Hal Steinbrenner has always had a bit more of his famous father in him than outward appearances would indicate.
The myriad of ways father — George, aka “The Boss” — and son are dissimilar have been oft-discussed, especially since George died on July 13, 2010, at the age of 80.
Among them: Hal has not aggressively pursued every big-name free agent who comes on the market. The recent star shortstop class that included Carlos Correa and Trea Turner is an example. Time will tell, in the form of Anthony Volpe’s development, if that was wise.
Hal also has not, and will not, engage in the knee-jerk reactions that were so much a part of The Boss’ ownership when it comes to dealing with failure, real or perceived. His firings created a work environment that caused people to do their jobs better in some cases but also resulted in organizational dysfunction.
Which doesn’t mean things are perfect in that regard.
The resentment, for instance, from talented people toward the powerful analytics wing of the organization that influences so much of what the franchise does has steadily built over the years but has gone unaddressed for too long by Hal, though there have been some subtle signs this offseason of perhaps some change there.
So how are they similar?
This acquisition of three-time All-Star Juan Soto this past week unquestionably came right out of The Boss' playbook. George Steinbrenner often talked about his belief that the Yankees should have “stars” in uniform, and Hal has long talked about the importance of “marquee” names donning the pinstripes.
As general manager Brian Cashman, a part of the organization dating to his days as an intern in 1986, put it: “It’s another manifestation of the Steinbrenner legacy. I think George Steinbrenner always felt that the best players in the world should play for the New York Yankees . . . and obviously Hal Steinbrenner and [sisters] Jenny and Jessica have continued those efforts, and Juan Soto’s the latest example of that.”
The move cost the Yankees a slew of young players — Hal, sometimes to his detriment, is much more reluctant to part with prospects than George was — and added Soto’s $33 million salary to the 2024 payroll, which is likely to surpass $300 million.
The Yankees are among the finalists for Japanese righthander Yoshinobu Yamamoto, with whom they are scheduled to meet early this week (he is said by those in Japan to be intrigued by the notion of pitching for the Yankees). With the big-money Mets and Dodgers just as interested, speculation is the pitcher’s final contract package could approach $300 million or even surpass it.
Cashman, speaking before the Soto deal was completed, declined to discuss the kind of payroll Steinbrenner has green-lit for next season, other than saying the owner is allowing him to collectively put the club’s best foot forward when it comes to Yamamoto.
“It’s a player of interest and we’ll compete for him, see where that takes us,” said Cashman, who also is in the market for additional starter depth as well as relief help.
In November, Steinbrenner said, “You shouldn’t have to have a $300 million payroll to win a world championship,” a line similar to one he began uttering at least as far back as 2013: “I shouldn't have to have a $200 million payroll to win a world championship.”
But Steinbrenner, in the chase for the franchise’s first World Series appearance since 2009, took the payroll near or past $200 million with regularity after making that comment more than a decade ago — the same way it appears $300 million in 2024 will be left in the dust despite what he publicly has said about that kind of payroll.
Make no mistake: Hal will never be confused with his father, who in death has an almost mythological hold on the fan base. The many years of playoff-less baseball and overall franchise disorder under George Steinbrenner have been masked by the World Series wins in 1977 and ’78 and four more titles won between 1996-2000.
There are many more differences than similarities between the two, but those who have worked for, or dealt with, both men say it wasn’t just the father with a deep desire to win (though Hal still comes off as tone-deaf at times publicly when it comes to the fans and their anger).
The Boss almost certainly would not have flinched at a $300 million payroll after the kind of embarrassing season the Yankees just experienced.
Hal Steinbrenner isn’t, either.