Even when George Steinbrenner was still in his prime as the Boss, he often talked about “letting the young elephants into the tent”. That was George’s way of acknowledging his mortality even though he really had no intention of pulling back on the reigns. At various times during his tenure, Steinbrenner has had his sons, daughters and in-laws involved in some aspect of the team, but for the most part, their involvement was more in a cameo role than as an understudy.
As Steinbrenner’s health began to noticeably decline, that all changed. After Steinbrenner’s fainting spell in 2003 while at the funeral of football legend and long-time friend Otto Graham, the question of succession could no longer be avoided. Despite remaining somewhat visible and still in charge, Steinbrenner not only began delegating more responsibility to his executives, such as Brain Cashman, Randy Levine and Lonn Trost, but it also seemed as if he was started to groom a successor. Over the next few years, son-in-law Steve Swindall, the husband of daughter Jennifer, arose to prominence in the Yankees organization, eventually reaching the level of general partner and chairman of Yankee Global Enterprises LLC. For much of the next four years, it seemed as if Swindall was actually in line to take over for the Boss. Unfortunately, in the winter of 2007, a DUI arrest and divorce effectively removed Swindall from the scene and once again threw open the question of who would succeed Steinbrenner.
Swindall’s removal from the family couldn’t have come at a worse time because it was during 2007 that Steinbrenner’s health seemed to really be decline. His appearances were few and far between and his statements were all crafted by his long-time PR man Howard Rubenstein. Now, with the family business in need of new leadership, Steinbrenner’s two sons finally came to he forefront. At first, Hank seemed to not only be the likely successor, but it appeared as if he planned on doing so in typical George style. Hank immediately became a media darling, blasting off criticisms of the Red Sox, Joe Torre, Arod and whomever else happened to be on his mind. Like his dad, Hank was a quote machine and the New York media seemed to welcome his ascension to the throne.
Apparently, the Yankees executive brain trust was not as thrilled with Hank’s outspokenness because Hal started to emerge as the favored son. All of a sudden, Hank dropped off the radar and Hal began calling all the shots. Eventually, that informal arrangement was codified when Hal was officially named managing general partner in November 2008. Since then, the Yankees have been run with George’s same big vision and grandeur, but without all the bombast and confrontation.
In the end, the young elephants did eventually return to the tent, and like their father, seem dedicated to orchestrating what has been the greatest show in sports. Along with support from Hank, Jennifer, Jessica and brother-in-law Felix Lopez, Hal seems committed to keeping the Yankees as the Steinbrenner family business. Despite speculation that the retroactive enforcement of a punitive estate tax could force the family to sell, early indications are that the team will remain in the hands of the family name that has become as synonymous with the Yankees as the brand itself. Throughout his long tenure as Yankees’ owner, Steinbrenner continually resisted the temptation to sell his Mona Lisa at a massive profit, opting instead to make the team a larger part of his business and family life. As a result, it now seems as if his children have not only inherited an incredibly valuable asset, but the same level of commitment to owning the team. Perhaps the greatest testament to the influence of the Boss is that even though the Yankees would go on without a Steinbrenner in charge, it seems incomprehensible to think of the two being apart.
For the last 37 years, the ball team from the Bronx has been Steinbrenner’s Yankees…and it should continue to be for some time to come.