George Steinbrenner Changed the Game of Baseball

July 13, 2010   ·     ·   Jump to comments
Article Source: Bleacher Report - New York Yankees


George Steinbrenner was a polarizing figure for much of his 80 years on earth.

He had a fiery temper, often publicly fighting with his front office members and his players, striking fear into the hearts of his and other general managers simply by entering a room.

He was a true American original, equal parts Mark Cuban and Donald Trump, a caricature of both himself and the organization that became his life.

And now, a man who once seemed larger than life has been brought to his knees by the same thing that will kill thousands of other lesser-known Americans each year, a massive heart attack.

George Steinbrenner is dead at the age of 80. And regardless of what your stance on him is -whether you love him for the way he built multiple Yankee dynasties or hate him for stealing away your favorite player from your favorite team – if you’re a baseball fan, today is a very, very sad day.

Steinbrenner did what few billionaire owners have ever done before or since. He made us care about baseball, made us stand up and take notice of a sport that many once thought was long past its time. He was the kind of owner every sports fan wants for their teams, a guy who was willing to spend his own money in order to improve the product both on and off the field. More than anything, he was a man who cared.

His 80 years were filled with more controversy than most of us could ever possibly dream of. He openly fought with former manager Billy Martin, firing and re-hiring him over and over again. He bought players away from small-market teams, most recently luring CC Sabathia away from the Milwaukee Brewers with the promise of riches and titles. He even reportedly fought with fans on a couple of occasions, his fiery personality getting the best of him more often than not.

But it was that same fiery personality that drove him to win. His legendary work ethic helped rebuild the Yankee brand over the course of the 1970s, turning them from a once-proud franchise that had lost its way into a model organization. Yes Steinbrenner ran a very tight ship, but the proof is in the pudding.

Steinbrenner took a $10 million investment back in 1973 into a franchise currently valued at well over $1 billion dollars. Let me repeat that, just to let it sink in. At one point in time, the Yankees’ ENTIRE FRANCHISE was worth only $10 million dollars. Christ, Steinbrenner’s initial investment wouldn’t even buy him a single one of his star players these days.

Under his watch, the Yankees won 11 pennants and 7 World Series titles. No other franchise has even come close to matching that level of success over the past 37 years. They became a global brand equally as popular in Osaka, Japan as they are in Omaha, Nebraska and they became that big because Steinbrenner knew they would be that big. His fierce work ethic and unwillingness to deal with people who didn’t share his vision paid off handsomely. These days you’ll see Yankees hats and Yankees jerseys among the top sellers in malls across the country.

While he was known for being a bully, he was increasingly aware of his image and even was willing to poke fun at himself. He was a pop culture icon, doing beer commercials with Martin parodying their relationship, hosting Saturday Night Live and becoming a recurring character on Seinfeld, one of the greatest television shows of our time. He was driven, but he was willing to poke fun at himself in front of the masses – how many sports owners do you know like that?

More than anything though, George Steinbrenner gave us a reason to care, a reason to give a damn even if our team was completely out of the running. The highest rated postseason almost ALWAYS involve the Yankees. Why’s that you ask? Because half the audience tunes in to root for them while the other half tunes in hoping to see them lose in some excruciating fashion.

Take Steinbrenner out of the equation and do you think the Yankees still fill opposing stadiums the way they do each year? Absolutely not. Opposing fans show up en masse to root against the Yankees. He revitalized the rivalry with the Red Sox, breathing new life into both fan bases with his controversial comments and personnel moves. And it was great for baseball – the atmosphere at Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park is unparalleled because of Steinbrenner’s influence on the game.

Hell in many markets not named New York, you’ll likely find more Yankees fans than you will fans of the home team because this is America and in America we like to root for winners. How else would you explain my best friend in the world, a 32-year-old from Albuquerque with few ties to New York of any kind, proudly sporting a Yankee tattoo on his left bicep?

Not only is he a richer man because of his work ethic, so too are his fellow owners. Because of his overspending, small market teams now have a chance to compete with the big boys, and fans in those markets have a reason to care about baseball.

Without the luxury tax that Steinbrenner was so happy to pay each year, small market teams would be much worse off financially than they are today. Fans would be stuck year after year watching prospects get good before eventually fleeing for bigger and better pastures – which I know happens in some markets anyways. Because of the revenue sharing, at least the teams have a fighting chance at locking some of those fan favorites up long term.

I’m not a Yankees fan. I was born a Cubs fan and spent three of the best years of my life working for the small-market Milwaukee Brewers. But on behalf of baseball fans everywhere, today I am grateful for George Steinbrenner and all he did for the game of my youth. I, like you, am sharing in the loss being felt by the Steinbrenner and Yankee families.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Steinbrenner.

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