For decades, the Twins complained privately about George Steinbrenner. The bombastic Yankees owner inflated salaries, campaigned against low-revenue teams and often embarrassed himself and the game.

Today, the Twins might miss King George more than they miss Johan Santana.

The trade of Santana to the Mets became official Friday afternoon, meaning virtually every baseball writer and columnist in America can ridicule Twins General Manager Bill Smith anew for making a deal that looks like an act of reverse charity.

If you want to be charitable to Smith, you can argue that we should withhold judgment on the deal until we see what becomes of center fielder Carlos Gomez, the peach-fuzzed and anonymous face of the Twins' take.

This much, virtually everyone can agree on: If George Steinbrenner had been running the Yankees instead of his sons, Santana would be wearing pinstripes today, and Twins fans would be much happier with Smith.

In the end, Hank Steinbrenner blew the deal for two teams -- the Yankees and the Twins. In what might be the most astounding development in baseball since the arrival of fish tacos in the Padres concession stands, a Steinbrenner declined to arm-wrestle the archrival Red Sox and Mets over the best pitcher in the game.

George's health has taken him out of the decisionmaking process. If he had been calling the shots, the Twins probably would have gotten pretty much what they wanted. George would not have wanted to cede the AL East to the Red Sox or the tabloid back pages to the Mets. And that's what the Twins counted on, for too long.

Smith apparently assumed that the Yankees' offer would increase, as spring training approached and the Steinbrenner competitiveness percolated. Smith, like many others, assumed wrong, leaving him stuck with what he could get from the Mets.

Now, let's understand that young players are volatile stocks. Gomez could wind up being better than Jacoby Ellsbury, Phil Hughes or Jon Lester, and if that's the case -- and one or two of the pitchers acquired in the deal contribute in the big leagues, or Santana develops tendinitis in his left elbow playing Wii -- this could still wind up looking like a reasonable deal.

But the Twins would have been better off dealing with George.

In the Yankees' convoluted power structure, George was omnipotent and believed himself to be omniscient. Now power in the Yankee front office is divided between Stammerin' Hank, his younger and more conservative brother Hal and GM Brian Cashman. And whoever can distract Hank during meetings with shiny objects.

Hank defied his DNA by yielding to Cashman and Hal, who didn't want to trade Hughes. (This is an assumption based on multiple reports out of New York, and for all of the trouble we all give the New York media, please understand that some of the best reporters in America work in that market.)

With George out of the way, the Yankees became the Hankees. They acted more like the Twins than the old, hyper-spending Yankees.

The Yanks chose to save money -- they'll spend only $218 million or so -- and conserve prospects, even as they prepare to cut dead weight off their payroll in the next year or two and to enter their new stadium in 2009.

That thought alone -- Santana pitching on Opening Day in new Yankee Stadium in '09 -- would have prompted George to trade Phil Hughes, Melky Cabrera and a few Yankee monuments to Minnesota.

Instead, Hank will get to watch Hughes pitch for a second- or third-place team.

George occasionally made deals that hurt the Yankees. Hank did him one better this week, failing to make a deal and hurting two teams.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. •