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Hal Steinbrenner wasn't going to let Gerrit Cole get away from the Yankees

Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner appears with new Yankees

Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner appears with new Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole at a news conference on Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019 at Yankee Stadium Credit: Corey Sipkin

Just how desperately did Hal Steinbrenner want Gerrit Cole?

He couldn’t wait to give him $324 million.

Literally. Couldn’t wait. Because in Steinbrenner’s mind, every passing minute that Cole didn’t put on pinstripes was another minute that someone else had a chance to divert him from the Bronx.

And that was intolerable to Steinbrenner, who spoke so obsessively about Cole during Wednesday’s news conference — along with the process to deliver him — that it finally dawned on us. For one of those rare times during his tenure as the Yankees' managing general partner, Steinbrenner had slipped into the role of his father’s son, a persona that refused to be outmaneuvered, outhustled or outbid in pursuit of a coveted player such as Cole.

The Yankees’ first offer to Cole was for eight years. But as soon as the public learned of Stephen Strasburg’s seven-year, $245 million deal to return to the world champion  Nationals, Steinbrenner authorized Brian Cashman to drop the hammer — nine years, $324 million. It was meant to nuke his closest competitors: the Angels and Dodgers.

“I just believe that he's that special of a talent and a human being,” Steinbrenner said. “So I felt that if we made that offer and checked all the boxes, we had a really good chance of getting them right then and there before anything else transpired with anybody else.”

You heard a lot of talk Wednesday about the Yankees’ recruiting trip to Newport Beach, where Aaron Boone stunned Cole by handing him two bottles of his favorite Italian Merlot, the same vintage that he shared with his wife, Amy, during an anniversary trip to Florence. There was the pinstriped iPad, chock full of everything Yankee, for Cole to peruse during his decision-making period.

And, of course, The Sign, which Cole produced from beneath the podium to  surprise the room — 18 years after that long-viral photo (first snapped by Newsday’s own William Perlman) from the ’01 World Series — and remind everyone again that he’s a “YANKEE FAN TODAY TOMORROW FOREVER.”

These were all entertaining touches, and Cole owned a December day at Yankee Stadium like very few before him have. But as much as this was a celebration of Cole’s lucrative odyssey to the Bronx (after that unfulfilling ’08 draft), it was all taking place against the backdrop of the Yankees’ hunger to end their decade-long title drought, and Steinbrenner convinced that he had found his salvation in Cole.

At one point, Steinbrenner talked about how he refused to take such extreme measures in the past, but essentially told Cole’s agent, Scott Boras, that he viewed his client as a “game-changer” and the Yankees were “committed to making this happen.” There was no poker face this time. Steinbrenner’s intentions were crystal clear. So when asked Wednesday what needed to happen over the next nine years for this $324 million to be worth it, Steinbrenner didn’t blink.

“We need to win some world championships,” Steinbrenner said. “And I believe we're going to do that — sooner rather than later.”

Championships? “Plural,” he replied.

In our humble estimation, just getting No. 28 would justify the Cole investment. After all, it’s been a dry decade by Yankees standards, and getting a taste of how the rest of the league lives served as a reality check. Winning a World Series remains very difficult to do.

Then again, it’s not our $324 million. And if Steinbrenner sees Cole as the centerpiece of the next Bronx dynasty, we can’t fault him for that. He may even be right. And listening to Cole as he made the rounds, wearing the pinstriped No. 45 on his back, Steinbrenner picked the correct name to put on those big checks.

Cole announced that “pressure is a privilege” and fully understands that he’s not pulling in $36 million annually merely to get the Yankees to October. This money is to finish the job, and Cole quickly fell in line with Steinbrenner’s marching orders of multiple World Series titles.

“Yeah, yeah, I love it,” Cole said. “It’s what you play for. I was a Yankees fan, and every year you had an expectation they would be competing for it, and so no it doesn’t scare me. It’s kind of what I dreamed of. Who wouldn’t want to compete for a championship every year.”

As for whether his Bronx tenure would be judged by how many, Cole shrugged.

“Probably,” he said. “I know what I can control, my process. I know what I want to do. I want to do the same thing that Hal says. That’s what Yankee fans want. That’s what this organization is about.”

The Yankees are at peak title obsession right now, and especially Hal. Cole’s presence is living, breathing proof of that. A Steinbrenner has never spent so much in the hope of winning a World Series.

“It was time to strike,” Steinbrenner said, later adding, “It’s going to be a great nine years.”

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