Randy Levine Is Not George Steinbrenner

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George Steinbrenner is dead. Hank Steinbrenner has been muzzled like one of the Steinbrenners’ prize horses. Hal Steinbrenner is almost Derek Jeter-like in his ability to speak and say nothing at the same time. That leaves team president Randy Levine as the team spokesman with whom the media feels it can light a fuse and ignite an explosion.

The fact remains that Randy Levine is not George Steinbrenner. Whether or not this is a good or bad thing is in the eyes of the beholder. It’s a natural occurrence for memories to focus on the positive after someone is dead and gone. The truth is that George spent a lot of money, fired a lot of managers and had long stretches of dysfunction and embarrassment surrounding his organization. That’s before getting into his two suspensions. The Yankees rebuilt with George suspended for the Howie Spira affair and it’s unlikely that the young players who were part of the Yankees five championships over the past 18 years would have been allowed to develop as Yankees had he been around amid all his impatient bluster. He would have traded them. Through fortuitous circumstances, he returned to a team on the cusp of a championship and his public profile grew from a raving dictator who’d ruined a once-proud franchise into the generous general who led the club and gave his employees everything they needed to be successful.

The Yankee fans who started rooting for the team, conveniently, when they won their first championship of the era in 1996, only remember the “good” George. He was irreplaceable in a multitude of ways, positively and negatively. Writers miss him because their newspapers and websites would be filled with threats, missives, irrational screaming sessions that could just as easily have come from the pages of Mein Kampf, and demands that the team play better with no excuses. The fans miss him—with some justification—because if he were around, there wouldn’t be an $189 million limit on the 2014 payroll and they wouldn’t be trotting the array of cheap and limited no-names at catcher, at third base, at first base and in the outfield as they have so far this season.

But he’s gone. Now there’s a college of cardinals in his place with an interest in making money above winning. They don’t have the passion for the game and competition that the father had. Perhaps it was inevitable that once he was gone the edge would be gone too. The fear that accompanied working for the Yankees has degenerated into a corporate comfortableness. The sense of urgency has disappeared and there’s no one to replicate it.

In this ESPN piece, Wallace Matthews tried to get some answers from Levine and walked away with nothing. Levine has been under fire in recent days because of his comment that the team has the talent to contend. Whether or not he really believes that is known only to him. He’s not a baseball guy, but the Yankees’ baseball guys haven’t done a particularly good job either and that’s something that George would’ve latched onto and, also with some justification, gone into a raving rant wondering why the young players that were supposed to be the cornerstones to the future have, by and large, faltered. If it was George, he’s openly ask why the Rays, A’s, Pirates and others are able to win without a $200 million payroll and his team can’t. It’s obvious, from Hal’s statements, that he too is wondering the same thing. The difference between him and his father is that he’s acting on it by slashing payroll. Levine is the front man, nothing more. He’s not able to do the George thing and cause earthquakes with his bellowing. People sort or roll their eyes at him and/or ignore him.

Levine also failed to give votes of confidence to general manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi. Was that by design? If it had been George in his heyday, both would be in serious jeopardy. The ground under Cashman’s feet should be teetering regardless of whether it was George, the Steinbrenner kids or Levine making the decision; Girardi deserves a better fate and if they fire him, he’ll have his choice of about four to six jobs almost immediately, some very tempting like the Nationals, Angels and his hometown White Sox. Dismissing Girardi would speed the team’s downfall. Dismissing Cashman would probably be a positive given the team’s new financial circumstances and the GM’s clear inability to function under this template.

Levine sounded as if he was trying to be positive and not be controversial. Because he’s not George and because the media and fans are looking for fire and brimstone, they’re clutching at what Levine said, as innocuous as it was, and what he didn’t say. That makes it a no-win, meaningless situation. Nobody really cares what Levine says because he doesn’t have the surrounding lunacy that was a George hallmark. There’s no George Steinbrenner anymore. He’s not coming back. And as things stand now, neither are the Yankees that George’s money built.

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Cold And Indifferent Truth

Hot Stove

Neither love-fest nor shooting gallery, on the day of his retirement, here’s the icy and brutally honest assessment of Andy Pettitte‘s career with its ups-and-downs; truths amid embellishments.

