Yankees had a losing streak, Steinbrenner now said, though his spokesman, that he was "disappointed," or even, "I have tremendous faith in my players, my manager, and the leadership of the team." Requests for interviews with Steinbrenner, so often granted in the past, were now invariably denied. "Rubenstein is good at coming up with irrelevant, obfuscating responses," the Times' longtime baseball columnist Murray Chass wrote. "For instance, when asked about a year ago if Steinbrenner had sustained a medical setback, Rubenstein responded, 'George lifts weights every day.'"

The description of a hale and vigorous Steinbrenner did not correspond with what reporters believe to be reality. They saw a frail man of seventy-six slowly getting into his car at Yankee Stadium; they saw Steinbrenner seemingly dazed by the summer heat at the ground-breaking for the new Yankee Stadium. One reporter who covers the Yankees, and who does not want to risk his access, told me, "I've know George for thirty years, and on the elevator he sometimes doesn't recognize me." He added, "How has Rubenstein helped him? The statements are a joke. He makes George look like some cartoon version of the cartoon version he used to be."

One could argue that Rubenstein has helped to turn Steinbrenner into a more benign and even sympathetic figure. But mainly he has shielded an aging man from public view with a series of ventriloquisms and, at best, half truths. Richard Sandomir, who writes about television sports of the Times, said that he has not been able to speak with Steinbrenner for about three years. "All my conversations are with Rubenstein," Sandomir said. "I like Howard a lot…But few of his quotes match George's personality. Is he taming him, or just creating a new George? No one knows."

When I asked to talk with Steinbrenner in person or on the telephones, his assistant, Judith Wells, e-mailed me, saying, "Speaking from personal experience, Mr. Steinbrenner becomes a wee bit impatient on the telephone and he will spend a lot more time reflecting if he can respond via the written word." Two weeks later, I received a personal letter signed by Steinbrenner. I had asked for an example of good advice that Rubenstein had given, and he wrote, "Perhaps the best advice that he's given me is to stay 'compose' and say 'les.'" How did he feel about the suggestions that he was enfeebled and that Rubenstein was inventing a new Steinbrenner? "Not very positively." I have no idea if that was authentic Steinbrenner or pure Rubenstein. Rubenstein, for his part, insists that he told the truth when he said that Steinbrenner was lifting weights: "It's true. Next time you're here, I'll put you on the phone and you'll hear him breaking."

I've long thought that the biggest pending story for the Yankees is what life will be like after Steinbrenner. But, as the events of the past year have shown, that transition is already taking place. Maybe it won't be as big an event as I once imagined.

2007-02-09 06:41:00
1.   mikeplugh
To be honest Alex, I am already used to life beyond Steinbrenner. Does anyone really believe that all the power moves that have taken place over the last 3 or 4 years would have remotely been possible had The Boss been in charge?

The Tampa contingent were first to seize the reins, probably when Steinbrenner first started to slip big time. He probably bestowed some of that power on them himself in a semi-lucid moment. When Swindal finally flipped the script on the people in Tampa he demonstrated that their power grab was never a serious long term threat, and that they lacked the juice to carry it out as a master plan for the future. It was all smoke and mirrors, and there was really no one down their capable of becoming Caesar.

Swindal was wise enough, with Rubenstein and Levine, to put Cashman in charge of the show. There is a solid foundation of good heads... less volatile heads...running the show, now. We're seeing the setbacks that were caused by the power void, Tampa cartel, and transition period fade, and a very scary master plan for total ubiquitous domination unfold.

There has been no Steinbrenner for ages now, and I think we're getting to realize it finally after some pretty convincing illusions.

2007-02-09 06:42:26
2.   vockins
I think the last line in the excerpt is "hear him breathing" not "hear him breaking." Perhaps that's what Rubenstein was thinking, though.

I have been thinking about the article a lot since I first read it a couple a days ago. The Randy Johnson ancedote isn't very interesting in regards to the Yankees on the field, but I found it amusing that there are people that expect the complete truth from Rubenstein.

