Will Hawkes: New York, New York, not so good in the name of the son
View From The Sofa: The House of Steinbrenner, ESPN
Monday 11 October 2010
Thank god. Unfurl the banners ("Thanks but no Yanks" – brilliant) and ring the bells at both cathedrals: it looks like Liverpool FC has been saved. Those evil American rotters who've been ruining the club and making the players play really, really badly are on their way out, at long last. A brave new dawn is, er, dawning over Anfield, courtesy of a saviour from the land of the free and the home of the brave (well, the former home of the Braves).
Which is a little strange, given that Liverpool's historic links with the US would suggest an alliance with New York rather than its chippy New England cousin. Unfortunately, the best man for the rescue job died earlier this year. George Steinbrenner ("The Boss") was Mr New York Yankees, running the club from 1972 until 2008, when he ceded control to his son Hal. And for all that John W Henry revived the Red Sox, winning two World Series, his record rather pales in comparison to George, who presided over seven world championships during his rollercoaster tenure in the Bronx.
People in England get a bit excited about Ken Bates but in terms of success, charisma and downright ruthlessness the Leeds chairman has nothing on Steinbrenner. This is the man who made illegal contributions to Richard Nixon's re-election campaign in 1972, who insisted Yankees players had no facial hair (except for moustaches), and who paid a gambler to dig up dirt on a batter he felt wasn't performing well enough, for which he was banned from day-to-day management but not ownership.
Inevitably, he wasn't always popular but at least he was interesting, which is more than can be said for his son, Hal. "The House of Steinbrenner", which is part of ESPN's 30 for 30 series to celebrate the channel's 30th anniversary, suffered one fatal flaw: too much Hal, not enough George. Hal, a nervous, preppy dweeb in an ill-fitting suit, could not be less like his bullying bear of a father.
"I find the business side of [controlling the Yankees] enjoyable," Hal says. "I'm a numbers guy... finance is my background. I enjoy things other people might find boring." Too right you do, Hal: the maker of this film, Barbara Kopple, must have been praying for him to be a bit more like George, to sack a manager or publicly humiliate one of his players. But no luck.
It's easy to surmise that Hal's actually rather touching dullness is a result of being the son of a hugely overbearing father. At one point he talks about his passion for flying, and how he took his father up on a beautiful day in Florida. "I love to fly – it's peaceful and no one can get me," he says. "When I took my dad up, he was out of his element. He did not know what to do." As this memory returns, a flicker of a smile spreads across Hal's face.
The back story to the documentary was the club's move from Yankee Stadium Mark 1 ("The House that Ruth built") to a new Yankee Stadium 100 yards away ("The House that George built"). The new building doesn't have as many seats as the old one, but it does have a lot more corporate gubbins, a Hard Rock Cafe and a sushi bar. Oh, and you can't see all of the field from the cheap seats. "I just spent $100 on four sandwiches and four drinks," reveals one dazed fan to Kopple on opening day. Now, about that new stadium for Liverpool...
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