THIRTY YEARS and about 40 days ago, George Michael Steinbrenner III (some have called him the Cleveland Steamer, the Boss, the Second-Biggest Jerk Named "George," etc.) was indicted on 14 criminal counts. He later pleaded guilty to illegal campaign contributions (to the Nixon cause) and obstruction of justice. For this he was fined $20,000. That's about 1/9,500th of what the New York Yankees owner will pay this season to try yet again to win his own personal version of Monopoly, the name of which the folks at Parker Brothers are said to be considering changing to Major League Baseball.
Many with a Seattle Mariners perspective don't like Steinbrenner and never have. His acquisition last week of Alex Rodriguez is but his latest engagement of our enmity. Some who merely didn't care for him during the Nixon years had grown to despise Steinbrenner when, on July 30, 1990, the sitting baseball commissioner, Fay Vincent, banned the fathead from baseball "for life." This was after win-at-any-cost George paid a gambler 40 grand to dig dirt about Dave Winfield, now a Hall of Fame outfielder, who was having contract problems with his bullying boss at the time.
"FOR LIFE" didn't, alas, mean "for the life of George Steinbrenner," which promises to proceed at least until the Yankees win their 50th World Series. Three years later, there he was again, reinstated if not quite chastened. During the past 11 years, he's signed (or tried to) much of the name talent in baseball. It hasn't dawned on him that the game many of us have enjoyed isn't supposed to be played like Monopoly. This is for one good reason: The object of the board game is to wind up with all the assets, while the purpose of having a competitive sports league is to find a way to spread the wealth and perpetuate the game. Spreading the wealth, of course, is the greatest possible offense to the economic and political sensibilities of Steinbrenner, who supported Nixon, was pardoned by Reagan, and no doubt loses sleep about the prospect of that other George getting outsourced to Texas.
The good news about Steinbrenner's latest audacious roster move? Well, there isn't any for partisans of the majority of franchises. They're perennial cash-poor losers with commensurate attendance figures and no prospects of making the playoffs under baseball's George-oriented economic system. Steinbrenner, who gets to outspend "competitors" by as much as 10 to one, has a payroll twice that of even the relatively wealthy Mariners.
The "plus" for Seattle fans is that they'll be able to behold the Yankees at Safeco Field six times this season, double the appearances of last year. What will we see? Possibly six Seattle wins, which is an admittedly bold outlook as the question-mark M's open spring training in Arizona this week. But Seattle could beat the Yankees and any other team for the same simple reason that explains why the two most recent World Series winners are the Florida Marlins and the Anaheim Angels. The M's can win a world championship, that is, if most of the guys on the roster play near or at their peak performance levels.
That's an "if" nearly the size of George Steinbrenner's ass—ahem, assets. Sophomore skipper Bob Melvin's Methuselahs are so old now that for many of them, the AARP "welcome" letters are probably in the mail. Teams with 41-year-olds at designated hitter and ace pitcher usually only exist in movies starring Charlie Sheen. But Edgar Martinez and Jamie Moyer probably are in better shape to make it through the long season than some of the younger starters. First baseman John Olerud is a terrific guy, but at 36 this year, his athletic skills seem about as dependable as the tranny on a '68 Toronado. Ditto Dan Wilson, who might yield starting-catcher chores to Ben Davis. New left-side infielders Scott Spiezio and Rich Aurilia probably aren't going to be elbowing A-Rod and Derek Jeter off the cover of Sports Illustrated. Raul Ibanez is this season's rendition of the M's annual reunion with a once-expendable bygone guy (last year, it was the ill-fated John Mabry). Ibanez showed in Kansas City that he had the gap-hitting bat demanded of a Safeco player. The bad news is that he'll start in left field, where, for good reason, the franchise tries a new guy every year. Bret Boone and Ichiro Suzuki should be fine at second and in right, respectively. Randy Winn could be an outstanding center fielder if management would quit undermining his self- esteem with trade threats.
BUT PITCHING wins: Such is the adage. Well, the M's had sufficient pitching last season, and they stayed home for the postseason. New lefty closer Eddie Guardado and improved returning righties (Rafael Soriano, Joel Pineiro, Gil Meche, Julio Mateo, Ryan Franklin, and maybe even Freddy Garcia) could make the M's staff the envy of the league. Then again, any such improvement might only mean to the local fans that Seattle's great young pitchers one day will come to the attention of a certain megalomaniacal Monopoly player in Gotham.