Tagged: Hal Steinbrenner

Steinbrenners Rob Reggie To Allay A-Rod

These are not your father’s Steinbrenners. For that matter, do they appear to be their father’s Steinbrenners.

In four days it will have been two years since George Steinbrenner died, and in that time his sons Hank and Hal have run their inheritance like a private vehicle for the only thing they seemed to have inherited from him: knee-jerk petulance. Their Dad grew out of its most virulent form by the time he was 60. The sons don’t seem to be moving that quickly.

Christian Red of The New York Daily News reports this afternoon that the Yankees have told their Hall of Famer and Special Advisor Reggie Jackson to “stay away” from the team, from Yankee Stadium, and from other club-related activities after his inarguable comment to Sports Illustrated that Alex Rodriguez’s admission of past steroid use “does cloud some of his records.”

It’s about the mildest form of the truth: that when combined with Rodriguez’s tone-deaf personal conduct at every stage of his career and his track record of getting smaller as the stage gets bigger, his admission of PED use – at minimum while with Texas – might be enough to give the voters the excuse they almost to a man dream of, of denying him a spot in Cooperstown.

Reggie Jackson, who said none of that and referred only to the aforementioned “cloud” and some “real questions about his numbers,” has now been banished, till further notice:

…according to two sources familiar with the team.

“Reggie is under punishment,” said one of the sources. “He’s upset.”

The comments were published at an inopportune time, when the Yankees were in Boston for a pivotal four-game series against the rival Red Sox. The punishment is not an outright ban, one of the sources said, but the Bombers felt that Jackson took a shot at A-Rod that was below the belt when he said that Rodriguez’s admitted performance-enhancing drug use “does cloud” A-Rod’s records.

“The team doesn’t need any negative publicity or aggravation, especially playing in a big market like Boston, and at Fenway,” one of the sources said. “A-Rod doesn’t need the aggravation.”

The name Steinbrenner appears nowhere in the piece. Nor does it show up in Marc Carig’s summary in The Newark Star-Ledger which adds the term “in effect suspended” and  just a dollop of context:

…club officials deemed the outspoken slugger as too “high maintenance.”

Of course the absence of a Steinbrennerian reference simply serves as circumstantial evidence that it originates from one of them (the bet is Hal – Hank had the presence of mind to step slowly away when he sensed he was slightly overmatched trying to do his father’s job). The next best reason for conclusion-jumping here is reached by asking yourself who else would’ve had the power to ban the Yanks’ last, best, living connection to the days George Steinbrenner resurrected the moribund franchise in the late ’70s. You think General Manager Brian Cashman did this? The gnomish Chief Operating Officer Lonn Trost?

Of course it could’ve been Trost’s idea. The latter source quote noted above (“The team doesn’t need any negative publicity or aggravation…”) is just dense enough to be something from him. What on earth did the Yankees just get themselves besides negative publicity and aggravation by banning Reggie Jackson just as the storm-in-a-teapot over his comments to SI had faded completely from consciousness? Who on earth would have let this wet blanket land on the eve of the All-Star Game?

But even if he did dream up this chicken spit and convince Hal Steinbrenner it was salad, Trost is not likely to have given the story to The Daily News. Just two months ago he demanded that Major League Baseball actually investigate the newspaper for another story, co-authored by the impeccable Bill Madden, that the Steinbrenners were exploring selling out.

The key to the saga is the necessity of protecting Rodriguez, even at the cost of alienating and publicly humiliating Jackson, who spent only five of his 21 major league seasons in New York but is now high on the list of retired stars identified solely with the Yankees. Mr. Red of The Daily News refers to Rodriguez as the “star third baseman” and while that’s what the Yankees desperately need people to think this year, and next year, and the year after that, and all the way until 2017 when his noose of a contract finally runs out, it is hardly still the case. This is a player, healthy enough to have appeared in 82 of the Yankees’ first 85 games, whose On Base Plus Slugging Percentage number falls below the likes of Ryan Doumit, Adam LaRoche, and Jed Lowrie – and just ahead of Chris Davis, thought to be in danger of being relegated to a platoon at first base for Baltimore.

