The Boss has passed on.
Upon hearing that Papa Bear Halas passed away, Howard Cosell stated “it was inevitable.” For like the title of a Doors biography states, “No One Here Gets Out Alive.”
The Grim Reaper calls us all.
Today, George Steinbrenner passed away at the age of 80. The Boss was many things. Owner, Patriot, Blustery, Benevolent, Stubborn, Temperamental…I could fill this whole blogpost with only adjectives. Yes, even convicted, as Billy Martin infamously said. He was suspended from baseball twice.
He also was a winner who took a floundering franchise to the greatest heights imaginable.
This isn’t to say I always liked George. I, and many Yankees fans, were quite pissed off at him throughout the late 1970s into his 1990 banishment. Sure, we loved him when he signed Catfish and Reggie, but our love for him turned into scorn and disgust when we perceived him as meddling too much.
The rotating merry-go-round of managers. The Billy Martin yo-yo. Hired, Fired, Hired, Fired. The way he let Yogi go. The Winfield/Spira debacle.
Maybe the Spira banishment opened his eyes. He seemed better from that point on.
But as someone who first started rooting for the Yanks in that mediocre, moribund CBS era, I can say this.
He was a hell of an owner. Yes, there were the “how can you trade Buhner for Ken Phelps?” moments. The moments when he went after the wrong player, such as the Steve Kemps, Phelps, Lance McCullers, Raul Mondesis. The “what were you thinking?” moments. There were the moments when his impatience would manifest itself in seeing good young players blossom elsewhere, like Buhner, Doug Drabek or a Bob Tewksbury. Times you wanted to scream because the Boss’s impatience traded away a young talent.
But there was also the guy who wanted to win. Who would do everything he could to put the best team available on the field. People would say he “bought” championships, but he put himself in the position to do just that.
Isn’t, after all, the Yankees a business?
And businesswise, he did superbly. In 1964, the Yankees were sold by Topping and Webb to CBS for $12 million. After years of not knowing what they were doing (a charge directed at George a lot) and treating the Yanks like a summer replacement series, CBS sold the Yanks for $10 million in January 1973 to a conglomerate fronted by Steinbrenner. They sold it at a loss.
Today the Yanks are valued at $1.5 to $2 BILLION. If that isn’t shrewd business, what is?
Wouldn’t you want to own, work for, or have stock in a business that performed that well over the last 37 years?
As a pre-teen, I remember my favorite player in Murcer. I remember Stottlemyre and Roy White. Yankee fans appreciate and love those guys. But playing alongside them in the CBS years were too many Jake Gibbs, Steve Whitakers, Charlie Smiths, Horace Clarkes. No offense to those players, but sheer mediocrity or worse. Too many years where .500 was an acheivement. Too many years with too few stars on the team. Years in which the Mets took over the town, especially during and after 1969.
The Yanks in those early 70’s pre-Steinbrenner years were boring. Sure, I didn’t realize it at the time because I was young. They weren’t good enough to win, although I rooted for them and cheered my favorites with the blind hope of a pre-teen. It’s nice to dream. It still is after you’ve grown up. But with maturity comes more and more the sense of reality. Those Yanks weren’t good enough to win and be beloved, but they weren’t bad enough to be “lovable losers” like the Cubs or the 1962 Mets. They were “there.” As the Seinfeld quote goes, it was like “rooting for laundry.” The uniform worn by Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle. You were rooting for history because there was no present history being made there. The team, like the Stadium, was crumbling.
It is symbolic that the rise of the Yanks came with the rise (or renovation, if you will) of a new Stadium. Sure there were the two years at Shea. But all of a sudden— within the span of a couple of years, not all at once—there was new ownership, a new manager, a new-look Stadium, and most importantly, a championship team.
Free agency helped, no question about it. The Yanks did have a couple of second place finishes in 1970 and 1974 before free agency started but when free agency did start, the Boss jumped right in—transforming the game, for better or worse. The players weren’t bound by the reserve clause anymore.
One thing about George…he was the ultimate fan. What fan wouldn’t want the best free agent on the market signed to their own team? The thing the Boss had that others didn’t? The resources to put that guy on his team. Blame Steinbrenner all you want for signing free agents, but it was and is a business. He had the capital. He found ways to make MORE capital (YES Network for one). He put that capital back into the business.
