September 24, 2008
If his goal was to step in and win a World Series title like his father, then Hank Steinbrenner's first year in the Bronx as co-chairman can be marked with a giant pinstriped FAIL. The Yankees were officially eliminated from postseason contention on Tuesday.
But if Hank's goal was to step in and fill his dad's role as a loud and controversial headline maker, well, then he's already on his way to building a legacy that could eventually trump his father's.
Upset that the Yankees will finish with a win total in the high 80s and still miss the postseason behind the Rays and Red Sox, Steinbrenner wrote a piece in this week's Sporting News complaining about his team's unfortunate placement in a tough division. Of particular nuisance to Hank is the fact that the NL West-leading Dodgers will make the playoffs despite fewer wins than NY.Says Hank in the Sporting News:
"The biggest problem is the divisional setup in major league baseball. I didn't like it in the 1970s, and I hate it now. Baseball went to a multidivision setup to create more races, rivalries and excitement. But it isn't fair. You see it this season, with plenty of people in the media pointing out that Joe Torre and the Dodgers are going to the playoffs while we're not.
"This is by no means a knock on Torre — let me make that clear — but look at the division they're in. If L.A. were in the AL East, it wouldn't be in the playoff discussion. The AL East is never weak."
Hank doesn't stop there, though, dragging the '06 Cardinals into the fray to question their win in the World Series despite their 83-78 regular season record:
"People will say the Cardinals were the best team because they won the World Series. Well, no, they weren't. They just got hot at the right time. They didn't even belong in the playoffs. And neither does a team from the N.L. West this season."
It's not that Hank has untrue or invalid points. I will allow that teams with better records routinely miss the postseason while leaders of weaker divisions gain entry. I will also say I believe it is tougher to win a competitive division than to get "hot" for a three-week playoff run
However, it's that the timing of Hank's rant — during the same week the Yankees miss the playoffs for the first time since '93 eliciting few tears from the rest of the universe — that makes for perhaps the sourest grapes we've tasted in some time.
Also, not only are Hank's comments ill-timed, but they're also hypocritical. Last I checked, the Yankees' brass still counts at least two World Series titles that were won despite being contrary to Hank's current logic.
1) As the New York Daily News points out, the Yankees' last championship team in 2000 won only 87 games, yet finished atop the AL East standings and took advantage of that berth to win the World Series. Meanwhile, four teams had better records and the 90-win Indians missed the playoffs entirely.
2) The problem of "better" teams being excluded from the title hunt was not invented with the advent of divisional play in 1969. Even when only the American League and National League regular season champions met for the World Series, there were still teams in one league that had better records. For example, both the Dodgers (102 wins) and Reds (98) had more victories than the AL champion Yankees (96) in 1962, yet missed the postseason because they played in the same league as San Francisco (103). The Yankees beat the Giants in the World Series in seven games that year.
Look, everyone knows that in baseball, you play the hand you're dealt whether that means overcoming injuries or weather conditions or who's in your division.
But while Hank is playing his birthright as a master of controversy in an expert manner, it's the one on the field he's struggling with. This is his team. This is his division.
Does he want to play or not?