On the field and in a dark alley:

A player establishes relatively quickly whether he’s going to be able to handle the big stage of New York with the media, the attention, the temptations.

One thing that has aided the Yankees during the last 15 years of consistent championship contention has gone under-reported—that their “core four” Pettitte, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada have stayed out of the front of the newspaper in a negative sense.

Aside from the Roger Clemens-PED controversy (more on that in a bit), as far as we know, Pettitte has been as clean off the field as he was gutty on it; the same can be said of Jeter, Rivera and Posada.

Jeter of course is as big a star as an athlete can possibly be and he’s a bon vivant nonpareil, but he’s shunned controversy and never consciously placed himself into a position where he could be embarrassed.

It was a more difficult road for Pettitte as he was a soft-spoken and subdued Texan; a handsome young athlete who likely had more negative influences available because of the evident shyness. The questions abounded if Pettitte was genuine or if the image was a means-to-an-end for the club and player.

But they were avoided.

If anything was a key to the Yankees run, it was that on and off field professionalism. Vultures and greenflies hover around a young athlete especially in New York; if he keeps from succumbing, he’s free to perform on the field.

As a pitcher, Pettitte was never the most dominant, but there was something about him that said he wasn’t going to wilt in the spotlight. He started his big league career in 1995 out of necessity as an extra arm out of the Yankees bullpen and didn’t enter the starting rotation until a month later. As a rookie he went 12-9 and was a major part of the Yankees late season run to the playoffs; his first post-season start against the Mariners was serviceable, but he was warming up in the bullpen when Jack McDowell blew game 5 in the series loss.

In the 1996 regular season, he went 21-8 and blossomed into a full-blown star; it was in the playoffs that his reputation began to cement itself. His performance in game 5—8 1/3 innings of 5 hit, no run ball, set the stage for the championship clincher in game 6.

As the years passed, Pettitte’s career didn’t follow the path some assumed it would. Rather than continue and improve, he became a cog in the machine. With high ERAs and accumulation of wins in the regular season, there was never an overt “fear” of Andy Pettitte where teams worried about not being able to score runs; he took advantage of the run-scoring machine those Yankees were; that they had a terrific bullpen and he won a lot of games.

You knew at the beginning of each season what you were going to get from Pettitte; that’s not on a level with the devastation a pitcher like Pedro Martinez brought forth on his victims, but it may have been as important. Knowing someone’s going to be there and not cower in the face of danger is a valuable asset.

Pettitte’s career took him to the Astros—a fact that’s conveniently glossed over in the postmortems of his career—and he left the Yankees as a matter of choice. It was said to have partially been due to the disrespect he felt he was receiving from the Yankees organization; that they had other priorities and fell asleep at the switch with their financial might seen as the final arbiter (sounds familiar now, doesn’t it?); but Pettitte took less money from the Astros after a desperation offer from the Yankees failed.

Three years later, he returned, did the same job he did in his first stint with the Yankees. Never dominant; always consistent; durable and money in the playoffs.

A few weeks ago, when the Yankees were said to have offered a contract to Carl Pavano, I said that Pavano is not the person I’d want at my back in a dark alley unless there was a beach, a Porsche dealership and a modeling agency in clear view on the other side; with Pettitte, I’d have no such hesitation—he’s the guy you want protecting you. If he lost, it wasn’t due to a lack of conviction or courage; it was because he got beat.

The PEDs and sullying of his reputation:

It’s not to be totally dismissed that Pettitte admitted to having used HGH. He claimed it was trying to overcome an injury and earn his paycheck by continuing to pitch.

As cynical as I am and knowing the way people almost universally are, I believe him. Just like I believe his assertion that he told the truth about Roger Clemens and Brian McNamee because it was the right thing to do—it’s a rarity.

Multi-millionaire athletes think nothing of flinging overboard a convenient scapegoat to save themselves; Pettitte could’ve done that with his testimony in the Clemens case, but didn’t.

Is it a giant black mark on his career or a mere blot?

