Tuesday, July 13, 2010

George M. Steinbrenner: 1930-2010

New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner died this morning at the age of 80. I knew this day would come soon, but it doesn't make it any less sad. Steinbrenner was literally the only Yankee owner I remember. If Bomber announcer Bob Sheppard, who died just two days ago, was the Voice of the Yankees, The Boss was the team's heart and soul.

And having Steinbrenner, who had such a larger-than-life person, in charge of the team I rooted for helped shape the way I view sports. I grew up reading the New York tabloids, but I didn't know enough at that age to realize that the Boss/Billy/Reggie squabbles I read about every day were not exactly normal for baseball. But what I did get from that was how much Steinbrenner cared about the Yankees - and about winning. Unlike owners who are content to just use teams as cash cows, George was all about the rings, even if it meant that spending extra on the players - both on salaries and amenties - might take away a little from the bottom line.

There are so many memories I have of Steinbrenner - from the fiery Bronx Zoo years, to him being almost like a benevolent father figure in the recent dynasty years. The last great memory of The Boss I have was in April 2004, when fans serenaded him with "Thank you, George" and "We love you, George" chants on Opening Day as he was interviewed by Warner Wolf. The Boss got teary-eyed as he pointed to the bleachers and said:
"This is the people's team. The desire to win was instilled on me by the people, like those people out there."
It's gut-wrenching to think of the later years in Steinbrenner's life, with all the health problems, and what he and his family went through. My late father had similar health issues, so it really rings home to me. When my dad died, it was hard to take, but he hadn't been himself for several years. The last time I saw him alive, lying in a hospital bed in my parents' home, the ravages of aging on his brain were so bad that he literally did not know who I was. But when my dad died, I could remember the good times, and what he once was, and not just remember those sad days in the twilight of his life.

I hope people remember the good times with George Steinbrenner today. The owner who would cry tears of joy when his team won the World Series. The man who was willing to give troubled players like Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden second chances. And the generous - and often anonymous - benefactor of countless charitable endeavors.

Yes, I know The Boss wasn't perfect. But there's a time and place to talk about that, and today isn't it. Today, I just want to say, "Thank you, George" for making the Yankees great again. And again.

What do you think? Tell us about it!


Julie said...

Well said Lisa. Such a sad day ~ not only for his family, the Yankee Organization, and Yankee fans, but all of baseball. Godspeed George - Thanks for the memories!!

Uncle Mike said...

As I said in my own blog, I'll never understand him... but he was a man of monumental achievements, and it must say something about him that he could never stay mad at anyone. Not Billy Martin, not Reggie Jackson, not Yogi Berra... not even, apparently, Richard Nixon.

He loved New York, yet never put down other cities, not even his own oft-mocked hometown of Cleveland. When somebody was great against his team, he admitted it, admiring excellence no matter who produced it. And while he seemed like a nasty old boss, he did stay true to his father's advice: "Never ask anyone to work any harder than you do" -- and no one can say George didn't work hard.

I just finished reading the new biographies of Reggie, Roger Maris and Thurman Munson -- although I don't think I'll be reading Bill Madden's book about George. My favorite story about George involves Maris, how he thought Roger was treated unfairly, and how he wanted to bring him back to Yankee Stadium.

Roger was afraid of getting booed at The Stadium all over again. With some reason. George was sure that wouldn't be the case, that enough time had passed that the haters had either died off or changed their minds, and said, "What will it take to bring you back?" Roger's older sons were, by then, attending a Catholic high school in Florida, and it needed a new ballfield. Would George donate the money for it? "Done!"

And it was, and Opening Day 1978 remains one of my favorite Yankee memories, with Roger getting his just due at last, raising that World Championship flag with Mickey Mantle, and Reggie hitting that homer off Wilbur Wood and the field getting buried in Reggie Bars.

The people who hate George have less capacity for forgiveness than he did -- but how many of them wish the owner of their favorite team was as devoted to winning as he was? A baseball team is a civic treasure, and he never forgot that the team's glory is the city's glory, too. New York has two Major League Baseball teams whose ownerships are always trying to win -- and that is George's biggest legacy.

Anonymous said...

No disrespect intended, especially towards those no longer with us, but baseball is better off now without him around. This man almost single-handedly corrupted our national pastime, all for his own glory and money. Uh, sounds more than a little selfish to me.

There is a right way and a wrong way to get the job done, and he chose the wrong way too many times to count. Does the name Howard Spira ring a bell? George should have been banned permanently right then and there, just like Pete Rose was. Why does a rich owner get allowed back into the game, and not the player? MONEY. Corruption of the commissioner. You name it, if it was wrong, George did it.

"When somebody was great against his team, he admitted it, admiring excellence no matter who produced it". Yeah? So that explains why he couldn't even say the name "Red Sox" but instead referred to them as "the Boston team" after the Red Sox dismantled the Yankers in the 2004 ALCS. Doesn't sound very gracious or admirable to me. Sounds like the hateful words of a poor loser and a sore loser.