2007-02-09 06:42:59
3.   Rich
George, like anyone else, deserves a zone of privacy as he journeys through his senescence. Any reporter that seeks to pierce that zone, or worse attempts to ridicule it, is an unthinking, insensitive mediot.
2007-02-09 07:08:07
4.   The Mick 536
Senescence? Zone of privacy! He owns the most storied sports francchise. He be a public figure. He needs to take his shots like the rest of them. George will not necessarily take the same path as whores and buildings, becoming more respectable in old age.

Those of us around when he assumed office remember. We remember the baseball and the politics. He is a complex character, for sure, whose contributions to the growth of game and the death of labor unions will take some years to unravel. We watched him then and we will continue to do so.

Gotta like the Cashman and Mr. Swindel. We fans be in this for the long haul. The boss was just the most recent caretaker.

2007-02-09 07:10:04
5.   kylepetterson
I'm not a New Yorker. I've spent my life in northwestern Washington State and in Phoenix. Your world frightens and confuses me! When I see my image on the security camera at the country club, I wonder, are they stealing my soul? I'm just a Yankee fan, a baseball fan, and possibly an unfrozen caveman. I honestly believe that George Steinbrenner is one of, if not the best owner in all of sports. It's awesome to see the man in charge care about his team and do everything in his power to put the best team on the field. His choices may not have always been the best and they haven't always worked out, but I honestly believe his intentions were the best. I don't know, that's just what I see. My primitive mind can't grasp these concepts.
2007-02-09 07:28:00
6.   Jim Dean
1 I think you're spot on. Except that I think this new regime is more likely to take the profit and do less of whatever it takes. Sometimes that's good, but other times that might be bad. The problem is we don't know which is which.

3 I agree. Still there's a segment I believe in 4. The man cast a fearsome shadow and it's only fair that indeed the curtain of reality peels back. Just because he can afford the privacy doesn't necessary preclude folks from asking questions. Sooner or later we'll find out what ails him.

5 During the eighties he wasn't. His financial wherewithall was very right for the Yanks but his impatience kept them from being great. The suspension changed all that and I think the popular opinion of him.

Me, the day we know the era has passed is the day he isn't there to accept the next ring. The interesting question is whether that's because of death or health. The only thing stopping the answer is the play on the field.

2007-02-09 07:31:11
7.   jayd
5 "I honestly believe that George Steinbrenner is one of, if not the best owner in all of sports." I think you are on to something there, Kyle.

There is no life beyond George, except a pale group of nitwit execs with excel spreadsheets making "informed choices." I think the old gent is on his way out the door and that is why I bet on one last spasm of questionable moves to win it all; just to honor the memory, if nothing less.

His intentions were the best, his methods less than honorable and his character appalling. Yet the tears were genuine and I loved him cause Sawks fans couldn't tolerate him -- always a good side to be on.

I fear we wind up like every other organization in bb -- and maybe as a response to these gangsters in Boston, winding up looking more like our rivals than different from them.

BTW: The times article on Bernie the other day had a great stat on his production vs Giambi's. I demand #27 and a proper send off for Bernie.

Humor me, George.

2007-02-09 07:37:43
8.   kylepetterson
6 I'm pretty sure that ol' George has it in his will that his corpse will be brought out to receive a ring for every championship this team ever wins. They'll do like hall of presidents and animate him very poorly.

"George Steinbrenner?"

"Had wooden teeth, chased Moby Dick."

"That's Captain Ahab, dude."

2007-02-09 07:48:39
9.   mikeplugh
7 "There is no life beyond George, except a pale group of nitwit execs with excel spreadsheets making "informed choices.""

Jayd...We have been beyond George for years. The Boss, love him or hate him, has had virtually no real dealings for some time. I refuse to believe that the kind of organization we've seen in the last several years has been Steinbrenner's. I just don't see it. He's a ghost. An apparation. A spook story that baseball fans tell their kids at night. "Root against the Yankees and George Steinbrenner'll come to get ya."

Just maybe those pale nitwits will grow a farm system of homegrown pinstriped nazgul, that will rise from Mordor (the Bronx) and cast darkness over baseball's Middle Earth (the AL East). No more $100 million contracts for the Jason Giambi's of the world. No need. I am grateful for The Boss, but I think this group of "nitwits" is going to bring baseball to its knees and I forecast a dynasty in the making the likes of which the sport hasn't seen since the first half of the 20th century.

