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The George Steinbrenner Dilemma

Jim McIsaac

The New York Yankees are taking a very un-George Steinbrenner course these days. Where is the spending spree? Where is the winning at all costs? Where is the angry demand for a World Champion after the failures of the past three seasons? And "Where's my calzone?!" while we're at it. With all the "George Steinbrenner wouldn't put up with this" comments being thrown around with the new frugal way his son, Hal, is doing business -- outbid by the Pittsburgh Pirates for Russell Martin? -- has everyone forgotten that that's how the Yankees got into the state they're in? By doing it the George Steinbrenner way.

The two lengthy eras that featured multiple Yankee World Series titles followed a pair of George Steinbrenner suspensions. And that wasn't just a coincidence. Gabe Paul and Gene Michael were the masterminds behind the '70s and '90s teams, by building from within while making wise baseball trades, with some free agents sprinkled in. Sure, there was a Big Stein move here and there -- get me Catfish Hunter! and Reggie Jackson! -- but they mainly won despite their owner, not because of him. When Steinbrenner was in charge, truly in charge, things tended to go badly. Yes, spending more than everyone else gives you a better chance of winning, but it can also hamstring your team with bad contracts for years to come, hindering your ability to upgrade your roster. Winning at all costs may at times actually cost your team from winning.

Yes, Alex Rodriguez helped the Yankees win a World Series in 2009, but is a contract like his worth it? Could they have won with a cheaper third-base option? Maybe. Maybe not. But now look what's happened. They need to replace him and pay him at the same time. Maybe some fiscal sanity will do the team good in the long run. Let the Los Angeles Dodgers buy up every player that comes sniffing around looking for $100 million. Stand back and see how that works out for them.

Do we need another lecture from George Costanza on how George Steinbrenner turned a sacred public trust into a laughingstock with his impatience and outrageous spending habits? Even Tony Banta, in an episode of Taxi, wanted to have George Steinbrenner declared mentally unfit to run the Yankees. And now we want to go back to that? Knee-jerk spending because the Arizona Diamondbacks beat them to Eric Chavez? Of course, it would be nice if the Yankees had a catcher in waiting to replace Martin or maybe if Eduardo Nunez could actually field in a competent manner so he could temporarily fill in at third. But do the Yankees really need an All-Star at every position?

Kevin Youkilis is a former All-Star (former being the emphasized word here), but Brian Cashman again went with a reasonable team-friendly one-year deal in signing the third baseman to replace A-Rod. There was no panic, no overspending, as the transaction fit right in with the other moves the team has made this winter, in bringing back Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Hiroki Kuroda, all for one year, with the intention of winning in 2013 while getting under the $189 million magic number in 2014.

With one World Series title in 12 years, outspending every other team hasn't really been working. They have the money, so they should spend it, but it should be spent wisely and prudently, not emotionally or just because they can. If George Steinbrenner were still alive, he may have scooped up Josh Hamilton by now, overspent to keep Martin and Chavez on multiyear deals, along with making other big-name, big-splash acquisitions, but that rarely worked in the past -- so why go back to that now?