The Trump White House is a chaotic mish-mash of rivals held together by a larger-than-life domineering boss who fosters a sense of unease. This was what life was like during George Steinbrenner’s tenure as owner of the New York Yankees.
If this sounds like a crazy thought, New York Post columnist Steve Serby recently asked Brian Cashman (the Yankees general manager since 1998) about the comparison. “They do it their way, and take no prisoners. I think they’re very similar,” he said.
Both men were born of immigrant mothers, and both grew up under fathers who had built up the family fortune. And if both men had authoritarian tendencies, it might be because they shared the same sort of tough-guy heroes. Back in 2002, The New Yorker observed that “Steinbrenner’s hero is George Patton.” Trump’s mentor, Manhattan attorney Roy Cohn, was also a counselor to (and friend of) Steinbrenner.
Steinbrenner “knew what he wanted, and didn’t care who was in his way to get from A to Z,” Cashman (a former classmate of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch) continued. “I get the sense that that’s how Donald Trump approaches things…It might not be a delicate touch, but the results are the results.” Trump’s results as President so far aren’t great, but he did win.
Like the President, Steinbrenner liked to mix family and business. Steve Swindal was supposed to take over as the head of the Yankees before he and Jennifer Steinbrenner split up. Now his two sons are running everything. “I have no intention of retiring,” Steinbrenner boasted in 2007, “and my family runs the Yankees with me.” (Also, please “go buy Ivanka’s stuff.”)
The two men also sound almost identical in their backhanded praise of successful subordinates—and desire to claim credit when things go right. “He was fired in three places before we hired him. …People said he didn't know what he was doing,” Steinbrenner said about Hall of Fame baseball manager Joe Torre. “Believe me,” he might have added.
Steinbrenner was a clean freak, much like Trump. “Steinbrenner hates dirt. In one of the few interviews that his wife, Joan, has ever given, she revealed that he liked her to vacuum their home several times a day,” observed The New Yorker’s John Cassidy. (Cassidy’s 2002 article on Steinbrenner is a treasure trove for anyone looking to compare him to Trump. Take this line, for example: “Steinbrenner’s rule, like those of many despots, is marked by surprising acts of kindness.”)
But the real comparison might be Trump having won the presidency with three different campaign managers, and the very early resignation of National Security Advisor Mike Flynn. Similarly, the Yankees won championships and pennants from 1976 to 1981, despite their chaotic cavalcade of managers.
Just as Trump’s first manager Corey Lewandowski seemed to get fired and then resurface multiple times, “The Boss” fired and rehired manager Billy Martin, who managed the team on five separate occasions. If you think it’s remarkable that Michael Flynn is gone after just four weeks, consider that Steinbrenner once fired Yogi Berra just 16 games into the season—in order to rehire Martin.
Fans affectionately referred to those 1970s teams as the "Bronx Zoo.” One of their best relief pitchers, Sparky Lyle, who was unceremoniously ousted by the acquisition of Goose Gossage (Steinbrenner only hired the best people), wrote a book by the same name. There were fistfights in the dugout and clubhouse. It was nuts.
Like Trump, Steinbrenner existed in a tabloid media culture that was desperate for news and leaks and gossip. If you were a Yankees fan, there was never a time when you could relax while watching them. Even if they won, you were on pins and needles.
While Steinbrenner is (mostly) remembered fondly today, he was despised for much of his tenure. After that hot streak through 1981, the Yankees wouldn’t return to true greatness until the mid-1990s, after Steinbrenner was banned from day-to-day management. (Perhaps an idea for Mike Pence and Reince Priebus to consider?)
Like the Bronx Zoo Yankees, Donald Trump is both high functioning and high chaos. The 1970s Yankees won for a few years before eventually imploding. But at least they were entertaining.
For Steinbrenner, there was redemption. The 1990s came along and he looked great. But Steinbrenner had a couple of decades to turn things around; unfortunately, time isn’t on Donald Trump’s side. As I write this, Trump’s presidency is battling off what looks like a nasty losing streak. And in presidential politics, there is no “next season” to look forward to.
For the Yanks, pitchers and catchers reported to George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa this week.
For personnel in the new administration, they’re still settling into the White House.
It's a game of hardball in both cases, and no matter who takes the field or sits in the dugout, The Boss is The Boss, and the Bronx Zoo is now the Washington Zoo.
It's the ultimate outer borough revenge.