Hank Steinbrenner staying silent this season

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TAMPA, Fla. - Remember Hank Steinbrenner?

How can't you?

The chain-smoking oldest son of George Steinbrenner catapulted himself into the spotlight late in 2007, after another early Yankees departure from the postseason. He was front-and-center during the Joe Torre departure, personally negotiated Alex Rodriguez's contract and was constantly in the newspaper, taking on random people, teams and concepts.

So . . . whatever happened to that guy?

Officially, nothing.

Hank still reports to work here at Steinbrenner Field, and he's identified as the Yankees' general partner / co-chairperson. The official team stance is that Hank Steinbrenner still plays a vital role in the Yankees' baseball operations.

Team president Randy Levine and general manager Brian Cashman both used "intimately involved" to describe Hank. "I speak to him several times a week on all aspects," Levine said, noting that Hank took part in a Yankee Global Enterprises board meeting by phone last week.

Howard Rubenstein, the Steinbrenner family's venerable spokesman, said Hank still is involved, though when asked to describe his role, he said: "I can't define it but I know Hank is still involved. I know just from the board meetings I attend."

But multiple people familiar with the situation assert that Hank Steinbrenner was truly relevant to Yankees fans for only a very short time, and he has been irrelevant for well more than a year now.

The biggest difference between now and that 2007 offseason, of course, is that Hal Steinbrenner, George's younger son, is officially in charge now. Most would argue that Hal was unofficially in charge when Hank was doing his talking, anyway.

But for record-keeping purposes, the Steinbrenner family, the team's board of directors and Major League Baseball appointed Hal as managing general partner - the Yankees' control person - last November.

And, most notably, Hank is no longer playing the act of George Junior. The last time he was so much as quoted in a newspaper was Feb. 18, when he responded to Boston Red Sox owner John Henry's call for a salary cap by saying, "Along with a few other teams, we're basically baseball's stimulus package."

What's Hank doing these days? Good question. Levine and Cashman both said Hank was an active voice behind closed doors around the trade deadline.

In reality, however, Hank's involvement in Yankees matters declined greatly after he helped bring back A-Rod in the fall of 2007.

When he spoke regularly in December 2007 and January 2008 about his interest in acquiring Johan Santana from Minnesota, the Yankees and Twins held minimal trade discussions, as Hal Steinbrenner and Cashman already had decided not to go after Santana.

The Twins were so confused by the Yankees' chain of command that they turned down decent offers from the Yankees and Boston, mistakenly thinking that Hank would convince the Yankees to deal Phil Hughes and Melky Cabrera for Santana, before settling for a lesser package from the Mets.

Now, in a less confusing tactic, Hank Steinbrenner's inaction is matched by silence. He did not respond to multiple messages left at his office at Steinbrenner Field last week and Tuesday. He wasn't at work either day a Newsday reporter stopped by; employees smiled as they described him as not quite a 9-to-5-er.

Rubenstein agreed to pass on an interview request to Hank but expressed a lack of confidence that it would be honored.

Rubenstein said Hank decided to stop talking because Hal, who is 12 years younger, is in charge. "He's just decided that he's really going to defer to his brother, who was named by George and the board as the managing partner," he said.

Levine said he thinks Hank Steinbrenner's silence is a byproduct of the team playing so well.

Cashman, meanwhile, didn't have a guess. "You should ask him," he said.

Hank changed his cell phone number a while ago. Too many reporters had his digits, he told people, and he was sick of seeing his words get twisted in the papers and then see himself get ripped for it.

Privately, team officials are pleased Hal has emerged not only as the Steinbrenner-In-Charge, but also as the spokesman for ownership.

Hank's words, though wildly entertaining, served as an unwelcome distraction to the bulk of the Yankees family, whether Hank was voluntarily raising the team's contract offer to Jorge Posada, calling out Red Sox Nation or bemoaning the stupidity (In Hank's Humble Opinion) of the National League's eschewing of the designated hitter.

Yes, it was a short reign, but a very memorable one. One competing GM even said he had a Google alert set up for Hank's name, so that Hank's latest quip was always waiting for him in his inbox.

When Hank was at his boisterous height, he used to announce his presence at Steinbrenner Field by driving his Cadillac onto the lengthy sidewalk and park right next to the front doors. It was as if he wanted anyone - and everyone - to know that Hank was in the house.

Not anymore, though. On the days he reports to work, he parks in the guarded players' lot. Fittingly, out of everyone's sight.

With Ken Davidoff.

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