Other than structurally I am not comparing the two cases – throwing me out and throwing Reggie Jackson out aren’t in the same universe – but we are beginning to see the outlines of a pattern of the Yankees ham-handedly overreacting in defense of their rapidly rusting former star. On Opening Day last year I finally got a clear photo from my seats of a Yankee “Coaches’ Assistant” named Brett Weber. Throughout 2010 he had given hand signals from his own seat right back of home plate to Yankee players in the on-deck circle. Nearly always, this was Rodriguez, who often looked inquiringly towards Weber for some kind of data. Gradually it had dawned on me that Weber was providing Rodriguez with details about the preceding pitch: speed, location, type.

But at the opener on a frigid March day in 2011 Weber had elevated his game. He was signaling everything except time, temperature, and traffic conditions on the Cross-Bronx Expressway.

The pictures were so inconsequential that I didn’t even blog about them here. I tweeted one shot and explained that Rodriguez was just getting confirmation of what he’d seen. What I thought but didn’t (bother to) write, was that he’s so tense that he needed confirmation from a kid in the stands with a radar gun what pitch he had just seen thrown even though he was closer to the pitch than the kid was.

But a newspaper – The Daily News, natch – published the photo two days later and I arrived at Yankee Stadium that morning as the center of attention. Major League Baseball had already instructed the Yanks to not sit Weber or anybody else in the stands. The team had already issued an explanation: namely that the Radar Gun attached to the Yankee Stadium scoreboard wasn’t working that day and so Weber was telling the players something they would have ordinarily known but for a mechanical failure.

In the middle of an ad hoc “news conference” in which I insisted that it might be bizarre for a team employee to be giving an active player a kind of hand-signal play-by-play but it didn’t strike me as cheating, who walks over but General Manager Cashman. I’ve only known him fifteen years or more and he decided to make a joke about Weber signaling for beers, and then to explain that it had all been cleared up and Weber would be back in his seat for the next day’s game, and that certainly the Yankees weren’t upset with me for tweeting the photo.

The hell they weren’t.

Since 2001 I had served as the assistant to, and “color man” for, Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Wolff as he did the play-by-play of Old Timers’ Day over the Yankee Stadium public address system. I had occasional jokes and even less occasional insight to drop in, but mostly I was there to help out Bob, who is universally revered in my industry for his skill and moreover his generosity. Just before Old Timers’ Day 2011 Bob phoned me to say he had just been told by the Yankees that while he was invited back to “announce” the game, I wasn’t. “They said they were going in a different direction.”

I wasn’t happy about it – mostly because Bob wasn’t happy about it – but good grief, the Yankees once fired Babe Ruth, it’s their ballclub and they can do what they want. Even as I chafed at the idea that a ten-year run was over without so much as a phone call or email from them, it still never dawned on me that there was an ulterior motive.

Then The New York Post ran a story leaked to them by the Yankees that there certainly was one. The Yankees, the ‘paper’ reported, were avenging themselves against me for having tweeted the Weber/Rodriguez photo.

For the last several years, political commentator Keith Olbermann has served as an in-stadium play-by-play man for the Yankees’ Old-Timers’ Day. But the Yankees are making a change, The Post has learned. The Yankees were not happy with Olbermann posting a photo on Twitter earlier this season of a coach signaling pitches to their batters in the on-deck circle. So they decided to bounce the liberal loudmouth and will have Bob Wolff and Suzyn Waldman provide the commentary for today’s game instead.

The factual errors in the item (I had never done the play-by-play; the implication that Bob Wolff was somehow replacing me was made by somebody who knew nothing of the mechanics of Old Timers’ Day) suggested this was not Cashman cashiering me, nor the exec in charge of the event, Debbie Tymon. This was further up the chain. Even President Randy Levine insisted to me that the events were unconnected, and that I was a “candidate” to return to help Bob in 2012, and that I’d hear from the club directly next time.

Not exactly. Old Timers’ Day 2012 came and went without even a post-it stuck on my seat in the ballpark reading ‘drop dead.’

