Remember when look-alike Kevin Kline replaces the ailing president in "Dave," only he's infinitely more personable and thoughtful than the real president was? Not only does Kline's character prevent a nationwide panic, he gives funny speeches that inspire the nation. He solves the budget crisis in five hours. He introduces an ambitious plan to find a job for every American citizen. And nobody ever suspects a thing.
Maybe the same chain of events didn't happen to George Steinbrenner, but clearly, something is going on here. George hasn't seemed like himself for 17 months, not since the Yankees outwitted the Red Sox for the 15,432nd time by clandestinely winning the A-Rod Sweepstakes. When Boston owner John Henry complained about New York's staggering payroll after that trade, George delivered the most biting quote in the history of the Sox-Yankees feud:
"We understand John Henry must be embarrassed, frustrated, and disappointed by his failure in this transaction. Unlike the Yankees, he chose not to go the extra distance for his fans in Boston."
Classic George -- he loved twisting the knife with Boston fans. The Red Sox had two months to acquire A-Rod, couldn't and wouldn't do it, and then they left the door open just enough for the Yankees to come barging in. When it came right down to it, Steinbrenner always went the extra distance for his fans. If he could kick the Red Sox as it was happening and inject some of his trademark pomposity, all the better. I remember reading that quote two winters ago and hanging my head.
And that's what made the last eleven months so inexplicable. Maybe he's old, maybe he's worn down after all, he did turn 75 this week. But follow this time line with me:
August 2004: New York Magazine runs a flattering profile of Brian Cashman, including some pointed George-bashing and Mrs. Cashman's revelation that Brian "would like to go to Boston and win the World Series, that would be any man's dream, to go up there and become the god of Boston." George's response? Nothing.
September 2004: Trailing the Yanks by double figures for most of the summer, Boston wins 20 of its next 22 to pull within two games and we hear barely a peep from George. If this happened in the late '70s, George would have framed Javy Vasquez for three liquor store robberies, derisively started calling A-Rod "A-Fraud," released nine hostile statements per day, railed against ESPN for the fact that "they show more SportsCenter highlights of us when we're losing," and belittled Cashman and Torre to the point that they would have met in a parking garage at 3 a.m. to plot his assassination.
October 2004: Holding a 3-0 lead in the ALCS against the Red Sox, the Yankees blow leads in Games 4 and 5 at Fenway, then fall flat in Games 6 and 7 at Yankee Stadium. Not only was this the biggest collapse in the history of professional sports, not only did the Red Sox topple the Yankees in a do-or-die situation for the first time in nine decades, but they celebrated on the field at Yankee Stadium. Thirty years ago, this chain of events would have caused Steinbrenner to snap like Sly Stallone at the end of "Copland." In 2004? He released the following statement after the game: