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8/06/2007 09:11:00 AM

AL East: Fading Boss

By Alex Belth

The worst kept secret in New York is that George Steinbrenner is no longer the man, let alone The Boss, he used to be. There have been rumors and whispers for a few years now that Steinbrenner is sick -- that he has dementia. He rarely appears in public these days and almost all of his communication is handled by his publicist, Howard Rubenstein.

But what is perhaps most surprising about this story is how the New York media has avoided reporting it head-on. Richard Sandomir has tackled it in the New York Times, but many other reporters have only hinted at Steinbrenner's failing health. This all changed late last week when Franz Lidz's profile of Steinbrenner for Portfolio.com was released. Lidz, practicing a form of sabotage journalism that would make Mike Wallace proud, visited Steinbrenner's home and found the Boss a shell of his former self:

It's 2 in the afternoon, and George Steinbrenner is wearing slippers, silk pajamas, and a terry-cloth robe -- all Yankee blue. A diamond-encrusted World Series ring nearly as big as a Ritz cracker obscures his wedding ring.

...He doesn't look all right. In fact, he looks dreadful. His body is bloated; his jawline has slackened into a triple chin; his skin looks as if a dry-cleaner bag has been stretched over it. Steinbrenner's face, pale and swollen, has a curiously undefined look. His features seem frozen in a permanent rictus of careworn disbelief.


The reaction to Lidz's piece -- much of which is based on a 20-year old interview with the owner's son -- has been mixed. Some feel that this a case of the chicken coming home to roost. That Steinbrenner, who loved the spotlight for so long, is now getting what he deserves. He bullied and harassed people in the papers for years. He is still, after all, a public figure. He is still officially the owner of the Yankees. Some, on the other hand, feel that Steinbrenner should be left alone now, that he should be treated with some dignity.

Mike Lupica, a longtime Steinbrenner antagonist -- and the man who dubbed the Yankee owner The Boss --is one of those people. In 1987, Lupica coined the phrase Georged:

"GEORGE (jogj), v., GEORGED, GEORGING. 1: To insult, verbally abuse, taunt members of the New York Yankees in the newspapers. 2: To threaten with demotion to the minor leagues, usually Columbus of the International League; or threaten with trade to another major league team. 3: To actually bully Yankees to the point where they are unable to perform at previous levels of baseball skill, specifically, levels exhibited before becoming Yankees. USAGE: Exclusively relating to the principal owner of the Yankees, George Steinbrenner; i.e./ to be Georged by Mr. Steinbrenner."

Yesterday, Lupica wrote:

"He still wants to be that guy -- The Boss," a baseball executive, one who has tangled with Steinbrenner and goes back a ways with him, said on Friday. "So he's not. So what? Why does it matter? If you're talking about sports owners -- and I don't care whether you've loved him or not, whether you hate the Yankees or not -- it would be like asking Ali to still be Ali.'

...In so many ways, he did this to himself. He always wanted the attention. Now the attention comes looking for him when he is old and less than he was, even if there are days when his top lieutenants swear he is as present, and loud -- even on the telephone from Tampa -- as he used to be.

So there is no real crime in this, on either side. He has been the back page for 30 years. He could get one today if he wants, by picking up the phone. He probably won't want. You never know.

All we know for sure is this: Now comes the back end of the deal with George Steinbrenner. Give him the last thing he ever would have wanted. When he wants to be left alone, leave him alone.


Lupica shows some feeling for Steinbrenner. The Bronx Zoo truly is dead.




  • Yeah, the Red Sox are pretty good. They won five out of seven against the Indians and the Mariners this week and added Eric Gagne to their already impressive bullpen. Game Over? Could be. After all, Hideki Okajima has a staggeringly low ERA of 1.00 in 54 innings, and Jonathan Papelbon is one of the best closers in the league. Murray Chass writes that Boston's move to get Gagne is directly out of the Yankee playbook. Steven Goldman notes how the deal could help New York.


  • Hey, if Gagne doesn't work out, El Guapo is waiting in the wings.


  • Alex Rodriguez hit his 500th home run on Saturday. He is the youngest man to reach the milestone. If Rodriguez manages to stay healthy -- and that's always a big if, just ask Junior Griffey -- he'll likely make a run at the all-time mark. If the pressure doesn't get to him, that is.


  • Meanwhile, Jorge Posada is having one of the best seasons ever for a 35-year-old catcher. According to always amazing Baseball-Reference.com, Carlton Fisk's 134 OPS+ in 1983 is the mark to beat. Through 103 games, Posada has an OPS+ of 159. He could make a run at Fisk. Bugs and Cranks thinks Posada's 2007 is a fluke.


  • Hope is the thing with feathers, according to Emily Dickinson. Woody Allen was without feathers. What about the Devil Rays? I think it is safe to say that Elijah Dukes is without feathers. On the other hand, move over, B.J. -- there is a new Upton in town, and another promising young Devil-Ray, third baseman Evan Longoria, is shooting his way up through the minor leagues.


  • Matt Stairs reached a milestone of his own as the Jays swept the Rangers. Toronto has won eight straight games at home. Frank Thomas? Bringing the pain.


  • Erik Bedard is the man. The Orioles' southpaw has 194 strikeouts (11.20 per 9), well ahead of Johan Santana, who is second with 164.
  • Labels:

    posted by SI.com | View comments |  

    Comments:

    Posted: August 6, 2007 11:56 AM   by Anonymous
    I don't see why this is an issue.
    The dude is 77 years old!!. People generally decline when they become septagenarians.

    If I were a red sox fan I wouldn;t rejoice in the fact that George is becoming less of a factor in the day to day operations.

    It was Steinbrenners departure in the 90s that lead to the four WS championships.

    Having Brian Cashman in control of the Yankees will allow the yankees to spend more wisely and keep and develop prospects tha could be the foundation of the next Yankee dynasty.
    I simply can not understand why the Devil Rays continue to be so consistently bad. They have some great young hitting talent and a couple of quality starters (Shields and Kazmir).Sooner or later they have to post a winning season, right? Right? A smart GM would be able to develop a winner in a couple of years there, a la the Marlins from 2004?
    Posted: August 7, 2007 3:27 PM   by Anonymous
    Let's just leave George alone, he has a done a lot for the game, and the Yankees. It is time to give him a little dignity and stay out of the limelight. Good luck George!!!
    Posted: August 7, 2007 5:56 PM   by Anonymous
    Every team in baseball better be scared with Steinbrenner on his way out. With all due respect to "The Boss" he was a distraction. Now they have a very smart GM in total control and if they keep him, one of the best managers in the game. Some very good young talent in the minors, there set for pitching for years. This is a team that can win while developing some great young talent and fill in the gaps by paying the big dollars for guys like Santana, without The Boss getting in the way and forcing trades of young talent. Some people will say I’m reading too much into this but if you look at his track record, it’s not that great in respect to treating players with respect. The game the way it is now, if you don’t give players respect there just not going to perform, there gigantic egos get hurt. And NO I am not a yankees fan, infact there a rival with my team the jays.
    Can you reprint the article written last week by an SI writer? It basically claimed that Roger Clemens has been a disapointment, and not lived up to expectations. Thanks!
    Posted: August 9, 2007 7:01 AM   by D. Dorin
    Franz Lidz's story was pure genius. How can you use Mike Lupica (of all people!) as a moral avatar? He's not one-tenth the writer.
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