Rest In Peace, George Steinbrenner (1930-2010)

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

Hall-of-Famer Reggie Jackson may have been the straw that stirred the NY Yankees of the late-1970s but, George Michael Steinbrenner was the straw that stirred the Major League Baseball owners club… and as a result, he forever changed the nature of pro sports ownership across all professional sports in America. His demeanor and his style earned him a variety of nicknames, from the derisive “Phineas T. Bluster” to the reverential “The Boss.” He died today of a massive heart attack at his home in Tampa, Florida… the Yankee Doodle Dandy (he was born on the Fourth of July) was 80 years old.

Steinbrenner’s father, Henry, was a shipping magnate. His son would eventually assume control of the family business in 1957. George revitalized and expanded it, and eventually turned it into the American Shipbuilding Company. The Williams (MA) College graduate led a group of investors in the purchase of NY Yankees in January of 1973… they bought the club from CBS for $8.7 million.

Upon purchasing the team, Steinbrenner declared: “I won’t be active in the day-to-day operations of the Yankees, I’ll just stick to building ships.” He then went out and did precisely the opposite. He was the quintessential hands-on owner. He believed he could buy championships and threw money at his ball club – forever changing the way Major League Baseball would operate. He frequently criticized his ballplayers in the press and changed managers 17 times in the first 17 years he owned the team. He made a public spectacle of himself and his team… abusing and upbraiding everyone from secretaries in the office to his start ballplayers. Many quality players determined they wouldn’t play for the Yankees in spite of the number of zeroes on his checks.

Off the field, he was even more controversial and embattled. He was twice suspended from the game by the League. In 1974, he was suspended for making illegal contributions to the re-election campaign of president Richard M Nixon and after pleading guilty to a felony charge of obstruction of justice. In 1990, in the midst of a very public embroglio with star outfielder Dave Winfield, he paid $40,000 to a gambler named Howard Spira and assigned him the task of digging up dirt on Winfield. When then-MLB Commissioner Faye Vincent learned of the indiscretion, he banned The Boss for life from ever running the Yankees or being involved in the day to day operation of the club.

When the decision on the suspension was announced at Yankee Stadium, Yankees fans engaged in a 90-second standing ovation. Ding-dong the witch was dead.

He was out of the game for three years. After returning from the banishment, he determined to keep a lower profile — that 90-second ovation still ringing in his ears. He allowed more prudent heads to run the organization and make the decisions. The Yankees began developing homegrown talent and used their enormous financial resources to augment those players, rather than fill out an entire lineup. Only then did the franchise win another world championship after 15 years of being largely irrelevant under Steinbrenner’s stewardship. The Yankees won the World Series in four of the five years from 1996 to 2000 (’96, ’98, ’99 and 2000).

Steinbrenner watched as his club lost the 2001 and 2003 World Series and then collapsed against the Red Sox in the 2004 ALCS, blowing a three-games-to-none lead as Boston went on to win its first Fall Classic in 86 years. For all intents and purposes, he retired that year and became more reclusive over the last few years as his health declined.

His death comes a little more than a week after his 80th borthday, and just two days after the death of “The Voice Of God,” long-time Yankee Stadium public address announcer Bob Sheppard, who passed away this week at the age of 99.

Love him or hate him, he was one of the most influential owners in the history of American sports, and not just because of his brashness or his free-spending ways. He was the first owner to sell cable-TV rights to broadcast his team’s ballgames and eventually became the first to own his own network (the YES Network). He built the Yankees from a team worth less than $10 million to one that became the first professional sports franchise in history to be valued at $1 billion.

Personally, I’m not sure the game of baseball is better off for having numbered Steinbrenner among its ownership for the last 37+ years, but I’m not sure it’s not better off either. It is likely that many of the less-desirable developments that have occurred in baseball during the last four decades would have occurred without Steinbrenner, although certainly at a slower pace.

But, I’m also confident that some of the more desirable developments in the game – such as the explosion in the number of games that are available on television – would have been equally slow to develop. And while I hate many of the elements that free agency has brought to the game, I dearly love the fact that I can watch each and every Red Sox game on television, if I am so inclined… and I usually am.

And both of those developments were largely influenced by Steinbrenner.

Blowhard. Bombastic. Bully. Brilliant businessman. Embarrassing persona. Generous benefactor. World champion. These are some of the words that will serve as the man’s legacy.

Baseball, and America, will get to say goodbye to Steinbrenner tonight during the pre-game festivities at the All-Star game. The timing somehow seems VERY appropriate. Rest in peace, Boss.

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