Managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner was at Yankee Stadium to announce a new eight-year contract with the Big Ten conference for the Pinstripe Bowl. After fielding a few questions in a televised press conference about the new agreement, Steinbrenner addressed a number of topics about the Yankees, including their recent struggles, Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano’s contract talks and the decline in attendance.
Steinbrenner’s last public comments came on May 18 when he was at Yankee Stadium for an event with season-ticket holders. That was before a 7-2 win over Toronto which gave the team a 27-16 record. But since then, they have lost nine of their last 13 games and have dropped to third place.
“We’re struggling,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it, but they’re going to keep fighting. The morale is good. I know that for a fact. I was down there earlier today and they’re going to keep fighting. Let’s keep perspective here — they’re three games out in the toughest division in baseball and we’re right in the middle of the fight and that’s going to continue. But we do need to start hitting, there’s no doubt about it. They know that.”
Steinbrenner did reveal a little when discussing Rodriguez, whose contract came up Sunday night when Cashman told ESPN he likely can’t live up the 10-year contract negotiated with Hank Steinbrenner following the 2007 season.
“It’s big contract to live up to. I didn’t see Brian’s comments to be honest you,” Steinbrenner said. “Look, we just help he comes back healthy as he did in '09 after the surgery and we hope he contributes in a big way. He’s a heck of an athlete and if the surgery has fixed the problem you may see good things out of him. We hope so.
“It’s a big contract,” Steinbrenner said. “We all hope he’s going to act like a Yankee and do the best he can to live up to that. How about that?”
So does Steinbrenner think Rodriguez has acted like a Yankee, considering the steroid admission in 2009, subsequent Biogenesis investigation this past offseason and other off-the-field, gossip headlines?
“We’ll see,” Steinbrenner said. “We’ll find out when he comes back. I know he’s been working hard and he’s been working hard to come back and he does work. He knows what it means to be a Yankee and he knows what we expect of him and he knows what his teammates expect of him, without a doubt. So we just hope he comes back strong. We need all the help we can get.”
Steinbrenner conceded that Rodriguez has disappointed the team at times but when he spoke about, he seemed to convey a tone of acceptance.
“There have no doubt been times when we’ve been disappointed in him and we’ve conveyed that to him and he understands that,” Steinbrenner said. “But look, everybody’s human and everybody makes mistakes. If you’ve got a guy over the course of 10 years, there’s going to be times any of us make mistakes.”
While the Yankees have five more years on Rodriguez’s contract, they are facing a possible free agent process for Cano after this year. Cano recently switched agents from Scott Boras to rapper’s Jay-Z’s new management group and the Yankees have begun some form of negotiation with him, contrary to their normal policy of handling contracts during the season.
“There’s nothing new to report, nothing new to report,” Steinbrenner said. “If something significant [happens], believe me, you guys will be the first to know.”
In terms of the agent switch, Steinbrenner believed a new agent will not be a negative factor.
“We’ve had a good relationship with Scott, so we’ll see,” Steinbrenner said. “I guess we’ll see, but we had a good relationship with Scott. There’s been a lot of years and my dad certainly had his dealings with him and Scott’s been around a long time, so it is what it is. Whoever his agent is, that’s who we’ll be dealing with.”
The final key topic Steinbrenner addressed was the decline in attendance at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees have had just two sellouts and came into Monday, averaging 39,005 in 29 home games. They rank fifth in the majors, but last year they were second with an average of 43,733.
“As I said a couple of weeks, I think there’s a lot of factors,” Steinbrenner said. “We’re not the only major-league team by a long shot and I still think the economy’s not great and there’s other things going on.
“The weather was horrible in April as you know but we’re starting to see better crowds now and that’s going to continue with summer coming and I just urge people to come out and support this team. No. 1, they need it right now. They’re in the fight of their lives, and No. 2, they’ve earned it.”
Overbay sticks around, as outfielder
The Yankees needed to make a roster move Monday when Andy Pettitte was activated from the disabled list. Lyle Overbay suspected that move might be for him since he plays only first base and Mark Teixeira has returned.
On Saturday, he was waiting for his group to take batting practice and was idling because he did not want to interfere with Teixeira taking ground balls. At some point, third base coach and outfield coordinator Robby Thomson went up to him and said something along the lines of “go out there if you’re bored.”
So Overbay went and shagged fly balls in left field and two nights later, he became the starting right fielder. It was his first start in the outfield since a 20-game stint there in 2001 in the minor leagues.
“I’m 98 percent excited, two percent scared or 98 percent scared or two percent excited,” Overbay said. “I don’t know. I’m excited. It’s time to get on that field and it’s an opportunity.”
“We’ve been forced to be a little bit creative here because of some of the injuries,” manager Joe Girardi said. “It also gives us a little coverage for Tex at first base, if he needs a day off. We’ll see how it goes.”
The outfield work was not the first time recently that Overbay has done so. He played some in spring training with the Red Sox since that likely was the only way he would make the team, but Boston elected to go with Mike Carp instead.
And with the Yankees having Teixeira, Kevin Youkilis at third and first and Travis Hafner locked into designated hitting against right-handed pitching, Overbay was open to giving it a try to remain on the team.
“It’s hard because I know Joe’s got to put everybody in a position to succeed and just not being able to see me play in the outfield, I don’t know, it’s hard to tell what he’s kind of thinking,” Overbay said. “I know I can do the job.”
The actual roster move was optioning outfielder Brennan Boesch to Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre. He is expected to get regular at-bats while adding to his versatility by playing some first base.
Swisher returns as visitor
Nick Swisher made his first appearance at Yankee Stadium since Game 2 of the ALCS against Detroit Monday night. It was on that day he made some critical comments about fan support while the team was struggling.
In the offseason, he signed a four-year contract with the Indians after realizing that returning for a fifth season with the Yankees was not going to happen.
“I knew very early in the offseason that coming back here was not going to be an option. So I had to do my best to step off,” Swisher said. “Obviously making that step was harder than most things that I’ve done in my life. But that’s kind of part of the game. This is a business. At the time, they were trying to stay under the payroll.
In pregame intros, he received mostly applause from the fans at Yankee Stadium and Swisher also said that winning the World Series in 2009, especially after a tough season with the White Sox, was a major career highlight.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.