Hank Steinbrenner to Yanks: Play harder!

Ridiculous Prince Regent sounds like vintage Boss George with his latest rant.

Topics: Baseball, George Steinbrenner,

I’m not saying Hank Steinbrenner is a ridiculous boob, but he needs to be less of a ridiculous boob.

The New York Yankees co-Prince Regent has delivered more boorish Boss-isms in the last year than his pops, George, had in the last decade, including his latest rant, when he told the New York Post’s Kevin Kernan, “The bottom line is that the team is not playing the way it is capable of playing.”

Steinbrenner addressed the fourth-place Yankees’ 19-20 record before they went out and lost 2-1 in 11 innings to the Tampa Bay Rays. “These players are being paid a lot of money and they had better decide for themselves to earn that money,” he said. And my favorite: “I’m not saying they are not giving the effort, but they need to be playing harder.”

As long as you’re not saying they’re not giving the effort.

I think I speak for all members of the Fourth Estate, as well as all Yankees haters, when I say I love me some Hank Steinbrenner. His rantings sound like vintage George Steinbrenner.

Vintage as in roughly the 1980s and early ’90s, when the Boss used to routinely bash his players and managers in this highly entertaining and column-friendly manner, and they responded with 14 straight pennantless seasons, the longest such streak since the Yankees went to their first World Series in 1921.

The old man cut back on that sort of thing quite a bit at about the time the Yankees started dominating the American League again in the mid-’90s. Coincidence? Cause? Effect? Oh, who knows. Coincidence would be my last vote, though.

George Steinbrenner is a football guy who thinks in football terms. He figured that if everybody just played harder, good things would happen. This is rarely the case in baseball. Baseball people talk a lot about not pressing. There’s an old saying about a hitter squeezing the sawdust out of his bat, meaning he’s too tense. One of the greatest challenges for young ballplayers is learning how to relax.

Though Hank lacks his dad’s grid background, he’s a chip off the old mouth. He has spent a lot of time in thoroughbred racing, where he no doubt berates the horses — through horse reporters, who stomp out their stories — to run harder.

He told Kernan the Yankees players “need to start treating it like when they were younger players and going after that big contract, like they’re in [Triple-A] and trying to make the majors. That’s the kind of attitude and fire the players have to have.” Yeah, attitude and fire. That’s the problem. It wouldn’t have anything to do with Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada both being injured, would it?

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No?

“We’ve got to forget about all the injuries and start playing our butts off,” Steinbrenner said.

Forget the injuries? What? Why doesn’t Hank just forget that he’s a 51-year-old non-ballplayer and go out there and play his butt off? And can you play with your butt off?

It’s true that in the small sample of games so far, the Yankees haven’t done that much worse without two of the main cogs in their offense than they were doing with them. But lack of effort is almost certainly not the problem.

The Yankees’ problems are many and varied, and some of them are solvable, though everybody gritting their teeth and going, “Whoo-ah!” a lot isn’t going to do much. Neither is the most immediate effect of Hank’s comments: The time the Yankees players will have to spend before Wednesday night’s game, also at Tampa Bay, answering a slew of reporters’ questions about Hank Steinbrenner’s latest inanities.

Robinson Cano has slumped badly. Derek Jeter, who also had a quad injury last month, has been less than Jeteresque so far. It’s reasonable to believe both will get back to their habitual levels at some point, though it’s possible that Jeter, 34 next month, is starting to slow down.

In the rotation Phillip Hughes is injured and Ian Kennedy didn’t work out this time around and got sent back to the minors. They both figure to be back, and at some point Joba Chamberlain, now biding his time in the bullpen to protect his young arm by keeping his innings total down for the year, will join the rotation and contribute a lot more.

Of greater concern, the Yankees are simply an aging team. A-Rod, at 32, is the third youngest regular. Jason Giambi, 37, and 34-year-olds Johnny Damon and Bobby Abreu are all putting up decent numbers at defensive positions that call for more than that, and they’re all a long way from getting through a long season without injury. The same goes for late-30s starters Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte.

Everyone could stay healthy, the injured sluggers could return and the Yankees, who print money, could go out and rent some help at the trading deadline. It could be they’ve let themselves get one year too old, but there’s a good chance this team will be fine and will contend for a playoff spot with the same level of attempted butt-removal as they’re offering now.

But you keep talking, Hank. It’s just like old times, especially 1982-95, and that’s just fine.

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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