If I walk into Yankee Stadium on Friday afternoon and Bill the Baker is not at his usual seat in the press lounge, I will know for sure that Hal Steinbrenner's Yankees will not be George Steinbrenner's Yankees.
You may not know who Bill "the Baker" Stimers is, but he is just one of the charitable cases The Boss was famous for taking under his wing. For years, Stimers enjoyed a seat in the press box at the old Yankee Stadium, and when the team moved to its new palace across 161st Street, Bill came with them.
I fully expect Bill to be where he has always been on Friday. Change doesn't happen that quickly, even at Yankee Stadium -- although the fact that not a single Yankees player, not even Derek Jeter, bothered to show up at Bob Sheppard's funeral indicates that things have already started to change.
George Steinbrenner would have insisted that at least some of his players pay respects to the man who announced the names at Yankee Stadium for 57 years, and would have expected his Captain, who lives in the city, to show up.
But anyone who thinks Prince Hal's Yankees will be run the same as Boss George's Yankees is either being willfully disingenuous or hasn't really thought this thing through.
Yes, for the past three years, it has been business as usual in the Bronx. There has been plenty of spending -- remember the $463 million for CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira in the winter of 2008 -- and there no doubt will be more once Cliff Lee and Carl Crawford become available this winter.
But that isn't because Hal Steinbrenner wanted to run the Yankees just as George had run them.
It's because Hal Steinbrenner -- and Randy Levine and Brian Cashman and the bankers at Goldman Sachs, who have a lot more say than many people realize -- wanted to run the Yankees as if George was still running them. As an insider said to me Wednesday, they were "faking it."
Now that The Boss is dead, there is no need to fake it any longer. Or, as Bob Gutkowski -- the former head of Madison Square Garden who signed the Yankees to their first cable TV deal and worked closely with The Boss on the formation of the YES Network -- put it: "His personality hovered over the team. He was always right in the next room. He's not in the next room anymore."
These are not George Steinbrenner's Yankees anymore, they are Hal Steinbrenner's Yankees, and two men from the same family haven't been this different since Sonny and Michael Corleone. Now, Hal can run the Yankees not the way his father did, but the way he wants to.
This is not to say the Yankees won't be as good as they were, or that they won't spend as much, or will be any less aggressive on the free-agent market. But the fact father and son are so different, fire and ice, ensures that the way the team does business will be different, too.
The changes will not be immediate. As the Yankees head into the second half clinging to a narrow two-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays, who come into the Stadium on Friday for three games over the weekend, you can bet GM Brian Cashman will be set loose to pursue any trade-deadline deal he thinks is necessary not only to preserve that lead, but carry the Yankees through to November and what they hope will be a second consecutive World Series championship.
And you shouldn't lose any sleep over whether the Yankees will go hard after Lee and Crawford. They will, because they have to. Yankee Stadium 3.0 and the YES Network are a ravenous two-headed beast that must be fed regularly to remain profitable.
From here on in, whoever runs the Yankees and whoever owns them is committed to spending top dollar every year, if only to continue attracting a healthy ticket base and TV audience at the highest prices in professional sports.
But even if what they do remains the same, the way they do it is practically guaranteed to be different.
For one thing, the upcoming contract negotiations for Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte -- and two years hence, Jorge Posada -- just got more contentious. Hal Steinbrenner does not have the same sentimentality or emotional attachment to those players that his father did. It's not in his nature -- and besides, he didn't have all that much interest in the Yankees back in the Core Four's glory days, anyway.
By all accounts, Hal Steinbrenner is an ambivalent, even reluctant, Boss.
As an insider who was privy to organization meetings around the time the Jeter/Mariano/Pettitte/Posada/Joe Torre Yankees were winning the World Series in four out of five seasons told me Wednesday: "The kid was there but he just stared out the window. You could just feel the negative vibe between him and his father. It really took him a long time to assume the mantle."
Part of the reason, of course, was George Steinbrenner's sometimes overbearing personality, which according to some who were there had the same chilling effect on his son that George's own father's bullying personality had on him.
And part of it could be the knowledge that twice in Hal's adult lifetime his father passed him over when choosing a successor, and both times in favor of men who had married into the family -- his sons-in-law Joe Molloy and Steve Swindal, both of whom divorced their way right out of the organization.
In any event, that "kid," now a 40-year-old man, grew up to be a coolly detached personality, the antithesis of his mercurial dad, and may well want to run his father's business in his own very different way. "I'm sure he's going to want to put his own stamp on things," the insider told me. "The question is, what kind of stamp will that be?"
For another thing, we know from his history and practices that for all his periodic harrumphing about fiscal responsibility, George Steinbrenner put no limits on the price he would pay for success.
Although the price tags on Sabathia, Burnett and Teixeira seem to indicate Hal feels the same way, we won't know for sure how far he is willing to go until he has had a year or two to run the team, and manage its finances, without the towering presence of the Old Man in the next room. From this day on, he's no longer running the Yankees as George, but instead of George. And that could make a world of difference.
"Hal is not at all like his father," said another Yankees employee, who requested anonymity for a simple and understandable reason -- he was a favorite of George Steinbrenner's but has no real relationship with Hal. "As emotional as his dad was, Hal's a stoic. You never really know how he feels about you, or what he's thinking."
That means longtime George Steinbrenner cronies -- like Reggie Jackson, who hit his three World Series home runs when Hal Steinbrenner was not yet 8 years old; and Stick Michael, who began his Yankees association five years before The Boss left Cleveland for New York; and yes, even Bill the Baker -- may find the atmosphere at Yankee Stadium a lot chillier now that the son has taken over.
"I think Hal Steinbrenner is a very intelligent young man who will do a good job because I think the winning tradition has been instilled in him," Gutkowski said. "But to lose a personality as powerful as George Steinbrenner's has got to have an impact. Things have got to be different there, simply because these are two such different men. The reality of it is, it's not going to be the same without the presence of George, because it can't be."
I'm sure Bill the Baker will be in his usual spot on Friday night. But like everything else around Yankee Stadium, that situation is subject to change, and probably sooner rather than later.