I say it’s a blot; continually reference in calling Pettitte a “cheater” is a cheap, agenda-laden shot. It has nothing to do with the notion—which cannot be answered by an outsider—that Pettitte “wouldn’t do that”. You nor I would know what he’s up to in his private life; but I believe him when he says he used the drugs briefly and stopped.

In this era with Rafael Palmeiro‘s finger pointing and Clemens’s “misrememberations”, it was refreshing in the Jason Giambi sense that he did it and wasn’t going to lie about it. With Giambi, there was a bumpkin-like innocence that he was in court and under oath and wasn’t going to present falsehoods; with Pettitte it was because he knew what happened and wasn’t going to make a difficult situation worse for himself by denying that which he knew to be true.

The aftermath for player and club:

Could Pettitte, at age 39, decide at some point that he wants to play? And would the Yankees have him?

Of course.

But the team had to have prepared for this eventuality; Pettitte’s gone and, for all intents and purposes, he’s not coming back. I believe that the lack of desire played a part in his decision, but I also think that a physical breakdown is an issue; with back, muscle and elbow problems, to think that he’d again be the horse he’s been in the past is ignoring reality.

I doubt Pettitte wanted to go through a year of not knowing which pitch would be his last; whether his back or elbow would blow at any moment.

The reactions to the retirement have bordered on nonsensical.

I truly loathe when a club is attacked for that which they didn’t do, but the attacker doesn’t present a viable solution.

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports said the following on Twitter yesterday:

LH targets kicked around by some #Yankees people: J. Saunders, S. Kazmir, W. LeBlanc, C. Richard, G. Gonzalez. Just ideas right now. #MLB

Some of the names are shots in the dark; others are absurd. For what possible reason would the Padres want to trade Clayton Richard? Why would the A’s trade Gio Gonzalez? More examples of the media coming to solutions in the vein of “the Yankees want, therefore the Yankees get” like talk show callers who want to trade Brett Gardner for Albert Pujols.

Scott Kazmir? Joe Saunders? Wade LeBlanc?

Good luck.

Also Fangraphs suggested the Yankees trade for Barry Zitolink.

Naturally Jonah Keri delivered the same stat-based “reality” that makes this a good plan. Much like the extolling of the Mariners last season, their numbers bypass the reality that Zito would get blasted in the American League East. The patient hitters in the division and throughout the league would do a number on him; he’d give the Yankees 200 innings and post an ERA of 5.50 with a load of homers, 5 inning starts and plenty of walks.

They’re better off with what they have rather than take the remaining $64.5 million guaranteed on Zito’s contract; presumably, he might demand that his full option for 2014 ($18 million) be exercised rather than the $7 million buyout; and Keri suggests that the Giants might pick up half of the money.

Why?

Like the Padres trading Richard, what’s in it for them aside from getting the Yankees top prospects whom GM Brian Cashman is not trading for Zito.

And finally, there’s Wallace Matthews on ESPN—link.

Matthews’s piece is conspicuous in its criticism without a solution.

What did he want them to do?

Let’s say they were putting faith in his competitiveness and more money would overcome Pettitte’s implication that he was done; what was the pitching market past Cliff Lee?

Could they have traded for Zack Greinke? Maybe. Perhaps they should’ve rolled the dice on the off-field questions surrounding Greinke’s suitability for New York and surrendered whatever it took to get him—Jesus Montero, Ivan Nova, whatever—but they chose not to do that. And I understand why.

The Pavano move would’ve been insane; but what were their options? Much like my questioning to the critics as to what Mets GM Sandy Alderson was supposed to do this winter aside from what he’s done, what was the diabolical scheme that Matthews would’ve executed to repair the fissures in the Yankees rotation?

I read the column and didn’t see one idea from Matthews—maybe because past Lee, there wasn’t one.

Andy Pettitte has retired.

It’s not a national tragedy; not fodder for Yankees ridicule; not an opportunity to savage their front office for inaction.

Instead Pettitte should be appreciated for what he was and not canonized as a demagogue for his attributes. That diminishes rather than aggrandizes. Holding him to a higher standard will ruin the good that he did on and off the field.

He won five championships; he behaved professionally and with class; he made a lot of money; and he told the truth.

It’s a great career without being great.

That should be enough for now.

And forever.