2007-02-09 07:54:26
10.   Yankee Fan In Boston
personally, i don't need to witness anyone succumbing to senility or worse. i see where people on both sides are coming from, but i could do without it.

if we're lucky, we'll all be there someday. i know that his position lends itself to public scrutiny, but there's a time and a place for everything.

the day he mentioned that "someday" swindel would take the reigns was the day that the transition began for me. until then, george steinbrenner was a mythical creature.

2007-02-09 07:57:30
11.   Jim Dean
9 Wow, Mike, that's quite a speech. You should consider gving it on opening day near the giant bat. It could be your Braveheart moment.

Me, I think the current administration has left a couple of diseased elves guarding the back gate. Sure who's going to get through the back gate they asked?

2007-02-09 08:21:31
12.   Shawn Clap
I was 10 years old in 1985 and a Tigers fan, being as they had just won the World Series.

I was wearing my Tigers cap outside of Yankee Stadium, getting autographs from the players as they made thier way in from the parking lot.

George Steinbrenner came walking past (didn't use the press entrance for some reason) and was hurriedly scribbling his signature for some folks.

I handed him my baseball and a pen. He took it, looked at me, and handed it back without signing it.

"Not with that hat, kid" he said.
"C'mon" I pleaded.
"What did I tell you? Get outta here" and he walked on.

That's why I love Steinbrenner. It was more than just a business for him. And he's the last of the tuff New Yorkers.

2007-02-09 08:30:17
13.   Yankee Fan In Boston
12 that is exactly what i would've expected from the guy. i used to wonder how much of "The Boss" persona was an act. (now it is a much less relevant question.) that is hilarious.

(and this url is intended for jim dean: )

2007-02-09 08:49:14
14.   Jim Dean
12 Great story, indeed. I love how he told you to get outta there too.

13 I saw that. The only hope now is that Jorge channels his inner Fisk. And maybe sometime in the next three years, they'll get a catching prospect (though I reserve a slimmer of hope for Pilittere as a BUC)

2007-02-09 08:50:38
15.   Jim Dean
13 And you never answered my question in the last thread.
2007-02-09 08:52:01
16.   Jim Dean
13 Whoops, sorry - y'all need better handles as I'm pretty slow.
2007-02-09 08:56:47
17.   Yankee Fan In Boston
14 mr. dean, you might want to scroll down a bit at the following URL (sorry, no discernable direct link seen):

there are 9 lists of top C prospects. i apologize if this leads to injury.

2007-02-09 08:57:31
18.   nemecizer
9 Mike, I am totally on board with you. The Yankees are being smart about the team again. They are focusing on all three levels: strategic, tactical and operational. I truly expect them to filed another dynasty in the next few years. Who knows, maybe it will start this year when Phil Hughes comes up.

12 Actually, I think George is from Ohio.

No matter what, I have to say, at the end of the day I like King George. I hated him for years when he threatened to move the Yankees to New Jersey. But he ended up staying right at 161st street. I hated him when he interfered with calmer heads and doled out millions for washed-up has beens, but he was always willing to open the check book.

Frankly, I am going to miss the old bastard when he is gone.

2007-02-09 08:58:31
19.   DarrenF
What's crazy is how long it took the press to catch on. Steinbrenner unfairly fired Howser, but that was 26 years ago. Yogi Berra after a 6-10 start? Okay, but that was 21 years ago. For the past ten years at least, the NY reporters typically present Steinbrenner as a crazed lunatic ready to fire everybody if the Yankees lose a series to the Mets or lose to the Red Sox in the playoffs. This image hasn't jibed with reality for a long, long time. I don't think it's because Rubenstein sheilds The George, I think it's because Bill Gallo wants to keep drawing the same cartoon.
2007-02-09 09:09:19
20.   rbj
3, 10 I concur. Why do we need to see the mighty Boss humbled by Alzheimer's?

My big concern is what happens when George dies -- IIRC the Cook family couldn't keep the Redskins when Jack Kent Cook died, it had to be sold off. I just hope Steinbrenner's lawyers learned from that and have a much better will for him.