In all businesses, there is a difference. People may think of baseball as one business but it is thirty separate businesses. A recent Supreme Court ruling stated the NFL is 32 separate businesses, not one. To survive, those businesses need competition. You need an opponent. But outside the game, you are your own business. One team can do business with Majestic, another with someone else. One can have a deal with Miller (like the Brewers) another with Budweiser (Cardinals).
George put the Yankees first. Yes, the Yankees are a part of MLB. But they are its own business. The soda business has its Cokes and Pepsis. It also has its A-Treats. This is not to knock A-Treat. It is to show that each business has its GIANTS against something small-market.
George made the Yankees the YANKEES again at a time when they seemed mid-market and were losing the city to the Mets. For sure, he didn’t pitch, field or hit. But his drive, his determination to win, some of the very things that were flaws in him, were also strengths.
He cared. That is all we could ask for. For many times, it seemed CBS didn’t. Even under the Topping and Webb years, the ownership seemed detached.
It surely wasn’t detached under George. Even though he had the shipbuilding and other businesses, George wasn’t CBS. George didn’t run the Yankees as if it were one of its branches. George ran the Yanks like it was the whole tree.
Under George, the Yanks got a new minor league stadium and complex. Under him, the old Stadium was renovated and later, a completely new one built. A palace, with amenities to the players they could only have dreamed of.
What the players wanted or needed, he provided. In return, he wanted 100% effort.
We fans are full of bluster ourselves. We just don’t have the money George did.
But all in all, George did wise with the money. Seven WS championships. Eleven pennants. A franchise that barely drew a million was now packing four million in.
I don’t know what the Yanks will do as a tribute. It was already said that a microphone would be put on the uniforms in honor of Bob Sheppard. I don’t know if a black band for George or his initials would also go on the uniform.
There aren’t too many people synonymous by their first name alone. George. You can think Washington. You can think Harrison, but it seems that only goes when paired with John, Paul and Ringo. A certain British king needs III (like George M. Steinbrenner III) after his name to tie him in with the American revolution. For many, when you said George from 1973 on, it meant only one thing—Steinbrenner, not Bush.
So he passes. The Yankees have had Ruppert, have had Topping and Webb, went through CBS and now George. We now see how Hal and Hank do. Hal seems ok so far.
It’s hard to rank the owners. Maybe George is #1, Ruppert 1A. Maybe it is the other way around. But we will definitely see a plaque in Monument Park soon for George Steinbrenner. (We don’t see any for Topping and Webb). The one for Ruppert mentioned that under him, the old place came to be built. It’s only appropriate that the new place honors the boss, for under him, it came to be built.
His legacy may be seen in the Jerry Jones and Mark Cuban’s of today. Some may think of that as a bad thing.
Yes, there is some overhandedness there. There is also the passion and the desire to win. Moreso than in other owners. Sure they say they want to win. George put his money where his mouth was.
As a fan, that is all I could ask for in an owner—that he have the same desire I do for my team to win, and that he does everything in his power to help that team win. In that regard, George was tops.
His benevolence was underappreciated. Marty Appel, in his book about Thurman Munson, wrote of how Steinbrenner reacted to Munson’s death. How he sprung into action. Tommy John today talked of Steinbrenner’s understanding and generosity when faced with a family emergency in 1981.
George could be bullying. His benevolence wasn’t written about too often. When you hear or read about that, you realize that not only did the Yankees lose a special person, but the city of Tampa did also.
Yes, there was the conviction for illegal contributions to the Nixon campaign. But the Boss did love this country. Often, in the wake of tragedies, the Yankees were one of the first teams to donate to relief efforts, and often with more money than any other team.
Yes he paid a lot for his players. He also put the same money, effort, care and dedication into charity work.
The success of this year’s U.S. Winter Olympic team had its origins in when Steinbrenner became involved with the Olympic movement. In the late 1980’s, Winter Olympics often meant Bonnie Blair, an ice skater or two, but not much else. The U.S. might get 12? Winter Olympics medals. Now? Granted there are more events, and some seem X-games-like, but it is a stronger contingent winterwise than say, 25 years ago.
In the end, there was only one “Boss,” George M. Steinbrenner III. There will never be another.
He made the yankees the YANKEES again. May that forever be his legacy.
Rest in peace, George.