Monday, April 30, 2007

The Monster Sleeps

The Yankees have gotten off to bad starts before, horrible even (11-19 in 2005). Something feels different this year, though. Something's off. Something's missing.

Namely, the presence of George Steinbrenner, who has grown increasingly invisible and mute over the past couple years. Say what you want about Steinbrenner's impulsiveness, but he always offered Yankees fans a certain comfort level when the team struggled. When the Yankees lost, you simply knew that George Steinbrenner would not allow it to continue. He would do anything in his power to ensure the sea would change.

In days of better health, Streinbrenner's ominous spectre would loom larger with each passing loss, each bullpen implosion. Each day that eclipsed without a word from The Boss only meant his eventual wrath would be that much more terrifying.

Steinbrenner couldn't be counted on to make sane, rational, or even good decisions. But you always knew he'd do something, anything, to shake things up and change momentum. A firing here, a well-placed tirade to the media there, and things would turn around. It was a culture of fear, a reign of terror, and it often didn't even work. But it helped fans psychologically.

There is little more frustrating in sports than watching a supposedly good team struggle inexplicably. Fans are by their nature powerless. By stepping in, full of bluster, passion and rage, George Steinbrenner served as the fans' surrogate. He was acting on our behalf, because he was essentially the same as us, only richer. He wanted to win so desperately it drove him to the brink of insanity. The ultimate psycho fan.

When Steinbrenner fired a manager, or made a cruel remark about a player in his doghouse, he made all Yankees fans feel empowered. Screaming impotently from the bleachers at Danny Tartabull or Hideki Irabu was no longer a meaningless, spleen-venting waste of time. Someone was listening.

And now, even as a groundswell of whispers builds in the press, as Howard Rubenstein makes a series of statements signifying nothing, the owner's box is empty. The back pages scream and the fans wail, but nothing can be done. There is no guillotine hanging over Joe Torre's head, no end in sight to day after day of lackluster, uninspired play.

Steinbrenner's health has clearly deteriorated to the point where he cannot, or will not, effect change. He won't allow himself to be seen publicly, and there are no videos of him angrily storming past reporters after another brutal loss. A sad day is coming, or perhaps it's already here.