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Yanks loss stirs memories of Steinbrenner

Yanks loss stirs memories of Steinbrenner

It was the morning after the night before, and the man in charge was disturbing the peace. The Yankees had lost, fallen short of their stated mission -- to win the World Series. Moreover, their pursuit of another pennant had proven unsuccessful. And, as sure as Cliff Lee in October, there would be consequences. What would the man do? That was question. Not Lee, the man. That man. What woe would he bring? What would the ramifications of failure be this time? Whose head would he demand? And how long would the lava flow last?

Such concerns and considerations were once not uncommon in the Yankees' universe. The day that followed a loss in the team's final postseason game was a good day to remain invisible and inaudible at the Stadium, or, better yet, absent, lest he notice you and direct his wrath.

The presence of George Steinbrenner was always recognized by the folks who identified Yankee Stadium as "the office," even on the good days. The word "George" never was to be uttered when The Boss was in the building; it was understood corporate policy. Only "Mr. Steinbrenner" or the most basic pronoun would do. But on the October morning after the Yankees had been denied, choice of words was particularly critical -- as were promptness, length of hair, grooming and grammar, a crease in slacks, shiny shoes and general behavior. On the morning after the night before, smiling was unacceptable; laughter was foolish and grounds for dismissal. And it was wise to keep the 128-point type tabloid headlines out of sight; no reminders for the man. Open the paper to, say, the classifieds, to the "help wanted" ads. You never knew.

That was then, 20-25 years ago, when Mt. Steinbrenner was unstable and a daily danger. Smoke, ash and lava flow always were possible. And now the volcano, the unnatural wonder, is forever inactive. Steinbrenner joined the great majority in July. The threat is gone.

In truth, he had mellowed over the years. Even the insatiable Boss learned championships don't occur annually -- not for the Patriots or Steelers, Wooden's teams, Lance or Jack Armstrong, the Lakers or Celtics, Tiger or his beloved Yankees. The days of his arbitrary scapegoating had become less frequent, his words had grown softer and even measured. What was he going to say in 2001 when the great Mariano was beaten by a broken-bat bloop? The world and George's red, white and blue conscience had other, more pressing matters to address then, anyway. He held his tongue rather than stub it.

Yes, eventually, The Boss did learn to credit those who had ousted his team. The lesson took only decades to learn. But can you image how this most recent Yankees stumble would have played with The Boss of 1981, the Year of the Apology?

Sound the sirens! Take cover.

Yes, for those who think the Yankees' run of success began with Joe Torre, understand that Steinbrenner apologized to the fans in '81 after the Dodgers had denied his team a third World Series championship in five years. He apologized for finishing second in a field of 26. Apologized.

"We've seen enough of Phil Hughes," he might have said, dipping into his Greatest Hits/Diatribes to point out that Hughes was the losing pitcher in two of the six games the Rangers needed to complete the process of elimination. Hughes' 11.42 ERA would have caught Steinbrenner's eye. "I didn't know ERA's went so high," the Boss might have said.

And of the respective 20.25 and 27.00 ERAs produced by David Robertson and Boone Logan? "They'll be stripped of their stripes," Boss '81 would have bellowed. But a reprise of a characteristic reference to horse racing, "They spit the bit," would seem appropriate. Yes?

The Yankees had the most productive batting order in the big leagues in the regular season; they scored 19 runs and batted .201 in six ALCS games. Boss '81 would have noted the link between his team's average and the area code of North New Jersey. "If they'd told me we were going to hit like a bunch of Garden Staters, I'd have kept Bernie [Williams] after he'd thrown out the first pitch" would have been a natural.

Derek Jeter's .231 and Nick Swisher's .091 would have avoided ridicule, only because The Boss would have skewered Alex Rodriguez as he had lampooned and harpooned Dave Winfield, with Mr. May, in 1985. "See, there was a reason the Rangers pawned him off on me," might have been what he said, that or "Mr. Rodriguez doesn't even warrant a month."

Maybe February, A-Rod did come up quite short -- .190 with two RBIs.

No one would have been spared, except Mo, Cano and Curtis Granderson. "They performed like Yankees," Steinbrenner would have said. And Teixeira, hitless in 14 at-bats before his hammy betrayed him, would have gone unmentioned. Lucky him. Jeter and Posada, too, because of past achievement.

The Boss in 1980 and '81 was at his best -- or worst. He was the gas-powered leaf blower on an otherwise peaceful autumn morning, emphasis on gas. He had to get it all out, no matter whose toes were crushed. He made promises to the multitudes within his market. "New York deserves better," was his mantra, as if he had a civic duty to lift the masses by providing a reason for ticker tape.

The Canyon of Heroes will remain quiet for now. Perhaps the Jets will march in February.

And what would have become of Mr. Girardi had his gambles all failed under The Boss' watch. Would he be re-signed or offered a 'too-good-to-pass-up" real estate deal in Florida, near the acreage Dick Howser found so appealing after George Brett struck in 1980.

The Hal-Hank regime and Brian Cashman are far less impulsive than the man they have succeeded. And the Cubs' opening has been closed.

Had Steinbrenner been alive to witness the Yankees' defeat and the Rangers' success, and were he still as ultra-involved as he was until five or six years ago, the certainty of the morning after the night before would have been his summoning his famed baseball people to the Bronx or Tampa. Lee's name might have come up. Just as plans for next year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade begin as soon as Santa Claus passes, the Yankees would begin their quest for World Series No. 28 immediately after the 27th out, if not sooner.

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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