Did he change the game of baseball? Absolutely. In so many bad ways that it far offsets anything good that he may have done.

His legacy is not "New York has two Major League Baseball teams whose ownerships are always trying to win". His legacy is: "I have to win, I always win, win, win, win. I don't have to play by the rules, I have to win".

Jillian. Nerd Queen. Awesome Personified. said...

Are Mets fans allowed to comment here? (I kid, I kid. A little weak attempt at levity)

Very sad to hear about Mr. Steinbrenner's passing.

Whatever anyone wants to say about his tactics, the man cared about his club and cared about winning. A philanthropist for whom the the giving was more important than the press he could get for it. A man loved by the people who knew him and worked with him, even if they didn't like him all the time. A man who changed this sport we love. I agree, Uncle Mike, with your take on his greatest legacy.

Rest in Peace.

Uncle Mike said...

Thank you, Jillian, for saying what the Met fan above should have said, and would have said had he one-tenth the class of George Steinbrenner.

For what it's worth, I'd like to see Mrs. Payson and Gil Hodges in the Hall of Fame, as well as George.

BrooklynGirl said...

The man cared. He wasn't perfect (and who is) but he cared. He wanted to win. And he did. As a fan since 1968, I’ve enjoyed seeing my favorite baseball team enjoy tremendous success over the years (although I believe that the "Bronx Zoo Yankees" were more fun that this current run of Yankees teams). I did not like it when he would demonize the Bronx in an attempt to force the city for concessions and to accommodate his wishes; many of his negative characterizations of the city included the very people who were either low level service or seasonal employees and don't have the privilege to fly away to lovely Tampa when the season ends. But it appears that in recent years either he or his successors have been somewhat more caring about their neighbors and that's always a good thing. May you rest in peace George Steinbrenner; I hope you now will get to enjoy your team from the best seats in the house.

cficarra said...

People who crab about Steinbrenner "buying" Yankee championships overlook how many of his great signings chose to stay with the team. A good thing to remember, in an era where the real game is starting to look more and more like fantasy baseball.

cficarra said...

People who crab about Steinbrenner "buying" Yankee championships overlook how many of his great signings chose to stay with the team. A good thing to remember, in an era where the real game is starting to look more and more like fantasy baseball.

Anonymous said...

How many other teams can afford to hang onto their high-priced free agents? Not many. Do you think Jeter, or Posada, or A-Roid, or Rivera, or anyone else is giving the Yankers the old hometown discount, just to stay in the Bronx. Absolutely not. This is how the Yankers buy their trophies, by outspending everyone else for the talent they want. This is NOT what they call competitive balance. If the Yankers had to give up half of their roster every year (and not just the scrub players, but guys like Jeter, Rivera, A-Roid), they wouldn't have 27 trophies, they would be lucky to have 2.

Jillian. Nerd Queen. Awesome Personified. said...

Though is is hardly the place for this argument, as this post should be respectfully honoring Mr. Steinbrenner, but I have to respond:

Urinalfresh23, if it only takes money to win championships, then a lot more teams would have a lot more championships. This includes the Yankees, who couldn't buy a championship between 2001 and last season (losing to smaller market and smaller payroll teams in the process), the Mets, the Red Sox, the Dodgers, the CUBS, etc.

It's not just about money, it's about leadership, luck, skill, and chemistry. Paying someone one a bunch of money doesn't make them great - a lesson my dear Mets seem to finally be learning *fingers crossed*

A lot of the problems that face smaller teams isn't just that they don't HAVE money, but that they don't want to spend it. They have leadership that simple doesn't care to contend. Look at Pittsburgh. Then look at the Marlins, who have a ridiculously small payroll, but still took care to pony up for Hanley Ramirez. Look at the Twins, who have less than half of the Yankees payroll, but can keep their free agents because of the culture they built.

The beautiful thing about this sport is that any team can win. They really can. Do I think MLB could use some financial adjustment? Absolutely. But to think that all you need is a checkbook to win a championship is ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

Jillian, the problem I have with your statement "if it only takes money to win championships, then a lot more teams would have a lot more championships" is this:

No matter what any team would be willing to pay to buy a championship, the Yankers will pay more. Because they can. Not because they should. A favorite expression of mine is "just because you CAN, doesn't mean you SHOULD".

Baseball's financial structure is seriously broken. Bud Selig needs to be the driving force behind a concerted effort to completely overhaul baseball's finances so that every team has the same degree of access to the best talent, and you don't see a stream of mercenaries lining up every year waiting for their fat contract from the Yankers.

You are right in that a lot of owners simply don't WANT to spend money on their teams, that needs to be corrected. Just like spending too much on your team also needs to be corrected.

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