George Steinbrenner Passes Away At 80 But Leaves A Lasting Legacy In MLB
In the same week, the New York Yankees have suffered two heart breaking losses. The first to pass away was long time public address announcer Bob Sheppard, at 99 years old.
Sheppard passed away on July 11th, and two days later long time Yankees owner George Steinbrenner followed him. Heading into the 2010 Major League Baseball All-Star break, Yankee fans and the organization will have heavy hearts.
Remembering the life of George Steinbrenner is a monumental challenge. Steinbrenner lived a full life that was not just confined to being the owner of the Yankees.
Steinbrenner was the only son of Henry George Steinbrenner and Rita Steinbrenner in Cleveland, Ohio. He would spend the early years of this life getting a B.A. from Williams College in Massachusetts in 1952. A funny coincidence since he would become a thorn in the Boston Red Sox side later in life.
At Williams College, Steinbrenner was an active student who was a standout in Track and Field and played halfback for the football team. After graduation, Steinbrenner served his country in the United States Air Force.
Steinbrenner would be honorably discharged and take his talents to Ohio State University to get his graduate degree. At OSU, he was an assistant football coach with legendary Wood Hayes.
He was part of Hayes undefeated Buckeyes team that won the national championship. More importantly, during his time at OSU he would meet his future wife, Elizabeth Joan Zieg.
The two would be married on May 12, 1956 and would stay together thereafter and have four children, two sons and two daughters. The children he leaves behind are Hank Steinbrenner, Hal Steinbrenner, Jessica Steinbrenner, and Jennifer Steinbrenner-Swindal.
After his time at OSU, Steinbrenner went on to coach at Northwestern and Purdue. Perhaps his biggest decision was to go back into the family business of shipping.
Steinbrenner went on to make his fortune with Cleveland based company American Company Shipping in 1957. Three years later in 1960, Steinbrenner made his first foray into sports would be as owner of the Cleveland Pipers of the American Basketball League or ABL.
The team won the ABL championship in the 1961-62 season but folded early into the 1962 season. While this initial trip into the sports could be called mixed success at best, lessons were learned.
Steinbrenner, a native of Ohio tried to by the Cleveland Indians but failed to do so in 1971. But opportunity knocked twice for Steinbrenner a year later, when he joined forces with E. Michael Burke to by the Yankees in 1972 for just 8.8 million dollars.
Over time Steinbrenner went on to buy out most of his partners to gain complete control of the Yankees. The rest, one could say, is history.
The Yankees made their first World Series appearance under Steinbrenner in 1976 getting swept by the “Big Red Machine” of the Cincinnati Reds. One year later the Yankees won Steinbrenner’s first World Series in 1977.
Being true Yankee Doodle Dandy, having been born on the Fourth of July in 1930, Steinbrenner changed the sports landscape forever. Steinbrenner began to show his vision when he signed Catfish Hunter in 1974, basically starting the “free agent” period in sports.
Hunter’s 3.75 million contract started the salary boom that we still see today in baseball. Steinbrenner’s coup was signing Reggie Jackson from the Oakland Athletics for over three million as well.
Steinbrenner built a winner out of the Yankees and in the 38 years he owned the team made 19 post season appearances and 11 World Series appearances, winning seven of those trips to the October Classic.
Nearly every baseball fan wonders if Steinbrenner’s win at all cost mentality has hurt baseball in the long run. No one could question that “The Boss” (as he became known in the New York Tabloids) wanted to win more than anything.
It is strange that in a week the media has made a huge deal out of Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert ripping superstar LeBron James, Steinbrenner would pass away. Steinbrenner was known for publicly calling out players and managers for their performance or perceived lack of effort.
Unlike Gilbert, Steinbrenner was never called a racist for his rants against players, many being black. Some like Reggie Jackson and Dave Winfield were stars of the game. That does not mean “The Boss” avoided his share of controversy.
Steinbrenner was suspended twice by Major League Baseball during his tenure as owner. The first suspension was for his involvement in Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign for illegal campaign contributions and felony obstruction.
MLB commissioner Bowie Kuhn suspended Steinbrenner for two years but it was later reduced to 15 months. In an ironic twist, Steinbrenner was pardoned by Ronald Regan in one of Regan’s last acts as president.
Steinbrenner once again found himself on the wrong side of MLB justice when the story broke that he paid a small time gambler Howie Spira $40,000 to dig up dirt on Dave Winfield in 1990.
Winfield was the highest paid player in MLB making, 23 million over 10 years and was perceived by Steinbrenner to not play hard in a key series against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Steinbrenner said “Where is Reggie Jackson? We need a Mr. October or a Mr. September. Winfield is Mr. May. My big guys are not coming through. The guys who are supposed to carry the team are not carrying the team. They aren't producing. If I don't get big performances out of Winfield, Griffey and Baylor, we can't win”.
Fall out of the statement above has been believed to be the reason that Ken Griffey Jr. stated he would never play for Steinbrenner.
On July 30, 1990 then MLB commissioner Fay Vincent suspended Steinbrenner for life after he learned about Spira and that Steinbrenner failed to pay 300 thousand dollars to Winfield’s foundation, breaking a guarantee in Winfield's contract.
Steinbrenner also had controversy over facial hair and was constantly batting his managers. He hired 22 in this tenure and 15 different mangers, with Billy Martin being hired five times. There is no question that Steinbrenner made it when he became a pop culture icon in the show Seinfeld, commercials, The Simpsons, as well as hosting Saturday Night Live.
For better or for worse, Steinbrenner changed the landscape in Major League Baseball forever. The ultimate owner, Steinbrenner wanted his team to be a winner and was the first owner to build his team in to a global brand.
The one thing that says the most about Steinbrenner’s time as Yankee owner is that when he bought the team it was for 8.8 million. Now the Yankees are worth $1.6 billion, trailing only Manchester United ($1.8 billion) and the Dallas Cowboys ($1.65 billion).
Rest in peace King George, The Boss, you will never be forgotten in American sports.
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