And in retrospect this petty little exercise seems like a minor note before the publicity fiasco crescendo of the move against Reggie Jackson. Note that in both cases nothing was announced, just leaked. In both cases there is executive-level action by people who don’t really know what’s going on, and who wind up exacerbating a forgotten story by resurrecting it and publicly blaming on somebody else.

And in both cases the motive is to somehow defend Alex Rodriguez.

Clearly Rodriguez needs it. After the tweeted photo story broke, an American League manager took me aside to thank me for stirring up the hornet’s nest. “They’ve been doing that for years, even in the old park,” he said. “I’ve complained and complained and complained – nothing. And it was always done for A-Rod.” The skipper added some texture to this by suggesting that the real need for a guy in the stands in a Yankee jacket giving pitch details to Rodriguez and other Yankees was that the team was notorious for flashing the wrong pitch and the wrong speed on the scoreboard (they would hardly be the only team accused of that crime and/or gamesmanship).

The sad part about all of this is that in both cases these are amazing over-reactions. The “signal” story went away within 24 hours and Brett Weber returned to his seat (although Rodriguez never again got the benefit of his technically-illegal wig-wagging). Reggie Jackson’s gentle honesty about the fact that Rodriguez is a freakin’ admitted steroid user resonated here in New York with all the impact of a snowball thrown into a pond and ruffled far fewer feathers than his comments about the Cooperstown worthiness of the late fan favorites Gary Carter and Kirby Puckett.

Under Steinbrenners: The Next Generation, the Yankees’ front office looks like a bunch of hand-wringing clerks wearing green eyeshades, rushing to defend Alex Rodriguez. You know what George would have done? Nothing. He might’ve updated his infamous derision of Dave Winfield and call Rodriguez “the new Mr. May,” but he would’ve taken the heat – not applied it to others unnecessarily.

Instead the Yankees: get another publicity nightmare; underscore the fragility of their third baseman’s ego and the insanity of his five-years-to-go contract; and pull the rug out from under one of their top ambassadors (and one of their guys who actually hit his 500+ home runs without any juice).

If Hal Steinbrenner – with or without Lonn Trost – is going to run this hallowed team like a Roller Derby franchise, that other Daily News story had better be true. The Steinbrenners need to sell the club. The Yankees need to be run by some grown-ups with skin of merely ordinary thickness.

Refund! Refund? Refund!

It is a
compelling story of the rich getting, if not richer, then at least getting
richer discounts
This week, the Yankees have been pounded everywhere from the New York papers to
the business publication Forbes for offering freebies, two-fers, and especially
, to only
those customers who had paid the stadium’s absolute top season ticket price of
$2,500 a seat.

There is
only one complication. The Yankees aren’t actually going to wind up giving
any refunds.
This is for the remarkably simple reason that the tickets for which they announced
refunds or credits,
are the ones they weren’t able to sell.

Though the
Yankees are in the most curious of business predicaments – they
set the bar too high, the bottom fell
out of the economy, they made a gesture to give back some of their loot (and,
in the process, fill the embarrassingly empty seats), and yet they’re still getting
yelled at
– the
Steinbrenners have nobody to blame but themselves. More specifically, they can
chalk it up to an incredible, almost labyrinthine
press releaseissued by an
outside publicity firm, that offered no less than fifteen different responses
and plans to the various ticket prices and locales. The document is slightly
less intelligible than a book of IRS forms, nearly as long, and obviously just
as confusing.

standard reporting on this has fallen in line with
Forbes’ account:”The bum
economy managed to turn the famous Legends Suite seats in the first few rows,
priced as high as $2,650 apiece, into infamous symbols of overreaching during a
time when businesses are gun-shy about lavishing money on sports and other
forms of client entertainment. So top seats will now go for $1,250 a pop, with
those who already laid out the bigger money getting a credit or refund…” There
was a snotty burst to the Associated Press from some television guy who’d
bought three of the $850 suite seats behind the plate. “”If they’re
offering only selective refunds, depend upon it: There are going to be
lawsuits. Great, more tickets nobody wants. The silver lining here is that even
more charities are going to be getting even more tickets from me.” The
shoot-from-the-hip complainant was named Olberding or Overmann or something. The
average egalitarian complaint echoed that of my friend Rich Sandomir of
The Times: “The Yankees
did not consider giving refunds or credits to fans in nonpremium seats because
Hal Steinbrenner felt only a small number of top-tier tickets were overpriced.”

