Wednesday, July 14, 2010


George Steinbrenner (from Esquire)
George Steinbrenner’s passing marks the death of a titan. No team owner’s presence in recent history had a bigger impact on sports nor was remotely as successful. Love him or hate him, only a fool would not respect his ability for which he is known far beyond baseball as “the Boss.”

Making his fortunes in the shipping business, at 43 years old, George Steinbrenner purchased the world’s most legendary sports franchise, the New York Yankees, a team that had lost direction and was floundering miserably in 1973. The cost when the deal was closed was only 8.8 million dollars. Immediately, attention was drawn to making Yankees Stadium worthy of a championship team. In 1974 and 1975, the Yankees played at Shea Stadium while Yankee Stadium was rebuilt into a hall of champions.

After the 1973 season ended with baseball executive, Gabe Paul now in charge, the first of many managers, Bill Virdon was hired as team skipper. The 1973 roster only included Sparky Lyle, Thurman Munson, Greg Nettles, and Roy White who’d play on the AL Championship 1976 team.

1974 would ad Chris Chambliss at first base and Lou Piniella to the out field. Dick Tidrow joined the pitching staff. 1975 brought Steinbrenner’s first big headline maker, the free agent signing of Catfish Hunter to the pitching staff. Having been fired by the Texas Rangers in late July, that August, the Yankees hired an infamous former Yankee, Billy Martin to manage the team.

1976 brought in Willie Randolph at 2B and Fred Stanley as his DP partner, Mickey Rivers and Oscar Gamble joined Piniella and White in the outfield. Doyle Alexander, Ken Holtzman, and Grant Jackson joined the Yankees in a huge trade which helped reload the Baltimore Orioles for their next successful run. While the Yankees dominated the regular season, they were no match for the Cincinnati Reds whose “Big Red Machine” knocked out the Yankees in a four game sweep. Nevertheless, George Steinbrenner was now a household name. After the World Series defeat, Mr. Steinbrenner signed Reggie Jackson and added Goose Gossage in the bullpen – the result: two consecutive world titles. The Yankees appeared to have a dynasty, but tragedy struck the following season on August 2, when catcher Thurman Munson died attempting to land a private aircraft in Ohio. The Yankees would return to the World Series in 1981 to lose to the Dodgers in six games, and though it would be fourteen years until the Yankees would see post season action again losing the 1995 divisional series to Seattle. The post season drought lasted almost the entire career of Don Mattingly who’d retire after the 1995 season.

In 1996, George Steinbrenner’s Yankees won the World Series against the Atlanta Braves, made the playoffs losing in the first round to Cleveland in ’97, but then the Yankees gained a posture not seen since the era before the playoffs with World Series Championships in 1998, 1999, and 2000. The Yankees lost the World Series in seven games but would not win the World Series until 2009, in their new home, the New Yankees Stadium across the street. While not winning the World Series from 2002 to 2008, 2008 was the only year the Yankees did not make the playoffs. They lost the 2003 World Series to the Florida Marlins in six games. They’d also lose the League Championship to the Red Sox in seven games in 2004.

From 1995 to 2009, George Steinbrenner’s reign was one of the most successful runs in sports history far more complicated than early dynasties complicated with two levels of playoffs. His history was not always glorious found guilty of illegal contributions to Richard Nixon and hiring a private agent to tail star player, Dave Winfield. Some would argue his spending habits damaged the game, but his goal was to win and he used baseball’s salary structure to his advantage.

George Steinbrenner was one of the first owners in sports who truly embraced the media age eventually leading to the Yankees creating their own television network for broadcasting Yankees games, YES, in 2002.

Of course, no tribute to “The Boss” would be complete not mentioning his relationship with Yankees on again/off again manager, Billy Martin. The two seemed to have a pact to drive each other stark raving mad; though the one time Yankees bad boy second baseman did much to restore the Yankees reputation as the big bad bullies in baseball.

The Steinbrenner/Martin relationship and the entire saga of the 1978 Yankees season was chronicled in Jonathan Mahler’s, Ladies and Gentlemen: The Bronx Is Burning made a miniseries by ESPN in 2007. Oliver Pratt’s portrayal of Steinbrenner made the Yankees owner look quite like the arch villain in much of the program.

George Steinbrenner was a huge contributor to various charities the extent to which might never been known as much of his work was done confidentially. His sons Hank and Hal have assumed operation of the Yankees.

Fans can criticize Steinbrenner all they like, but what sports fan wouldn’t love to have a local franchise set such a high standard for winning and back up that standard with the money to do so. His death leaves a huge void in sports. Jerry Jones and Mark Cuban don’t come close.

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