2007-02-09 09:10:08
21.   rbj
18 Cleveland, to be exact.
2007-02-09 09:29:08
22.   yankz
Damn, Mike, that was inspiring.
2007-02-09 09:31:21
23.   Jim Dean
17 Wow, for the most part Jeff Mathis isn't thought of any more. I know Conger has passed him (you know based on 69 AB's - great guys!), but he's still only 24 and put up this line last year in PCL AAA:

.289 .333 .430

He could probably be had for one of the 63 RHRP.

Still, Clement would be nice too. Indeed, his MiLB career numbers are about the same as Mathis and he turns 24 this year too. Weird prospect analysis on those lists. They love their 'em "talent" and "potential".

2007-02-09 09:36:58
24.   williamnyy23
19 Agreed. Steinbrenner's perception has not jibed with reality for quite some time now. Even today, media/fans evoke the same Boss when discussing the team. In reality, however, the George of old no longer has the same influence on the team's operations.

Organizational structure aside (I think the Yankees will be fine in the hands of Hal and Steve), the eventual passing of Steinbrenner is going to be one of the most significant events in team history. Like him or not, in good times or in bad, George Steinbrenner has been as synonymous with the Yankees as any other thing or person...that includes Joe D., The Mick, and yes, even the Babe.

Even if the Yankees feel no effects on the field or in the profit column, his absence will leave a spiritual void that will take some time to dissipate. As a fan growing up in the 1980s, the colossal figure that was George Steinbrenner was almost mythical. Like an old soldier, Steinbrenner is already starting to fade away. Once he is gone, I think everyone in MLB will feel the loss.

2007-02-09 09:45:39
25.   Yankee Fan In Boston
23 ...and clement hit below the mendoza line this winter... fire sale, anyone?
2007-02-09 11:01:00
26.   Jen
Hank Bauer died today.

2007-02-09 11:05:52
27.   Raf
19 Yes and no. I guess there really hasn't been a "George" moment since losing in 1995. He may not be as bombastic as he was when he first blew on the scenes, but I thought he made his presence felt on a few occasions; ask Zim...
2007-02-09 11:38:07
28.   Sliced Bread
George is no longer calling all the shots in Oz, but according to Stottlemyre, a few weeks ago when he asked Cashman about a job with the Yanks after Spring Training, Cash told him that he was going to submit Mel's name on some sort of Spring Training list for George's approval.

Either Cash was jiving Mel, or Steinbrenner is still micromanaging to some extent. Still, George doesn't seem to wield the power he used to.

2007-02-09 11:46:40
29.   The Mick 536
Hank Bauer. Two things come to mind, aside from him being a Marine, a manager, and a stand up guy: 1) Was at the copacabana for the birthday party where one of our heroes beat up a guy in the bathroom, a barroom brawl that resulted in Billy Martin being traded to the KC A's; 2) Was traded for Roger Maris.

How about that Sport's Fans?

2007-02-09 11:51:05
30.   Jim Dean
28 It's also got to be a nice excuse.

"A-Rod, we'd love to give you 150 million extension, but George is getting thrifty in his old age."

"Jorge, of course we know you deserve another three years and 40 million, but Stein has been looking at the trends for old catchers and he just doesn't think you'll hold up."

Joe, we'd love to re-sign Bernie but the Big Guy thinks it time Bernie retires. Let's see if we can at least agree to give him a minor league invite."

It would be even better if they had Rubenstein issue releases about the costs of the new Stadium and how the Yanks have to foot the bill themselves. Oh wait...

2007-02-09 12:03:02
31.   vockins
27 I think "fat pussy toad" was a classic session. When was that, '98?
2007-02-09 12:09:08
32.   Jim Dean
One thing I learned today - the balls are different in Japan with a stickier leather:

2007-02-09 12:10:57
33.   Sliced Bread
27 His A-Rod dig last May was hardly an eruption, but "I'm upset at a lot of them... the third baseman" showed he still has a little mustard on his fastball.
2007-02-09 12:15:20
34.   Yankee Fan In Boston
32 what wasn't mentioned in that article is that the baseballs in japan are also slightly smaller. this also allows for a better grip for pitchers over there.

this combination could help to explain why hitters from japan have (so far) fared better in MLB than their pitching counterparts.

