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Friday, March 30, 2007

The Son-in-Law Business

I grew up in a town where people's parents grew up with each other's parents, the grandparents knew each other from old neighborhoods if not the old country, and, well, everyone knew everyone else or was one or two phone calls away from someone who knew someone who you might have needed to or wanted to talk to about something important.

A friend of mine's father was a doctor who played golf with a bunch of different people at the club to which they belonged. Invariably, he would remark that some of the people he knew were in the "son-in-law" business. I had no clue one day as to what he was talking about, so I asked my father. I was a teenager at the time.

Dad laughed.

"He means that the person was either smart enough or lucky enough to marry a woman whose family owned a successful business, and he worked in the business in some capacity."

And that got me to thinking.

"It doesn't sound like a compliment, though, does it?"

Dad smiled (perhaps because I was displaying some cognitive ability after a long night playing Strat-o-Matic).

"It isn't."

I looked at him quizzically.

"What he's basically saying is that the guy in question is lucky enough to be in the position he's in, because he's not too energetic, too bright, too nice, or a combination of all of them. Therefore, he's in the son-in-law business."

Occasionally, there were those sons-in-law who helped grow the business when less-than-competent sons otherwise had the ability to run it into a day-glo green iceberg in broad daylight with alarm bells emanating from the berg from 30 miles away. But those seemingly were the exceptions.

Fast forward to the present time, and the linked article.

George Steinbrenner's son-in-law and heir apparent to run the Yankees, Steve Swindal, is divorcing Steinbrenner's daughter after 23 years of marriage. Which means that when you divorce the wife, you divorce the family business. That's obviously tough and bad for Swindal, and it could be bad for the Yankees. Many (including ESPN Radio's Mike Greenberg) have attributed to the Yankees' refusal to trade hot prospects such as Phil Hughes because Swindal refused to continue to mortgage the future. Without Swindal, the concern will be that because The Boss, who is in his mid-70's, wants to win one more World Series, he might not continue to have the patience that apparently Swindal enforced during his tenure.

While I wrote about the originals of the term "son-in-law" business, by all accounts Swindal wasn't in it. He might have gotten the job because of his connections, but during his tenure the Yankees did not fall off the table. True, they didn't win a World Series, but they were a formidable team. Now the open question is who will take over once Swindal is gone, unless, of course, by some miracle Swindal will remain even after the divorce. The speculation I've heard is that he won't.

Many of us would consider running a baseball team to be our dream job. Many of us would consider working for our fathers-in-law a nightmare, almost tantamount to consignment one's soul, if not one's self, into a perpetual form of indentured servitude (which the father-in-law could lord over you, especially emotionally, as he saw fit). How far would you go to run a baseball team? Would that type of pressure and tension (and it would exist in some fashion) be worth it? Is it optimal to let your world's collide like that? Is it possible not to take the job home with you after a hard day? How do you complain to your spouse that her father is unreasonable? The questions abound, and the stakes are high (lose the marriage, lose the job, and worry about your job prospects). Especially if you signed a non-compete.

As much as I love sports, were that type of opportunity presented, my guess is that I would have passed. No offense to anyone, but certain forms of separation are appropriate so as not to lead to the type of separation that Swindal and his wife currently are facing.

The Yankees now bear watching. With the Boss likely to become more involved on a day-to-day basis, the circus could well be back in town.


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