Hal Steinbrenner is the anti-Derek Jeter in his approach to the media. Jeter was respectful, but never deferential. His answers were short, but never curt. Jeter, perhaps better than anyone, walked the line. He provided journalists with sufficient content while also shielding the organization from undue scrutiny. For the current Yankees owner on the other hand, interviews over the past year or so have acted as an accelerant to the fire of the organization’s complete meltdown. His words strongly suggest dysfunction and condescension in the Yankees C-suite.
The string of unfortunate sound bites started in an interview shortly after the ALCS sweep at the hands of the Astros in November 2022. With no postseason this year, it’ll be another long winter after watching those same Astros making a run at a title once again. We’ve all lamented the 2022 playoffs enough, so I want to look at Steinbrenner’s words themselves with the added context of 2023.
After the humiliating sweep, Steinbrenner was “not going to make any excuses,’’ but in the same breath said that the Astros “did go into the playoffs a bit healthier than us ... Houston’s a great team, we’re not taking anything away from them. But when you’re facing great pitching, you’ve got to have a balanced lineup and with those two guys [DJ LeMahieu and Andrew Benintendi] injured, I think it affected us.’’
Blaming it on injuries is maybe a valid if unsatisfying cop-out, but inadvertently it uncovers a complete lack of adjustability that haunted this team in 2023 once again. Older players with injury histories getting hurt isn’t uncharted territory, but all offseason Steinbrenner pinned the blame on injuries as the perpetual scapegoat. Then it happened again in 2023! No doubt the blame game will continue this offseason.
He doubled down on these words in summary at the end of the November interview: “I don’t believe they’re doing anything that we’re not doing ... We get accused of being a stagnant organization sometimes. We’re not. We’re constantly evolving.’’ Both of these statements are bewildering given how the Yankees fell so decidedly to the Astros in 2022 and with the added context of how they stumbled the entire season in 2023. I think anyone with eyes can see the Astros are doing many, many things that the Yankees aren’t. It looks even worse in retrospect — fans can now point to four games last October along with 162 this year where Steinbrenner’s assessment is hollow at best.
Then, the infamous “We’re not done yet.” Steinbrenner made this guarantee after splurging on a long contract for Carlos Rodón before this season. Yankees ownership made no impact signings or trades before spring training after declaring their intent to act, so it ended up being a flat-out lie. Steinbrenner’s words alluded to the hole in left field, the most apparent lineup flaw at the time, and honestly, almost a year later, it still is! Fans knew relying on Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Cabrera was a gamble to say the least. It failed spectacularly, and the Yankees had no other viable plan other than barely serviceable plug-and-play journeyman veterans.
Then, as this year began to spiral in June, Steinbrenner broke out the classic “I’m a little confused” tactic. This incredibly passive-aggressive phrase often is conjured up in a moment of frustration demanding professionalism, and inherent in it is the understanding that the offended party’s logic is nonsensical and needs explaining. “They are upset,” Steinbrenner said when asked about the fan base’s restlessness. “I’m a little confused, this year, being the third week of June, why they’re so upset, but they’re upset and that’s gonna get my attention, of course.”
Using the word upset here feels passive-aggressively intentional. It implies a sense of petulance in the fan base insignificant to ownership. The pattern of peevish verbiage mirrors Aaron Boone’s comments about Josh Donaldson before the 2023 season, which were also dead-wrong: “I think you’re crazy to think that a bounce back is not in there offensively.”
Fast forward to present day at the end of this season, where every single one of those predictions proved false. Steinbrenner, with all the rousing inspiration of a Monday morning meeting, suggested “We’re going to take a very deep dive into everything we’re doing. We’re looking to bring in possibly an outside company to really take a look at the analytics side of what we do.”
It goes beyond a lack of charisma — it’s a misunderstanding of what it means to be accountable. Yankees fans who question their decisions aren’t “upset” or “crazy” as ownership assumes. To them, though, the fans’ pleas are just noise.