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Boss quiet during slow start

Sources: Steinbrenner privately displeased by Yanks

Posted: Thursday April 26, 2007 11:39AM; Updated: Thursday April 26, 2007 1:00PM
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George Steinbrenner is
George Steinbrenner is "in decent shape," according to his spokesman, despite suffering health scares the past few years.
Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images
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George Steinbrenner didn't show up at the Yankees' two games in Tampa this week because he didn't want to talk publicly about his floundering club, according to people close to the team's owner.

Steinbrenner, 76, has remained behind the scenes throughout the Yankees' dreadful start and resisted any of the sort of negative characterizations that marked most of his first three-plus decades as baseball's boldest, brashest, most interesting owner. He did not return calls for this article and barely said a few words all during spring training, which used to be his stage. The rare times he was seen at spring training, he walked haltingly. Someone in the Steinbrenner camp said his health has not been as good as advertised and that health-related episodes at Otto Graham's funeral in December 2003 and at a granddaughter's play last October were more serious than has been publicized. Another old friend said it appears Steinbrenner is struggling and that The Boss has seemed uncharacteristically "quiet" in recent days.

"He's fine. I talk to him almost every day. He seems in decent shape," spokesman Howard Rubenstein said. "His attitude has changed. He doesn't shoot [his mouth] off all the time. He has left the act of running the team to [GM Brian] Cashman and [manager Joe] Torre."

Whatever his exact condition, Steinbrenner is predictably displeased with his team's 8-11 start. Steinbrenner was said by one person to be "not happy," and by another to be "miserable" about the way the club has performed. One Yankees person suggested his decision not to attend in Tampa also could have come as much from embarrassment about his high-priced roster battling the Devil Rays for last place as his reticence to be interviewed.

Rubenstein said Steinbrenner told him he's not speaking out publicly out of fairness to Cashman and Torre. "I've got to hang back," Rubenstein reported Steinbrenner as telling him.

"What he's saying privately I won't discuss," Rubenstein adds.

Steinbrenner's public silence should not be interpreted as a sign of approval.

The Yankees made major changes the past couple years as Cashman, finally given the full GM's power, has begun implementing alterations that fit his philosophical bent. He's cut the payroll (to $179 million, the Yankees say), another indication Steinbrenner's not calling all the shots anymore, and he's placed a greater emphasis on youth and flexibility, which seem on the surface like sound ideas. However, their start has been nothing short of disastrous.

Cashman declined to repeat what Steinbrenner tells him, but others say the owner remains as in touch as ever with his GM, questioning his decisions. Cashman, who marks May 2005 as the time he gained full GM-type authority (when he promoted Chien-Ming Wang and Robinson Cano to aid an also-floundering Yankees team), doesn't hesitate when asked what's wrong with the Yankees, who have fallen into last place. "We lost our number 1, 3, 4 and 6 starters. That's the problem with the Yankees. It's as simple as that," Cashman says. "Ultimately, it's about pitching. We're trying hard to get through this. We'll be fine."

One of the hallmarks of the Cashman-Torre era has been slow starts followed by strong pennant pushes. However, the injuries have depleted their pitching reserve, and the team's frequent use of key bullpen components has left baseball people wondering whether another strong comeback is in the cards this time. (The Yankees have started poorly before, going 10-14 in April 2005 before rallying to win the AL East.)

Cashman's decision to rely on the chronically sidelined Carl Pavano as one of the top five starters and Torre's use of the bullpen are two areas that have not gone unnoticed by the Boss, according to those in the know.

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