Over the past few months, there have been more than a few hypotheses floated as to why the Yankees failed in their quest to win championship No. 28. As with all speculative hypotheses, some are rational, while others are … how I should I put this … creative. On Monday, Hank Steinbrenner expressed his unique take on why he felt certain Yankee players failed to perform up to their expectations last season.
"I think, maybe, they celebrated too much last year," Steinbrenner said Monday. "Some of the players, too busy building mansions and doing other things and not concentrating on winning. I have no problem saying that.”
When it was pointed out that Yankees captain Derek Jeter was building a large multimillion-dollar home in Tampa last year, Steinbrenner said he wasn't singling out any individual.
"I was just saying, maybe they were riding the wave of '09 a little too much, and it happens sometimes," Steinbrenner said. "This year in spring so far, from what I've seen and what I've been told, they've come in with a real, new drive and determination -- the kind they had in '09."
If there are two things Steinbrenner is not, it’s tactful or subtle. He definitely gets that from his father, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. For all of his flaws, George Steinbrenner had a knack for motivating his employees by holding them accountable. As he saw it, if he was going to pay his players all of that money, they had better perform. He was absolutely right. When his players wore the Yankees uniform, they were not only a reflection of the Yankees brand and legacy, they were a reflection of him as well. That’s why he would get so offended when his team performed poorly. They were personally letting him down. In a way, I think Hank sees it in much the same way.
While Steinbrenner claims he wasn’t singling out Jeter, the player he’s directing his ire toward is pretty clear. We don’t need a magic eight-ball or a Ouija board to read between the lines. We’re smarter than that. How many New York Yankee players built mansions during the 2009-2010 offseason? Based on my knowledge, just one -- Jeter. I’m sure it’s possible that someone like Nick Swisher or Phil Hughes built one as well, but if they did, no one’s talking about it. Furthermore, even if they had, I doubt Steinbrenner would have brought it up. They aren’t the ones who received a much-discussed, brand new, three-year, $51M contract. Jeter is. Steinbrenner’s message was carefully crafted and purposely targeted. This was his way of sending some not-so-thinly-veiled motivational anecdotes to Jeter. Essentially, he was telling him: You have your money, now it’s time to perform.
While it’s not unreasonable for Steinbrenner to expect Jeter to perform up to the expectations of his contract, it’s unfair for him to suggest that Jeter came into the 2010 season anything but prepared and focused on winning another championship. The 2009 championship wasn’t his first. It was his fifth. Yes, it may have been the first in nine seasons, but that doesn’t mean he went into the offseason satiated and without desire for another. We’re talking about Derek Jeter, after all. The man is widely considered to be a leader and consummate professional whose primary motivation is to help the Yankees capture ring No. 28. If there’s only one person on the Yankees we can expect to avoid the perils of over-celebration and under-preparation, it’s Jeter.
The problem with Steinbrenner’s assessment is not that he wrongly placed blame on Jeter for being unprepared and unmotivated to start the 2010 season, although that is an issue. Instead, the problem is that he fails to see the root cause for the Yankees so-called failure. They didn’t fail to meet their organizational goal of winning a championship because of low team motivation. They lost because, in a best-of-seven series, the Rangers did a better job of exploiting the Yankees’ flaws than the Yankees did with the Rangers. In a short series, small sample size variance can tip the scales in an otherwise even matchup. During the 2010 ALCS, one pitcher was able to tilt the balance all by himself -- Cliff Lee. If we were to replay the series 1000 times, we’d likely see vastly different results from series to series, and player to player. In essence, the playoffs are a crapshoot. Given a specific set of circumstances, any team can win any series.
In the case of the 2010 MLB postseason, the Yankees came up short.
Chip Buck contributes to Fire Brand of the American League, a blog about the Boston Red Sox.