How many October failures will it take? How many years without that 28th world championship? How many better teams have to roll through the Bronx en route to their own glory before owner Hal Steinbrenner does what his father would do — what most owners of resource-rich franchises would do — and finally clean house?
Maybe this is a better question: Will anything wake him from his slumber? It’s now three days after the Yankees’ humiliating four-game American League Championship Series sweep by the Houston Astros, and Steinbrenner has yet to say a word publicly about it. No outraged statement. No assurances to fans. Just dead silence.
Then again, no one should be surprised. Steinbrenner is seen as such a passive, hands-off owner that firing general manager Brian Cashman isn’t even entertained as a serious possibility. It doesn’t matter that the Yankees didn’t belong on the same field as the Astros, who had better starting pitching, a more productive lineup and a far superior bullpen.
The same team that beat them in the 2017 and 2019 ALCS — with, it should be noted, an evolving roster — did it again this fall, and the prevailing wisdom is that Cashman will be back next spring to give it the ol’ college try. one more time. The manager is on the hot seat, but not, apparently, the man who hired him and built this roster.
“As a team and as an organization, we must grow, evolve and improve,” Steinbrenner said after last October’s failure. “We need to get better. Period.”
Steinbrenner can’t fall back on empty words again. If he is paying attention, he’ll thank Cashman for his quarter-century of service and announce an immediate search for a general manager. If the owner is honest with his assessment of his team, he’ll fire Aaron Boone, too, and let the new GM find a manager more equipped to navigate these tricky October games.
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This is not just one postseason failure. Firing a GM based on a single unfulfilling October, given the unpredictable nature of the short series in baseball, would be totally unfair. But 13 of them? Steinbrenner is often criticized for caring more about the bottom line than anything else, and if that’s true, he should do the math and see what he has spent in the vain pursuit of that 28th banner.
Never mind. We’ll do it for him: Nearly $3 billion.
That Cashman has built a team that regularly reaches the postseason is held up as the primary defense for retaining him, but consider the level of incompetence needed to consistently spend $200 million or more and not qualify for the ever-growing MLB tournament. Twelve of the 30 teams make the playoffs, and in any given year, roughly eight to 10 aren’t even trying.
The goal in the Bronx is not to beat the Red Sox and Rays for the AL East title – although, to be fair, that’s been plenty challenging, too – before feasting on the annual AL Central cupcake. The goal is to measure up with the elite teams in baseball, and in beating the Yankees in nine of their 11 meetings this season, the Astros have branded them as posers.
That’s on Cashman. No, Boone didn’t have a great series in the Yankees dugout, and this team could use a new voice in the clubhouse that won’t blame an open roof in Houston for the team’s hitting woes. But it wasn’t the manager’s fault that he had to pencil the name Josh Donaldson, an automatic out with a $21-million salary on the books next season, into the lineup every day. It wasn’t his doing that he had to look down the bench and point to Matt Carpenter, a strikeout machine, when he needed a pinch hitter.
Cashman deserves credit for those four dynasty championships and added a fifth in 2009, but those days are in the distant past. Maybe this ALCS would be different with a healthy DJ LeMahieu and Andrew Benintendi, or if injuries had not wrecked the team’s bullpen, sidelining Chad Green, Scott Effross, Michael King and others.
But that’s a hard sell for Yankees fans, who could see this disappointing October coming when this team turned an insurmountable AL East lead into a legitimate pennant race with a summer slog that revealed all of its flaws. Cashman is the one who gave Aaron Hicks a massive extension but couldn’t get a deal done with Aaron Judge, the new AL single-season home run king. He is the one who went into this season without a proven closer, the one who thought that Joey Gallo was a terrific idea.
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He is the one in charge without a single World Series appearance, much less a title, to show for the past 13 years. Steinbrenner shoulders plenty of blame for that, and so do the underachieving players — including Judge — who couldn’t get it done at the plate and in the field this postseason.
Still: How many flops will it take before the Yankees try something different?
“We got beat by a better team,” Boone said. “They’re clearly setting the mark in this league that we’re aspiring to get to.”
Yankees fans now get to watch the team they hate, the Astros, face the red-hot superstar they once coveted, Bryce Harper of the Phillies, in a stomach-turning World Series. At least, for their sake, it isn’t the Mets representing the National League, but with Steve Cohen’s fat wallet and whatever-it-takes mentality, that might be coming next.
Steinbrenner, meanwhile, has seen what the Yankees are capable of achieving under his team’s current leadership. If he’s happy with 90-something wins and a few postseason home dates to pad the bottom line, then doubling down on Cashman-Boone with an empty statement expressing his outrage is exactly what will happen in the coming days.
If this 13th straight October failure doesn’t do it, then neither will 14, nor 15, nor two entire decades of them. If Steinbrenner can’t see that this team has reached its ceiling after going 50-51 over its final 101 games and another humiliating ALCS loss against a far better opponent, then we’ve got some more bad news for you, Yankees fans.
He probably never will.
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Steve Politi can be reached at email@example.com.