As it is,
the Yankees are actually not giving refunds or credits to almost any of their
fans. A Yankee source did say that as many as four ticket-buyers – literally, four
in the
suites hanging from the upper deck in left and right fields – would wind up
with some extra perks. But the source added they weren’t certain: it might only
be three


understandable confusion seems to owe to the first subheading (item “A” on a
list of ticket price adjustments that goes all the way to item “I,” then pauses
for a few sentences and then re-starts with another
item “A”, and then a “B” that is
followed by sub-
1, 2, 3, and 4). It reads “the full season Legends Suite and Ticket Licenses in
the first row in Sections 15A, 15B, 24B and 25 will be reduced from $2,500 to
$1,250 per regular season game. All fans who have purchased such full season
Suite and Ticket Licenses will receive, at their choice, a refund or a credit.”

The thing
is, sections 15A and 15B are at the far end of the Yankee dugout – most are
behind the camera well beyond
dugout – and sections 24B and 25 are their opposites behind the visiting
dugout. The front-row seats in those sections are the equivalent of fourth row
seats in the rest of the park. I’m reliably informed that the Yankees didn’t
manage to sell any
those seats, so there’s no refund to be had. Reality here reads like something
out of “Catch-22”: you can get a refund on those tickets, but only if you
haven’t bought them. And you can now buy many of those high-end tickets at half the original price, except you can’t, because the Yankees gave them away as make-goods.

So, amid
all the dollar figures, topic lettering, references to sections “15A and 15B,”
the press release had all the clarity of assembly instructions pulled out of a
swing set on Christmas Eve. The team certainly is giving its high-end customers
extra tickets – the ones it couldn’t sell – particularly those wide swaths of
exposed blue leather down the third base line. But that real story of what the
Yankees were doing was buried down in items C, D, E. Those who actually bought
those $2,500 front-row seats would be getting not refunds but a free set of
front-row seats further away from home plate. Buyers of $1,250 seats would get
24 games’ worth of freebies. Buyers of $850 seats would get 8 free games, and 4
more games’ worth in the $500 section, etc.

Speaking as
one of those $850 buyers, I want to make it clear that nobody, but nobody
, should feel sorry for us. Once you
are actually paying three or four figures for one
ticket to a sporting event, you are
on your own. The first year my father bought season tickets at Yankee Stadium
(1972), four seats to each game cost a total of $1,000, and we only managed it
by canceling all further vacations. Last year, the same four seats cost a total
of $1,000 per game.
advent of the Amazing Colossal Yankee Ticket Price didn’t exactly sneak up on
any of us, and we could have gotten out at any time – as hundreds, maybe
thousands, did.

But there
was a certain apparent inequity to the way the Yankee ticket adjustment was
framed – an inequity caused mostly by that blasted press release – that the
franchise didn’t deserve. It was not offering a fifty percent rebate to the
highest of the high rollers, and a token handful of tickets to the next group
down. It was giving the people who did buy tickets, all the rest of the tickets
that nobody had bought.

remains unaddressed, of course, is the 2010 season. Not mentioned in any of the
coverage of the cutbacks in the Bronx – at least that which I’ve seen – is that
beginning this season, the Yankees instituted multi-year ticket licenses. The
minimum commitment demanded of season seat-buyers at virtually all price ranges
was three years. An inverted sliding scale of maximum annual price increases
accompanied each
deal (the longer you signed for, the less they could raise the price of your
seats each winter), and the paperwork was as thick as a good-sized magazine. No
matter what the economy does, it will be fascinating to see whether the Yankees
try to enforce those price jumps next year, or hope they can just get people to
pay what they agreed to in more halcyon days. Or 75% of that. Or 50%.

Because if they can’t, the most dreaded thing imaginable might happen. The Yankees might send out another one of these press releases.