Easing into his role as the new Boss of the Yankees, Hank Steinbrenner has delivered another barb toward his organization's No. 1 target, criticizing the fan base that proudly trumpets the title "Red Sox Nation."
"[Red Sox Nation] was a creation of the Red Sox and ESPN, which is filled with Red Sox fans," Steinbrenner said in an interview with The New York Times' Play magazine. "Go anywhere in America and you won't see Red Sox hats and jackets, you'll see Yankee hats and jackets.
"This is a Yankee country. We're going to put the Yankees back on top and restore the universe to order."
Steinbrenner's interview will be published in the March 2 issue of the magazine, though the comments were made in January. Still, Steinbrenner, whose title recently changed to general partner of the Yankees from senior vice president, has not shied away from speaking his mind in numerous interviews granted since he accepted a more public role with the team.
"You can't create any controversy with fact," Steinbrenner told the New York Post. "You can ask any marketing expert who is the No. 1 brand of any team in any sport in the country, and it's the Yankees. We are the No. 1 brand in the country.
"... It's Yankees Nation. It's certainly not Red Sox Nation. I am not ripping on the Red Sox, because they are doing a good job developing their brand, but everybody knows the Yankees are the top brand."
Steinbrenner sat outside to watch the Yankees' exhibition game against the University of South Florida on Friday and has been an accessible figure for fans this spring, signing autographs frequently during workouts at the Legends Field complex.
His belief is that the fan base, the Yankees' paying customers, have a right to know what the club is doing and thinking behind closed doors.
"Everyone was hiding in their rooms -- you can't do that and be a leader," Steinbrenner said in the interview. "You have to step up and take a position."
Then again, criticism hasn't been limited to just Yankees voices. Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein caused a minor stir last week when he told the Boston radio station WEEI that New York pitchers Mike Mussina and Kevin Brown were among the "bad apples" who complained about the club's 2004 trip to Japan.
The Red Sox will open the regular season with two games in Japan against the A's on March 25 and 26.
"By the time the Yankees team got back from the trip, they were all using it as a crutch," Epstein told WEEI last Friday. "The research that we did on the Japan trip from the teams that have gone previously is one or two bad apples can spoil the lot. As long as we keep the Brown-and-Mussina approach from infiltrating our clubhouse, I think [we] will get out of it as a team-building experience."
Hal Steinbrenner has been less visible than his older brother, preferring to control the Yankees' financial matters from a distance. But even he made comments digging at the Red Sox, who have won two of the past four World Series titles, in a Feb. 19 interview with GQ.com.
"The defending World Series champions have a lot of talent and [have] done very well the past few years, but let me put it this way: I don't think [they] wanted to play us in the ALCS," Hal Steinbrenner said. "So I will concede nothing. I think we're better than [them]."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.