The St. Petersburg Times has a great feature up on Hank Steinbrenner today. Some hightlights:
“Maybe at times I’ll shoot from the hip too much,” says Hank with a deep, deliberate voice that contrasts to his father’s faster, clipped delivery. “And that’s an influence from my dad. But the biggest thing I learned from him is winning.”
For years, he distanced himself from baseball, where there would have been precious little room to establish his own identity while following in his father’s footsteps. Other than a brief stint with the team in 1985 and 1986, learning the ropes of the organization, Hank remained immersed in the thoroughbred business some 100 miles north at Kinsman Farm in Ocala, where he would produce a steady string of graded stakes champs and 2005 Kentucky Derby favorite Bellamy Road.
He shunned opportunities to become the DH – designated heir – turning down his dad’s offer to run the team temporarily when the senior Steinbrenner was suspended from baseball in 1990. He watched with no regrets as one, then another brother-in-law moved into the line of succession until they became former brothers-in-law – ultimately opening the door for Hank to be groomed for a new role.
“I preferred to stay with horse racing, at that time I was even living at the farm,” he said. “At no time did I wonder, ‘Well, am I going to end up taking it over?’ It was a situation where it was a necessity within the last year.”
For all the tempestuousness that would characterize his father as Yankees owner, Hank saw a different man at home. “As a father, he was great,” he says. “As a boss, he was very difficult.”
But Papa Steinbrenner coaxed his son into joining the baseball business in the mid-1980s. Hank was assigned to then-GM Clyde King in ’85, followed by King’s successor, Woody Woodward. He saw the inner workings of the operation, with Billy Martin managing the first year, Lou Piniella the second.
“In the years I was with the Yankees, he wasn’t too involved,” Piniella says. “But I’ve gotten to know him well since then. Hank’s a smart guy. Very intelligent and hospitable. Quiet and more reserved than his father. He doesn’t have the bluster his dad was known for. I don’t think he probably likes the limelight as much as his dad did. He’s very serious – all business.”
He’s a pack-a-day smoker, but wants to quit to be a better role model for children. As a youngster, he dreamed about becoming a U.S. senator, a goal that delighted his parents. He plays a Fender Stratocaster guitar to relax, likes U2 and he says his favorite meal is pizza.
“Hank’s just a regular guy you could have a beer with,” longtime friend and Kinsman Farm manager Jim Scott says.
Scott has a favorite story about Hank. It takes place in the ’80s, when George Steinbrenner was still highly involved at Kinsman.
“Hank was here in our office and we were on a conference call, and Mr. Steinbrenner was chewing me and a couple of other guys out about something,” Scott remembers. “Hank was kind of sitting back, not saying anything. But he had one of those little laugh boxes, and when you pushed the button, it would go, ‘Ya-ha-ha-ha.’
“So as Mr. Steinbrenner is yelling into the phone, Hank comes up from behind, puts the box right next to the receiver and all of a sudden he hits that button. That thing starts making laughing sounds. And Mr. Steinbrenner comes apart, wanting to know who was laughing during the a—chewing. I didn’t think it was funny at the time, but I did later.”
Not long after, following some gentle prodding by Piniella over lunch, Hank emerged and, with Hal, joined their aging father. He needed them, not just wanted them. The time had come to return to his side. The daughters have done the same, with Jessica expanding her Kinsman duties and Jennifer supervising the New York Yankees Foundation, taking a more visible role in overseeing philanthropic endeavors in the Tampa Bay area and New York.
“I’m happy that we’ve all stepped up,” says Jessica, married to Yankees senior vice president Felix Lopez Jr.
“I think Hank will bring a very calm perspective,” says Joe Molloy, who, before his divorce from Jessica in 1997, was a Yankees general partner and a candidate to succeed the Boss. Molloy now works as a middle school teacher in Tampa. “He’s very levelheaded and thinks things through thoroughly. His interest is to win and that will carry over.”
But not, Hank says, as the result of an explosive management style.
“I tend to be somewhat reactive – I take things as they come, every situation is different,” he says. “But as a boss, I’m definitely easy.”
Time will tell with Hank. But, I see some potential here. Having him get control of the team might be one of the best things to happen to the Yankees since Big Stein got bounced for Howie Spira. I just hope that Hank gets the advice of good “baseball” people and avoids listening too much to “the suits.”