No Tears for George Steinbrenner Outside of New York and Tampa
The nuns who came equipped with long oak pointers and steel edged rulers used to say that you must always speak well of the recently deceased.
In fear that one of them might come back from the dead and reinforce their point, I left this column sitting on my computer for 24 hours.
That’s long enough.
There are many tears being shed in New York and Tampa over the death of George Steinbrenner on Tuesday morning.
Some of those tears are well-placed.
There are facets of a man’s life that are never made public until his death, such as Steinbrenner’s generosity towards charities.
For all of the good “The Boss” did with his charitable works, his stubbornness and overheated will to win did permanent damage to baseball—the game that he professed to love to his dying days.
The New York Yankees are the jewel of a tarnished crown—flush with cash, players, fans, and championships thanks to Steinbrenner's reign—much of those are ill-received gains, though. They are the Manchester United of American sports; the team with enough money to beat the rest of their support into submission.
Steinbrenner was, first and foremost, a businessman. He understood that teams in New York have an access to revenue streams that are not available anywhere else on Earth.
He mined those streams relentlessly and did everything possible to build the highest barriers around those revenues. Steinbrenner might have been generous with his money, but never with the rest of baseball.
The YES Network might be the greatest example of him at his worst. The network has a very small geographic footprint, but it doesn’t need square miles to accomplish its task. It sucks ad revenues out of the still cash rich New York market and lines the Yankees' pockets. The YES Network alone has more revenue than several bottom-feeder teams combined. And despite the fact that those teams appear on the network on a regular basis, they share in none of the booty.
Steinbrenner turned the New York business community into his own cash cow.
With hundreds of Fortune 500 companies within a short subway ride of his ballpark, Steinbrenner bet that the titans of industry would pay too much to see Yankee baseball.
He was right when he bet on $2500 seats in his new ballpark and, again, he made sure that he kept all of that money at home.
It tells you all you need to know about the competitive balance in baseball, and that the Yankees have more ticket revenues in a seven-game homestand than the Pittsburgh Pirates or Kansas City Royals have in an entire season.
The giants of football saw the future and the greater good of their game.
George Halas, Art Rooney, and Wellington Mara pooled their lucrative TV contracts and split the money evenly all of the way to Green Bay and back in order to make sure that the NFL had a bright future.
They did such a good job of putting the needs of the league ahead of their own that the NFL now does quite nicely, even without a team in Los Angeles.
Try and imagine baseball without two teams in New York and Los Angeles. Steinbrenner didn’t see baseball the same way. He saw the game as his personal playground and was more than willing to break rules and bully his way to the top.
He made sure that he was the kingmaker of the game. Nobody got to the commissioner’s office without his blessing. Bud Selig was his lapdog and it didn’t really matter that everyone knew it.
In New York, the Steinbrenner legacy is a Yankee organization that takes its advantages and wins.
Outside of New York, the Steinbrenner legacy is the scorched earth of a game financially broken.
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