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Yankees' Blueprint a Lesson for Al Davis

Nov 5, 2009 – 9:00 PM
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Nancy Gay

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The Boss, the one who rules Major League Baseball, wasn't in New York Wednesday night as the Yankees celebrated their 27th World Series title with a 7-3 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies. But George Steinbrenner, 79 -- still the architect of champions and the titan of New York sports -- was watching from his home in Tampa.

Every out. Every pitch. Every player celebration. Steinbrenner could see and hear his players express their gratitude, and his family said he was overcome with joy.

"Thank you. Thank you for everything," Yankees catcher Jorge Posada told the owner through a camera lens. "Thank you for this. Thank you for having the team every year, to try to have a team to be here [the World Series]."

The Boss is not in robust health these days. He wasn't in the clubhouse to feel the champagne shower. But he was "teary eyed" said his son, Hank. "It meant everything."

Born on the 4th of July in 1930, Steinbrenner is an American icon as a team owner. Three thousand miles away, another iconic team owner – a true sports trailblazer born a year to the day before Steinbrenner -- may have been watching, too. He's a New Yorker, after all.

Al Davis wants that championship celebration as badly as Steinbrenner, and he enters every NFL season convinced his Oakland Raiders will ultimately hoist a Lombardi Trophy.

The Boss got his wish Wednesday night.

"Mr. Davis," as his employees and players call him, may not get his for many years to come. Davis' Oakland teams, carefully assembled under his close scrutiny, haven't had a winning record since 2003. This season, the Raiders are 2-6 at the halfway point.

Steinbrenner spent Wednesday watching his storied franchise win a world title. Davis spent Wednesday meeting with his embattled head coach, Tom Cable, and hearing another explanation for yet another lost season.

Al Davis is a proud Brooklyn boy from Flatbush, although he was born in Brockton, Mass. He admires winners. He's built winners -- three Super Bowl teams (1976, '80,'83) and five AFC champions.

Like Steinbrenner, Davis will do whatever it takes, spend whatever he has to, to put a championship team on the field.

Steinbrenner hired and fired Billy Martin five times. Al Davis hired and fired Art Shell twice. No one is sacrosanct.

Like Steinbrenner, who was infamous for berating his many managers, calling to the dugout during games to demand a pitching change or to criticize a player, Davis has always been the definition of hands-on. They both were called managing general partner. Never owner.

Davis has been known to abruptly change a head coach's carefully crafted game plan. He'll insist that certain players are in the starting lineup. He always drafts and signs the NFL's speediest players, even though they may not fill an immediate need, because he admires their athleticism.

The hands-on approach can work, but so often it doesn't. Steinbrenner's Yankees teams sustained a crushing era of disappointment throughout the 1980s -- the only decade that the franchise did not win a World Series since claiming its first in 1923. Of course, The Boss was heavily involved in every aspect of the day-to-day operation during that drought. He managed every detail. So that is on his hands.

Just as the last seven losing seasons are stamped in Davis' legacy.

These days in Oakland, which are dark and show no signs of light, Davis remains the ultimate authority for all Raiders' matters.

The Boss is less authoritative. His health status is carefully guarded, but when Steinbrenner turned over the managing general partner title to his son Hal, 39, last November, no one had to ask. Succession can't be easy for the proud lions of sports. But it's the most unselfish thing a legendary owner can do.

You have to figure Davis watched that majestic Yankees' Game 6 victory Wednesday night, and is wondering what it will take to get back to that place. The hugs, the cheers, the happy tears. The satisfaction of a team-building job well done.

Perhaps Davis, like Steinbrenner, will one day relinquish his grip. Could he allow others in football, perhaps in collaboration with his son, Mark, to rebuild the Raiders and return them to glory? It seems far-fetched.

But Steinbrenner's World Series gratification wasn't diminished Wednesday night, nor was his contribution forgotten, even though he watched it unfold 1,000 miles away. Sometimes, the ultimate power comes from knowing when it is time to gracefully give in, while not giving up.
Filed under: Sports