2007-02-09 12:17:44
35.   Yankee Fan In Boston
33 ...or he forgot the third baseman's name... if he's fuzzy on names of people he's known for decades, it is a distinct possibility. it's depressing to think about.

seven days left until pitchers and catchers?

2007-02-09 12:27:46
36.   Bama Yankee
26 Thanks for the link, Jen. I just realized a few days ago that Hank Bauer and I share the same birthday (different year of course). Here's a quote from him that I really like:
When asked about losing four prime years from his playing career due to his Marine service he said: "I guess I knew too many great young guys who lost everything out there to worry about my losing part of a baseball career."

RIP, Hank

2007-02-09 12:31:14
37.   Jim Dean
Oh dear God, no! Damon's hitting people with chairs and he didn't even get a speaking part.

2007-02-09 13:05:38
38.   Raf
36 Perspective is a beautiful thing, isn't it?
2007-02-09 13:17:52
39.   Shaun P
38 I know quite a few people who could use that kind of perspective. Thanks for the link, Bama - and RIP, Mr. Bauer. Tell Billy and the gang we said hi.

28 I think that was Ca$hmoney's polite way of telling Stott "thanks but no thanks for the offer of your services". Stott + all those young power arms in the bullpen = disaster. "OK boys, now don't you worry about getting strikeouts, you just use your breaking pitches to induce contact and . . ." Ugh.

As for George, to me now he is a legend more than anything else. I also have no doubt that Swindal and Co will still use the mighty Yankee resources, but more efficiently than ever before. The major league payroll won't be twice the next highest one; the funds will instead go towards scouting, development, etc.

2007-02-09 13:48:30
40.   thelarmis
26 ah, crud. it seems like everyday lately a former baseball great is passing away. RIP Hank Bauer.
2007-02-09 14:35:50
41.   Rich
4 Is your point that Steinbrenner is immune from human frailties and suffering? Clearly, he's not.

I don't care what he owns. To take "shots" at a many who may be mentally and physically declining is borderline immoral.

2007-02-09 18:38:24
42.   vockins
The Catfish Stew post makes me wonder if the A's would give up Dan Johnson. Dude tore it up for two months in 2005.
2007-02-09 20:01:35
43.   Ken Arneson
42 Probably. Daric Barton and Travis Buck are about half a year away from being ready, so Johnson is running out of room. I'm sure they'd deal him if they can get a decent starting pitching prospect: that's where the A's system is dry right now. Chamberlain/Clippard/Kennedy is probably where Beane would start the conversation.

But I doubt the Yankees would want to give up one of those guys until they were sure Johnson has overcome the eye problems. If Barton and/or Buck tear it up in AAA, and Johnson does OK, too, we might see some sort of deal along those lines come mid-season.

2007-02-09 21:52:05
44.   Zack has a story up that Bernie rejected the Yanks' minor league offer, and prefers to stay home working out in case they offer an actual roster spot. I can't help but thinking that is the best thing, that way, there's no temptation...
2007-02-10 06:29:04
45.   Reader11722
Do we really know if the Boss has all his faculties? Maybe this is a 'coup' by Cashman, and Rubenstein (sounds Zionist to me). Seems like they are already censoring a posiibly mentally-impaired Steinbrenner. After all, Censorship is becoming America's favorite past-time. The US gov't (and their corporate friends), already detain protesters, ban books like "America Deceived" from Amazon and Wikipedia, and fire 21-year tenured, BYU physics professor Steven Jones because he proved explosives, thermite in particular, took down the WTC buildings. Someone break into Yankee stadium and free the boss (before he invades Iraq on behalf of his rulers).
Last link (until Google Books bends to gov't demands and drops the title):
2007-02-10 06:35:51
46.   rbj
44 Thank you for everything, Bernie.
2007-02-10 07:31:33
47.   Jimmy Clark
Steinbrenner deserves his privacy. And cheers to BYU for firing a filthy diseased lying tenured professor who needs to read "Popular Mechanics." Maybe he should move to biology and "prove" the Piltdown Man was genuine.

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