ORLANDO, Fla. — Hal Steinbrenner didn’t deny being angry.
The Yankees owner used the word “upset” Wednesday afternoon in addressing his feelings on the Astros and the sign-stealing scandal that continues to reverberate throughout the sport. But in making his first public remarks on the issue, Steinbrenner, whose team was denied a World Series bid via a seven-game loss to the Astros in the 2017 American League Championship Series, also said it’s not something he’s willing to obsess over.
“Let me just say, when the report came out, I was as upset as anyone,” Steinbrenner said during a break at the quarterly owners meetings at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando. “Clearly, there were direct implications to my organization, our 2017 team. But at some point, I think we all, for the sake of the game and the good of the game, need to move on. Everyone needs to make that decision, obviously, themselves, as to when that point is. Me, standing here on Feb. 5, I am moving forward, looking forward, up the hill that’s the 2020 season. That’s my focus right now.”
The scandal came to light in November after a story in The Athletic and, after an MLB investigation, commissioner Rob Manfred released a report of his findings on Jan. 13. In doing so, he suspended Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, manager AJ Hinch, fined the Houston organization $5 million and docked the franchise first- and second-round picks in the 2020 and 2021 drafts. Houston owner Jim Crane later that day fired Luhnow and Hinch.
The scandal would later claim Red Sox manager Alex Cora — Hinch’s bench coach during the 2017 season who was named prominently in the report — as well as Carlos Beltran, the only player named in the report who would soon be forced out from his position as Mets manager.
The Yankees, after losing a pair of one-run games in Houston to start the 2017 ALCS, won three straight at Yankee Stadium to take a three-games-to-two lead only to drop Games 6 and 7 back at Minute Maid Park.
Has Steinbrenner played the what-if game since the report came out?
“I think enough people have brought that to my attention and I’m a reasonably smart guy . . . I mean, I’ve certainly thought that, yeah,” he said.
Does he feel cheated out of a title?
“I'm just going to stick with my first comment,” Steinbrenner said. “I tried to succinctly describe where I'm at right now and where I've been and where I'm at, and where I want to go. And where I think for the good of the game, we all need to go.”
Which, as the owner said, is a 2020 season in which the Yankees are the overwhelming favorite to win the AL pennant and, along with the Dodgers, who just acquired megastar Mookie Betts from the Red Sox, as the co-favorites to win it all. Improving on a 103-win team is not easy but the Yankees, who lost to the Astros in six games in the 2019 ALCS, did just that by bringing in Houston ace Gerrit Cole on a nine-year, $324 million free-agent contract last December.
“This kind of investment is not something I take lightly,” Steinbrenner said. “It needs to be the right person, and this guy checks all the boxes, he really does, and he's going to be a game-changer for us. Not every big free agent I see as a game-changer but he's, I believe, going to be one of them for a number of years.”
Steinbrenner liked his 2017 and 2018 teams but there were concerns with each of them going into the season. Not so much with this group beyond, of course, health.
“We've got a solid infield, we've got a solid outfield,” he said. “Obviously, we’ve got a solid rotation and a solid bullpen, so it's nice to feel confident when you're going into the season and I do. I believe we had a championship-caliber team last year and the year before, I think we absolutely did. We're even better this year if we can stay healthy.”