For me, this was the Tyson/McBride moment of the Steinbrenner Era. Old George never would have allowed Giambi to get away unscathed -- he would have flipped out, responded in a drastic fashion and made an uncomfortable situation worse, almost like an abusive, button-pushing family member at Thanksgiving dinner who keeps bringing up someone else's drinking problem or failed marriage. New George expressed his disapproval, tried to correct the situation through the proper channels, then threw up his hands and accepted his fate. In other words, he was just another rich owner wronged by a rich athlete. I never thought we would see the day.
The question remains: What prompted such a noticeable change in demeanor? Is George mellowing in his old age? Is he failing physically? When he fainted at Otto Graham's funeral in December 2003, did he have some sort of epiphany? Did he have some sort of "Regarding Henry" type accident that never leaked to the general public? Or is he intentionally toning things down in his twilight years to help his Hall of Fame case?
Nobody knows. Regardless, his relative silence during the 2005 season has been absolutely mind-blowing. When poor Giambi was floundering to the point that he could have changed his name to "Jason Booooooooooooooooooooo," George remained suspiciously quiet. When the Yankees squandered 19 of their first 30 games, for the first time in 30 years, Yankee fans were more upset than George (who seemed more interested in his Kentucky Derby horse). When a below-.500 June spawned an infamous "organizational meeting" in Tampa last week -- which had the potential to play out like the climactic scene from a mafia movie, given George's checkered history under this level of duress -- nothing happened other than two washed-up relievers' getting their walking papers.
Now the Yankees are 43-39, and look lifeless and unhappy during games. There's an alpha dog battle between Jeter and A-Rod that hasn't been resolved. Johnson and Posada despise one another to the point that Johnson won't pitch to him anymore. Torre carries himself with the confidence of a stunned father who just saw his two daughters flashing their breasts on a "Girls Gone Wild" video. Even when something good happens -- like Bernie's dramatic insurance homer in Detroit Saturday, or the team's comeback Monday against Baltimore -- the dugout celebrates like it's a Celebrity All-Star Softball Game and they're ticked off that their agents convinced them to play, but now they have to pretend to be excited because Dave Coulier just went deep. And New George seems OK with everything that's happening.
But here's the weird thing: I kinda miss Old George. Say what you want about the guy, but at least he was interesting. At least he cared about the Yankees to the point that, much like OJ Simpson and Ike Turner, he loved them a little too much. When he still had his fastball, he reminded me of every wealthy country club jerk for whom I ever caddied in high school -- bombastic, belligerent, sadistic, never once letting you forget who he was and what he could do. His meltdowns were like volcano explosions -- staggering, frightening, awesome to watch. And he was always his own worst enemy, to the point that he remains the only owner suspended for an entire season not once, but twice.