Why the New York Yankees Are the Greatest: Part 11

Perry ArnoldSenior Analyst IJanuary 12, 2009

No business can be successful unless it has good management. This is as true for baseball as for any other business.


The New York Yankees are the most successful franchise in sports history. They have not always been successful, but in their years of greatest success, they have had great leadership from the top.


The first great owner of the New York Yankees was Jacob Ruppert, Jr. Ruppert joined with Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston to purchase the Yankees in 1915. 


Huston was mostly a figurehead and was not as active in management as Ruppert.  Eventually, in 1922, Ruppert bought all of Huston’s interest in the franchise and became sole owner.


Under Ruppert’s reign, the Yankees would rise from mediocrity to become the best team in baseball.

Much of the success must be attributed to Ruppert’s willingness to part with a good part of his personal fortune in order to bring better players to the Bronx.


Ruppert had inherited his father’s money made in the beer business. But he would not hoard it. 


Probably Ruppert’s best known spending was when he purchased Babe Ruth’s contract from the Boston Red Sox in 1919. 


But before that he had purchased Carl Mays, a brilliant pitcher, from the Bosox and eventually he would bring most of the great Boston teams of the World War I years to New York.


And Ruppert was really the man who built Yankee Stadium. It was called “The House the Ruth Built” because of all the fans who came out to see the Babe hit home runs.


But Ruppert spent the money to build the greatest baseball park in history. 


Babe may have said it best when he first stepped onto the field at Yankee Stadium and said, “Some ball yard.”


Ruppert remained as sole owner of the Yankees until his death in 1939. Upon his death, the team was owned by his estate until a triumvirate bought the franchise in January 1945.


Dan Topping, Dell Webb, and Larry McPhail bought the Yankees from the Ruppert estate for $2.8 million. A few years later, McPhail sold his interest to Topping and Webb.


Topping and Webb kept the Yankees on top of the baseball world after their acquisition at the end of the war.  In the 20 years they controlled the team, the Yankees would appear in an unbelievable 15 World Series and would win 10 of them.


Topping and Webb earned a reputation of being tight-fisted with money. Players of that era would often talk about how hard it was to get a raise despite repeated success for the team and great individual accomplishments.


But under Topping and Webb, the great players, such as DiMaggio and Mantle would be paid more money than any other player up to that time had ever received with the first salaries of $100,000.00 per season.


Topping and Webb would maintain control of the Yankees until 1964 when controlling interest was sold to CBS, the television network. Topping would remain President of the Yankees until 1966.


It is probably not just irony that CBS bought the Yankees in the last year that they went to the World Series until 1976.


Most close observers would say that the franchise was not well managed during the years that CBS controlled the show. And it showed in the standings.


In 1965, the Yankees would fall from pennant winners to sixth place in the American League. The next year would be even worse when they would finish dead last.


In only one year while CBS owned the team, 1970, would the Yankees finish as high as second in the league. And that is the only year they won more than 83 games while CBS and Michael Burke ran the team.


But in 1973, new ownership came on the scene that would return the Yankees to glory within three years.


George Steinbrenner led a group that purchased majority ownership of the Yankees for $10 million in 1973. 


By 1976, the Yankees would return to the World Series and would win championships in 1977 and 1978.


Steinbrenner, like Ruppert, had a fortune from the family business; not beer in this case, but shipbuilding. Steinbrenner had always loved sports and was only too eager to buy into the great New York team.


Steinbrenner has been controversial and was even suspended from active participation in the team after being convicted in connection with illegal contributions to the campaign fund of President Richard M. Nixon.


And of course, Steinbrenner has been hard on managers. In his first 23 years as principal owner of the team, he had 20 different managers. But since 1996, the team has known only two skippers, Joe Torre and Joe Girardi.


But like Ruppert, George would always spend money on the team. During a time that New Yorkbecame, not only the most successful team on the field, but the richest team as well, Steinbrenner could have watched his personal wealth expand almost without limit.


But instead, he became one of the first owners to use his checkbook to go after free agents.


Signing Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, and Dave Winfield set the stage for later free agents, where without question the Yankees have always been the dominant player.


At the same time he was pursuing high priced free agents, Steinbrenner also hired excellent baseball men who revitalized the Yankee farm system. 


The great teams of the '90s and into the new century featured home grown Yankees such as Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter.


In addition to signing free agents and keeping his own stars in the fold, George Steinbrenner also took the lead in pushing for a new stadium in the Bronx.


Despite a complete overhaul under the Steinbrenner administration of the early 1970s, Yankee Stadium was suffering from old age.  As the new century turned over, the Yankees were determined to build a new stadium, the only question was where.


After some talk of taking the franchise out of the legendary site at 161st Street and River Avenue, possibly even across the river to New Jersey, Steinbrenner and the other Yankee leadership, opted to build a new stadium right next to the revered old structure. 


In 2006, ground was broken on the new Yankee Stadium. From all reports, it will be the most magnificent facility in major league baseball, complete with a Yankee museum. It will open for business in April 2009.


In 2007, George Steinbrenner stepped aside to allow his sons, Hank and Hal Steinbrenner to take the helm of the Yankees. The current offseason has shown that the sons will follow the father when it comes to pursuing free agents.


The signings of CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira have shown that Yankee ownership is still dedicated to putting the best possible team on the field.


From Jacob Ruppert to Topping and Webb to the Steinbrenners, the New York Yankees have usually been blessed with owners who looked out for the fans and their city.


Ownership that has given the fans the best possible teams for most of the last 80-plus years is a very big reason the Yankees are the greatest team ever.