Remembering "The Boss"
George Steinbrenner was a polarizing figure. Two different authors could write two different books and it would be two different versions, but both would be right. Not to many people can have that effect, but Mr. Steinbrenner did. He just turned 80 on the 4th of July, but on July 13th, he passed away at his home in Tampa, Florida.
Many baseball fans (OK, people who dislike the Yankees) say he bought his way to 7 World Series titles. They say he had an unfair advantage because of the YES Network and the New York media market. They say he was to demanding and didn't care about anything except winning at all costs (pun intended).
I disagree on all accounts.
"The Boss" bought the Yankees for $10 million dollars in 1973 from CBS Inc. He only used a little over $100,000 of his own money in that transaction (with 13 other businessmen). But these weren't the Yankees of the past with Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Ford, Berra and Mantle, they were a team that wasn't very good. They were in the lower half of the AL (and later the AL East). In the 38 years under his ownership, he took that $10 million dollar investment and turned it into a 1.6 billion dollar empire (trailing only Manchester United, $1.8 billion, and the Dallas Cowboys, $1.65 billion for the richest in pro sports according to Forbes). Mr. Steinbrenner also had a vision off the field for his team and their revenue. He revolutionized the
Many people criticize they way he handled free agency and the amount of money he used to land the most prized players. They say no other team has a chance because the Yankees have the most money and they get everybody (and anybody) they want. But Mr. Steinbrenner did everything in his power to make the Yankees better, even if that meant he over spent for players. He would spend the money he made from the previous season and put that money back into his team. He never used the Yankees for a tax break (unlike L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling) and he was never accused of not trying to win, all he cared about (besides breathing) was making the Yankees a winner. As a fan, ask yourself, what would be the #1 quality you would want for your teams owner, or even if you were the owner? I would bet a dozen doughnuts that doing whatever it took (within the rules) to give your team the best chance to win would be at the top. That is exactly what he did and better than almost any other owner in pro sports.
But those "big money moves" didn't always pay off , in fact, the Yankees didn't start their latest dynasty until he was banned for 2½ years for paying (self-described gambler) Howie Spira to dig up negative information on Dave Winfield. During that time the teams starving farm system, which was lacking talent due to trades for big name players, was getting replenished.
That was his second suspension from MLB. He also was suspended 15 months (but he served 9 months) in 1974 after his guilty plea to conspiring to make illegal contributions to President Richard Nixon's re-election campaign. Ronald Regan pardoned him 15 years later. Mr. Steinbrenner admitted he made mistakes "I haven't always done a good job, and I haven't always been successful," Steinbrenner said in 2005. "But I know that I have tried."
Some people will talk about all the managers he had during his tenure as owner. Mr. Steinbrenner employed 22 different managers, including Billy Martin who managed the Yankees five times. But since 1995 the Yankees have had only 2 skippers, Joe Torre and Joe Girardi (not to mention 6 World Series titles). But Martin, and his brilliant baseball mind, was his guy. The two men longed for each other when they were a part and couldn't wait to get away from each other when they were together. I'll never forget when Martin died in a car crash on Christmas Day 1989, I was 12 and was saddened and shocked. I think Steinbrenner took it harder than most people realized. Martin was an alcoholic and I think Mr. Steinbrenner (looking back) wished he had done more to help him and maybe was his greatest failure. He once said "I loved Billy Martin. I thought Billy Martin would be a great manager. The one thing that hurt Billy Martin was personal habits."
When the Yankees started their magical run in the mid-90's, they were led by home grown talent. Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettite were paired with great clubhouse guys like Paul O'Neil, Giardi, Tino Martinez, Scott Brosius and led by Torre. The Boss took a lower profile and trusted his baseball men to do their jobs and it paid off with four World Series titles in 5 years (including 3 in a row) and five titles over all with "The Core 4". It was a drastic change from the role he took when the Yankees won their first two titles under him during "The Bronx Zoo" era. During that time he signed Reggie Jackson (against Martin and former GM Gabe Paul) and also added Don Gullet via free agency. He also traded for Bucky Dent, LaMarr Hoyt and Mike Torres during the 1977 season. In the next few years the Yankees added Dave Righetti, Cat Fish Hunter, Tommy John, Luis Tiant, Goose Gossage, Winfield and Ricky Henderson via trades or free agency, but the Yankees only one 1 title (1978). The Yankees of the 1980s, led by All-Star first baseman Don Mattingly, had the most total wins of any major league team but failed to win a World Series (the first such team since the 1910s).
"The Boss" upset many baseball fans for many different reasons and many accused him of being heartless. But to those that knew him best knew the kind of man he really was. He was a man that often anonymously donated money to people. He also had every manager he ever fired on payroll long after they were let go. In fact martin was still on payroll until the day he died. He paid off Dick Howser's home after he tragically passed away, and the two men had feuded for years after Howser was fired by Mr. Steinbrenner.
What George Steinbrenner did was demand perfection and excellence from his employees. He was the General of the Yankees. He admired General Patton and he was MLB's version of Patton. If you were to ask most WWII vets they will say they served in Europe or the Pacific, but those who served under Patton will say "I served under Patton in Europe". He had that type of impact on his employees. Was he demanding? Yes. Was he hard to work for? Yes. But did it make you a better employee knowing that your owner was involved in every fascist of his franchise? Yes.
It was because he cared about the perception of Yankees and the tradition of baseball's most treasured franchise. "That's what you're in business for. You try to make a success." he said, and he was right. His business was to win as many titles as he possibly could, just like any other owner, except he put his money where his mouth was, unlike other owners.
"The Boss" was one of a kind. He marched to the beat of his own drum and didn't care if he ruffled any feathers. His sole focus was to make sure the Yankees were always in a position to compete for another World Series title and the fans had a team they could watch in "The Fall Classic". He once said that "Owning the Yankees is like owning the Mona Lisa." and he was right. No team has the type of history the Yankees have. But one thing is for sure, he is a major part of that history. Mr. Steinbrenner could go down as the most influential Yankee not named Babe Ruth.
He is on the "Mount Rushmore" of pro sports owners. He could go down as the greatest owner in MLB or even pro Sports history. He deserves to be in the MLB Hall of Fame, although he disagreed. He said "I don't want to be in the Hall of Fame. I don't think owners should be", but Mr. Steinbrenner, when someone meant as much to the game (and his team) as you, your bust will be placed with the other baseball greats.
When news broke about his passing a few things went through my mind. The first was it was a sad day for baseball, the Yankees fans and the Yankees. Secondly I knew that I have been so lucky to have been alive to have witnessed an owner that cared as much (if nit more) than the most passionate fans in the world. Third, I thought it has been a hard 3 days for Yankees fans, players and employees, not just losing "The Boss" but also legendary P.A. announcer Bob Sheppard on Sunday. Finally, I thought it was fitting that the last team he put together won the World Series.
Thank you Mr. Steinbrenner. Heaven just added their P.A. announcer with Mr. Sheppard and the owner that will make things a little more interesting with you. Now Yankees legends such as Ruth, DiMaggio, Gehrig, Mantle, Rizzuto, Martin, Munson, Maris, Dickey and McCarthy have another person to watch over the Bronx Bombers.
Thank you Mr. Steinbrenner for caring as much as the fans do about the Yankees. For putting a product on the field that Yankees fans are proud to support. Thank you for being the best owner in baseball history. There will only be one "Boss", and he is George Steinbrenner III.