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What the Redskins' Snyder could learn from the Yankees' Steinbrenner

After nearly 20 years, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner learned to hire good people and get out of the way.
After nearly 20 years, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner learned to hire good people and get out of the way. (Jim Mcisaac/getty Images)
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By Thomas Boswell
Friday, November 6, 2009

NEW YORK

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George Steinbrenner III needed 20 years to figure out baseball. What he finally decided was that he would never figure it out at all.

Maybe Daniel Snyder, a different person in a very different sport, can reach the same conclusion with 10 years less pain.

At least Snyder and his Redskins have one advantage over the Boss and his Yankees: Steinbrenner went to three World Series and won two of them in his first six years as an owner. That success fooled him into believing he knew what he was doing.

In 10 years in the NFL, Snyder hasn't left a ripple. So, maybe it's dawning on him, as it finally did on Steinbrenner, that you can know an enormous amount about a sport and a team that you love and yet, after years of labor, still be essentially clueless.

The Boss never stopped maintaining the appearance of control, bordering on interference. It was central to his self-image and his personality. But after a miserable eon without a World Series win from 1978 to '96 -- a period during which he went from a national caricature of the tyrannical but successful employer to a standing joke as an inept buffoon -- Steinbrenner evolved.

He would summon his staff, call his emergency meetings in Tampa and bluster in the tabloids about his displeasure. But behind the scenes, he made one crucial change: "Do it my way" became "Do it your way," always followed by the rank-preserving threat, "But you better be right."

Managers and minions were still fired from time to time. But not as often. And gradually, as his reputation within the game altered from mean-spirited egomaniac to egomaniac-with-a-heart, respected people once again ran the risk -- to their health -- of working for him.

General Manager Brian Cashman -- who was once young, honest I swear it -- always looks like he has just pulled 107 straight college-exam all-nighters. But, despite all the failures and frustrations of the Yankees from 2001 to '08, Cashman is still there, isn't he? The old Boss would have canned him, and the next couple like him, during such a dry spell. The final version of the Boss actually has a modicum of patience in a sport that requires it by the caseload.

Even when he fired Joe Torre two years ago, it took seven straight disappointing postseasons, some of them mortifying, before Steinbrenner swung his axe.

The titles won by Billy Martin and Bob Lemon in the '70s bought them nothing, except that perpetual emasculating torture that defined the Yankees -- and undermined them, too. Fire the pitching coach to see if the manager will quit, and give up the money left on his contract, out of loyalty. If he doesn't, then he loses face and authority in the clubhouse. He's barely the manager at all. Eventually, the disgrace of it will drive him out. His pride won't let him stay.


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