Timing can be a funny thing sometimes.
We've known for some time that the Yankees would be honoring George Steinbrenner at the Stadium on Monday night, so it was hard not to notice the absence of the Boss during the team's recent 4-9 rough patch on the field. In past years, the team's inability to get runs home from third with less than two outs and shaky mound work would have elicited an angry press release reminding the team of their duty to wind up on top of the AL East.
That Boss would be familiar to both Don Mattingly and Joe Torre, the two stars of a current Dodgers soap opera who used to regularly appear in the follies produced by Steinbrenner at his theatre in the Bronx. Both men will pay tribute to the man who used to sign their checks on Monday night, their first appearance back in the Bronx since the team decided to part ways with them after the 2007 season. It will be good to have them there because, more than just about any other two players, they can encapsulate both the highs and the lows of the Steinbrenner era.
Mattingly is the low, obviously. Being the best player on the Yankees for about a decade usually means that you've won, at the very least, a couple of World Series titles and burnished your resume with dozens of great postseason moments. Mattingly has just one, a home run in Game Two of the 1995 ALDS, because he had the bad fortune to play for the Yankees when Steinbrenner was at his most meglomaniacal. Every year would bring a new set of high-priced teammates that cost the team top prospects, a new manager or three and ridiculous demands from Steinbrenner about the length of sideburns instead of a dedication to winning.
Mattingly left after 1995, his back had betrayed him for far too long to keep coming to the ballpark, and Torre arrived to usher in a bright new era to the Yankees. Steinbrenner, chastened by his suspension for the Howie Spira affair, was less involved in the day-to-day operations and mostly served as an open checkbook to provide Torre with the kind of talent that would have every year of his tenure end with a trip to the playoffs.
That's the Steinbrenner being feted on Monday night, because those of us with long memories remember that the man's suspension was cheered by a fan base that was convinced the Yankees would never be great again as long as Steinbrenner was in charge of the team. That Steinbrenner, the bad Boss, will not be mentioned on any plaque in Monument Park nor directly referenced by any of the guests.
That's okay, though, because seeing Mattingly will be reminder enough about the true nature of the man's imprint on the Yankees.