The wistfulness is apparently gone, replaced by a somewhat gregariously demanding version of his former self, but at least George Steinbrenner is still delusional.
The Boss joked with his employees and teased the media throng that details his every move as the Yankees opened camp this week.
A year after his health came into some question due to his almost sentimental nature, the Yankees owner is more omnipresent and vocal at spring training in Tampa this year than he has been in the last handful, yesterday even stating what his team's chances were to win the 2006 World Series.
"We're going to win it this year," Steinbrenner said. "We're going after them this year."
Howard Dean concurs.
Nothing against the James Cameron Yankees, who ought to slug their way to plenty of 10-9 wins, but they are about as sure a thing as it is predicting the day that darned lovable Ziggy finally blows and verbally berates the nearest target with a string of expletives usually reserved for a Death Row record. Despite an offseason in which New York added Johnny Damon, the Yankees inexplicably did little to repair the pitching, which was ultimately their undoing in 2005.
Outside of the bullpen signings of Kyle Farnsworth and Mike Myers and taking a flyer on Octavio Dotel, the Yankees are in large part depending on the starting staff that was so horrendous for much of last season, saved only by surprises Aaron Small, Chien-Ming Wang, and Shawn Chacon. Carl Pavano is already slated to miss time to begin the season as he continues to battle for the title of "Dumbest free agent signing of 2005" (if that honor doesn't already belong to Jaret Wright). Randy Johnson heads into the season 42 years old, and Mike Mussina remains one of the more overrated hurlers of our generation.
Yes, they possess the most potent lineup in the game. That much is undeniable. But how often have we seen teams fail to win the big prize with a concept based predominantly on bats (think the Red Sox throughout most of their history)? It's the pitching, stupid, and whether the Yankees have it is extremely debatable.
If it weren't for the midseason acquisitions of Small and Chacon (17-3 combined in pinstripes), the Yankees would have been on the outside looking in at last October's playoffs. So, perhaps Cashman is of the thought that he's banking on the same performances from the duo in 2006, or just hoping to strike lightning twice come July, pulling off some magnificently uncelebrated moves that turn into gold.
As great as the Aaron Small story is, it is extremely unlikely that a 34-year-old pitcher who comes out of nowhere to win his first 10 games last season isn't going to be figured out a season later by the opposition. It is, however, more likely that Chacon blossoms in his first full season outside of the Coors launching pad, and that Wang matures into a 15-game winner.
But New York is also placing a lot of dependence on guys like perennial underachievers Wright and Pavano, as well as an aging Johnson. Mussina these days is what he is: a $19 million 12-game winner.
It is a starting staff that whispers of potential, but also screams of concern, a depiction that is no different than the clubs in Boston and North of the Border in a grieving country that needs a winner right now, what with Wayne Gretzky's latest blunder on ice.
Then again, John Henry and Ted Rogers aren't exactly guaranteeing world titles either.
By all accounts, yesterday's "George and Joe Show" in Tampa was weird. After manager Joe Torre briefed his troops, telling them the mission was to win a World Series title, Steinbrenner sat in on Torre's meeting with the media. Courtesy of the New York Daily News' Sam Borden, an account:
"As the manager talked, Steinbrenner fiddled with a paper clip and peered curiously at each reporter who asked a question. He also seemed interested in playing the role of class cut-up; at one point, Torre was asked about how Damon nearly came to the Bronx during the same winter that his good friend and former A's teammate Jason Giambi signed his seven-year, $120 million contract with the Yanks.
'(Giambi) took all of the money so we couldn't do anything,' Torre joked, only to have Steinbrenner pipe up, 'You got some, didn't you?' as everyone laughed and Torre responded, 'Thank you sir.'
At another point, Torre was asked if he had been able to sit down and have an extended chat with Damon yet.
'I haven't had a chance sit down and really to talk to anybody,' Torre began. 'I've talked to ...'
'Me!' Steinbrenner piped up.
'Yeah, Mr. Steinbrenner,' Torre continued with another chuckle. 'That's always nerve-wracking.'"
What is this, Steinbrenner and Torre or Bergen and McCarthy?
According to Damon, who was gushing over how impressed he was with Torre's speech, no other manager had ever told him the seemingly obvious goal was a World Series title. I mean, the man started his career in Kansas City, but please.
"There is no reason to celebrate getting into the postseason," Damon said.
That must be why Damon didn't participate in last year's wild card champagne-soaked locker room party at Fenway last October and sent some other hairy dude to take his place.
Anyway, Steinbrenner lamented how long it's been since he could call his club the best in baseball at the end of the season. The Yankees haven't won since 2000, which doesn't exactly have the same thirst as the last two teams to end World Series droughts -- the Red Sox (1918) and White Sox (1917) -- but who knows, maybe the man is living in canine years.
Instead, here is what Steinbrenner will get for $200 million: a likely AL East division winner that as currently constituted is vastly inferior to the Chicago White Sox, a team brimming with -- what do you know -- great pitching. If you can't guarantee what you're going to get out of guys like Wang, Chacon, Pavano, Small, Wright, Johnson, and Mussina, you can't possibly go around believing a world title is in your definitive future.
The Yankees, along with the Red Sox and Blue Jays, potentially have some solid pitching in their immediate future. Potential doesn't buy the Yankees anything though, Steinbrenner's wallet does. And the last few years, that money holder has shelled out more cash for pitching jokes than Steinbrenner made yesterday with Torre.