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Hot stove


The morning after the Yankee's season ended so rudely in Detroit, I bumped into a chap of my acquaintance in the local supermarket. A retired civil servant from Queens the fellow now bags groceries, if only to fend off boredom and on this occasion he was all atwitter.

"I woke up this morning howling," he exclaimed to me. "If only George were still around. What a treat it would have been!"

And I could only laugh. For I'd had the very same thoughts while watching the alleged Bronx Bombers expire so supinely in a four game meltdown against the Tigers that King George would have most certainly branded something like "putrid." Under such circumstances, Prometheus unbound could not have summoned more fury.

If George were still with us, Joe Girardi might have been canned and Brian Cashman too by now. Robinson Cano could be re-thinking his fabled "laid back manner" on a slow train to Kansas City. As for the failed A-Rod, he'd have been lucky to escape being placed in the stocks and used for target practice by the derisive multitudes. Such would have been George's wrath and it would have inspired great theatre.

But "the Boss" is long gone, alas. And in his place we have his smart, thoughtful, and well-mannered number two son, who is also out of Williams College where presumably they no longer teach that you should go bonkers whenever things don't go your way as they apparently did in his dad's day. Accordingly, Hal Steinbrenner's reaction to this deep stain on his family's honor has been amazingly tame and polite, emphasizing prudence over bombast. It is all so very boring!

Meanwhile up in Boston, where the Red Sox are in a five-year skid and reeling from back to back disgraces including their worst season in the last forty six, they continue to revel smugly in the largest salary dump in their history, while showing no signs of a willingness to plunge the resulting hefty savings back into the market with renewed abandon. Somewhere out there in the great baseball beyond, Tom Yawkey is moaning in disbelief.

Where has the celebrated feisty Fenway spirit gone? How come the fuzzy cheeked GM, the cheerful Master Cherington, didn't bust up a hotel room after the sneaky Blue Jays stole Melky Cabrera right from under his nose, and for relative chump change?

Why was there no angry outburst from the erstwhile Vesuvian CEO when the Jays further swooped in to gobble up the prizes of the Florida Marlins' mammoth fire sale? As if his team could not use a shortstop, a fire baller, more foot-speed, and another lefty. Or does not the once so voluble Larry Lucchino recognize the new "Evil Empire" when it rises from the dust?

Floored by the collapse of the Epstein-Francona era, further stung by the shallowness of players they'd grossly misjudged, and finally humiliated by the disastrous Bobby Valentine dalliance your Red Sox seemed to be cowering these days, if not in abject fear then surely in considerable doubt about what to do next.

The contrast to the early years of the John Henry ownership, when they swaggered stride for stride with the big-footers from the Bronx is striking. Might all this have something to do with the owner's own reduced circumstances? Loyalists sneer at that suggestion but others continue to wonder.

More shocking however is what's happening in New York where the Yankees happy and reckless free-spending which they've so long borne with such a fine blend of pride and disdain is being utterly renounced.

The post-season has only just begun and the effects are already piling up. They have parted with Rafael Soriano and Nick Swisher and it was entirely about money. They lost Tori Hunter, whom they most coveted, to the Tigers and it was entirely because they didn't want to pay the price for more than one year. They are praying that Hiroki Kuroda, whom they desperately need to keep, will re-sign but for no more than a year and for less money than the Dodgers would gladly pay. Fat chance! They passed on the offer to do business with the contract-dumping Marlins. They want no part of the big-buck, Josh Hamilton sweepstakes, although he's precisely the slugging outfielder they most need and the sort of headline character -- his well advertised personal flaws not withstanding -- that good-old Daddy George would have fallen for, head over heels.

These are the New York Yankees? I don't think so.

It is Hal Steinbrenner's determination to get under the forthcoming new and more onerous salary cap that accounts for this bizarre (by their standards) behavior. The Yankees who have pretty much funded the luxury-tax slush fund all by themselves over the last decade are about to make another painful payment -- roughly $13 million -- for last season's payroll excesses. Next year, under the new contract, the penalties take a huge leap and it's become young Prince Hal's near obsession to avoid paying that hefty price.

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