New York — The greatest gift George Steinbrenner enjoyed Monday - his 75th birthday - was a peek at the Yankees' books. In a word, they (and The Boss) are loaded.
Of course, the Bombers seem doomed to a summer of on-field mediocrity, bogged down by injuries and long-term contracts to aging stars.
But there's enough cash in the vault (and more where that came from) to keep Steinbrenner happy as long as he continues to own the team.
But as he said last week, retirement looms. There's a debate among Yankee insiders as to whether Steinbrenner's family will reap the massive windfall by selling. Business experts say the Yankees are worth close to $800 million today, and that bottom line could skyrocket to $1 billion in 2009 when the new stadium is completed.
That figure doesn't include the stand-alone value of the YES Network, estimated at another $1 billion.
After the breakdown of sale talks with Cablevision several years ago, The Boss has developed a near-obsessive bond to the Yankees. He's not selling, today or tomorrow or ever. But a person familiar with the club's operations says Steinbrenner's sons, Hal and Hank, "aren't nearly as attached" to the idea of running a sports franchise.
Given the opportunity, insiders say, the younger Steinbrenners would sell the team upon their father's death. That may explain why The Boss recently appointed his son-in-law, Steve Swindal, as his heir apparent. Under Swindal, who is married to Steinbrenner's daughter, Jennifer, it's much more likely the Yankees will remain in the family.
"I think Steve is totally engaged with the team," said Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist and the author of numerous books about baseball's financial growth.
Steinbrenner's associates say he's determined to remain in charge of the Yankees' day-to-day operation until the new ballpark is completed, thus assuring his legacy forever is linked to the facility. By 2009, with the Yankees literally beginning a new era, the pressure on Swindal to keep the Yankees as a Steinbrenner family entity will be overwhelming; he'll have no choice but to turn away from potential buyers.
But that's not to say the next generation of Steinbrenners will be as volatile or intimidating to employees. Yankees underlings are awaiting the day when The Boss' visits from Tampa don't cause Stadium-wide panic.
What no one denies is that Steinbrenner still lives and dies with every Yankee setback. While counter-rumors persist that the owner's overall health is failing - he conspicuously avoided speaking at the news conference to announce the new stadium - one member of his staff said, "If George is sick, it's (the Yankees) that are making him that way."
Maybe that's why the Stadium means so much to Steinbrenner in the latter stages of his life. Although the Yankees are flush with profit and on a pace to draw almost 4 million fans this season, a facility upgrade is, in Zimbalist's words, "a matter of legacy."