Getting what you deserve (Cont.)
I don't say this as an attack -- he's a baseball owner willing to spend a lot of money to get the best players, and that's really what fans want. Anyway, I like Steinbrenner and have for a long time. I like him because I like outsized sports characters and Steinbrenner has always been that. He has been excessively generous and excessively obnoxious and excessively successful and excessively flawed -- always to excess. It is said that Steinbrenner was a huge pro wrestling fan, and you could see how the rules of pro wrestling have marked his life. From my younger days as a wrestling fan, I believe the rules are as follows:
1. The only records that count are the ones involving bank accounts.
2. Never hit anyone with your hand when there's a metal chair within reach.
3. If the referee didn't see it, it didn't happen.
4. Winners win, losers cry and the only champion is the one with the belt.
5. Masked men never get the girl.
Steinbrenner ran the New York Yankees that way. If he could have hit a few players and managers with metal chairs, he would have done just that. The team won championships because of him, and the team derailed because of him. He was the force of will behind the tense Bronx Zoo teams of the 1970s, and he was the force of will behind the bloated Yankees teams of the late 1980s, and he was the force of will behind the dynasty Yankees of late 1990s*, and he was the force of will behind many of the overpriced Yankees teams this decade. He has paid the biggest contracts, and made the biggest demands, and thrown the biggest fits, and thrown the biggest champagne parties, too.
*Many believe that the great Yankees teams of the 1990s were built when Steinbrenner was more or less out of the picture ... when he was on suspension and the team was given the freedom to build from within. I don't know if this is true -- it SOUNDS true, but lots of things sound true.
But it's that word: deserves. Mr. Steinbrenner DESERVES another championship. Of course, Joe Girardi works for the Boss, and so it behooves him to say such things. The thing is, I think a lot of people -- certainly a lot of people in New York -- feel the same way, feel like it would be fitting, even touching, for Old Man Steinbrenner to win one more time, to taste the champagne again in his winter years.
It looks likely now that the Yankees will win. The Series is not over, and the Phillies are tough, and I do have this feeling that Andy Pettitte will get raked on Wednesday night on three days' rest. But the Yankees are certainly in position to win one more for Mr. Steinbrenner, and if they do, sure, a lot of people will be disgusted and will despise Steinbrenner and his family one more time for having the most money and the biggest payroll and the best team. But I suspect that a lot of people this time around -- including people who have spent their lives despising George Steinbrenner and the Yankees -- will feel a nudge of nostalgia, a small involuntary hiccup of approval for the old man who has been baseball's biggest character for almost three decades. These are the quirks of getting old.
Funny thing: I once saw a longtime professional wrestler in a restaurant, and we talked for a few minutes, and I asked whether he preferred being the good guy or the bad guy -- he had been both a baby and a heel many times over the years. He considered the question carefully. Good guy or bad guy. Baby or heel. Finally, he shrugged and said something like this: "What's the difference? It doesn't matter if the people love you or hate you. As long as they feel strongly."
George Steinbrenner has made people feel strongly. Does he DESERVE another championship? For that I think of another quote, this one from Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven: "Deserve's got nothing to do with it."
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