In pursuing McCann, Yanks draw from Boss' playbook
Aggressive signing reminiscent of elder Steinbrenner's philosophy
NEW YORK -- A man who seldom apologized for words he spoke, George Steinbrenner uncharacteristically tried to suck a word back in so as not to offend. He innocently had uttered the word blitzkrieg, a term he had borrowed from the Nazi glossary. Even with political correctness not yet in existence, he instantly recognized a man of German descent probably shouldn't have said such a thing.
He switched to "blitz," as any quick-thinking former football coach would, and he continued speaking with pride of how the Yankees' accelerated pursuit of talent had "blitzed" the competition.
This was Nov. 8, 1979, before the phrase "You snooze, you lose" had come into vogue. But Steinbrenner was making the same point, though less poetically. The Yankees just had signed free agents Bob Watson and Rudy May one week after trading for Rick Cerone and Tom Underwood. The Winter Meetings were a month away, and the Yankees already had addressed two of their primary needs following a failed season.
After three straight seasons with championships, two of them of the World Series variety, they had lost their captain and finished a season in fourth place and in need of run production, a catcher and starting pitching.
Now it's Hal Steinbrenner and his staff doing the Yankees' bidding in the aftermath of an unsatisfactory season that produced a fourth-place finish and underscored the need for offense, a catcher and starting pitching. The loss of the Captain Jeter in 2013 was merely demoralizing, nothing so tragic as the loss of Captain Munson 34 summers earlier. But not all parallels are perfect.
The Yankees' plan came together quickly once the process of their elimination became complete in September -- strike quickly, blitz the enemy and let's see what shakes out with these guys McCann and Ellsbury.
Money was -- and is -- a consideration. But there's so much more of it in the Bronx treasury. And this $189 million stuff may be a ceiling made of glass or something else more fragile than Jeter's ankle.
The quick-sell-and-sign pursuits that have brought the two free agents to the Bronx surprised Joe Girardi as much as they delighted him. "Usually things don't get going until the Winter Meetings," he said Thursday at the Stadium. "Even then it might be quiet. But we've gone out and made improvements so quickly. ... Yeah, it makes you feel good."
The Yankees' policymakers and check-writers smell blood. They're not nearly so bold as Hal's old man. Their words are sucked back in before they can be heard. But they certainly give the impression they believe their winter makeover will put the team's magic number closer to zero on Opening Day than it ever was realistically last season.
It should be noted here the 1979-80 makeover produced a Yankees team that won 103 games and, for the third time in four years, the American League East. One-0-three probably would get it done in 2014 even without use of the Wild Card safety net.
Brian McCann was at his new place of employment Thursday afternoon saying all the right things -- Yankees tradition, the feel of the pinstripes, the wonder of it all and why an $85 million catcher has chosen to wear a uniform number -- 34 -- made inconspicuous by such luminaries as Sean Henn, Jaret Wright, Chris Bootcheck, Jerry Nielsen and Pascual Perez.
And he said something else the Yankees wish he would have sucked back in -- unwittingly confirming the club's pending-a-physical agreement with Jacoby Ellsbury. But that cat's been out of the bag long enough to have a litter.
Neither McCann nor he and the new center fielder constitute the entire solution Brian Cashman has in mind. But their presence certainly reinforces the Yankees' middle. And McCann's presence behind the plate, in the middle of the batting order and on the mound for all conversations clearly makes the Yankees a more formidable foe. And the relative proximity of the right-field stands to home plate at the Stadium will have opposing managers thinking longer any time a game is tight.
The signing of McCann is likely to provide the Yankees more the left-handed power and effective receiving. McCann is a man with resumé and influence. Once Chipper Jones was something less than an everyday player for the Braves, McCann subtly slid into the role Jones was vacating. He became the player who provided a sense of on-field security for teammates.
"No doubt Mac [McCann] would be one to fill that role," Jones said Thursday night by telephone. "He comes by that naturally. He does make the players around him feel more secure. They sense his strength. That's what makes this a really good signing by the New York Yankees. He could very well could become the segue between the Jeter era and the next era. He might be the next era.
It isn't difficult to imagine him gradually assuming that role with the Yankees even next season if Jeter is something less than a regular. Even on teams with position player stars, catchers can't help but become a source of security.
Even if Jeter plays five days a week, his influence will begin to diminish if his performance wanes. Even he can't lead from the dugout any more than Mariano Rivera could lead from the bullpen.
A void in the Yankees' on-field hierarchy began developing last summer when Jeter was a fulltime resident of Florida.
McCann is enough of a player to have impact in the clubhouse based solely on performance. Cashman suggested Hall of Fame induction would be in the catcher's future if he performs at the levels he established with the Braves and the Yankees resume playing regularly in October. But there is more to McCann's game than boxscores tell us.
"He's in that [Jason] Varitek-Munson mold," Jones said. "Varitek was the heart and soul of the Red Sox, and from what I know, Munson was that for those Yankees teams.
"Mac brings it every day. He's a different dude when he pulls that mask down. The Yankees knew what they were doing. They want out fast and got what they wanted."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.