I live in the Philadelphia area presently but I was born in the Bronx, not too far from Yankee Stadium, in 1971. I come from a family, all of whom settled in the Bronx, upon coming to this country three generations behind me. The men primarily employed with either with the FDNY or NYPD, the women nurses or housewives (until the burning of the bras in the 60’s). All however, became and were Yankee fans. This fandom was never pushed on future generations. We were born with it.
There are aspects of my being a New Yorker that I couldn’t imagine living without. George Steinbrenner is one of those. I have never known New York without him. He bought the Yankees from CBS in January of 1973 for $8.8M, building the franchise and it’s holdings to a value close to $1.6B by the time of his death, today, July 13, 2010. He was a man who you hated or loved, and quite often Yankee fans especially fell into both categories. The bottom line was he was a business man who loved his product. He did what he could do, to your liking or not, to build on the brand of the most storied sports team in history. Simply put, The Boss built it to win. But underneath, to what most would call a ruthless business man at times, was a man who also believed in giving, as a member of the community, and as a friend to many.
Most knew Mr. Steinbrenner as an outspoken and controversial man for many years of ownership, where he was more known to make the back pages of the New York papers for his volatile relationships with his managers (he fired Billy Martin five times), illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign (Ronald Reagan pardoned him on January 19, 1989), and his payment of $40k to a small time Vegas gambler for dirt on Dave Winfield, in which he was banned for life from baseball in 1990, by then Commissioner Faye Vincent (he was later reinstated in 1993). The 1970’s saw the rise of baseball free agency which Mr. Steinbrenner took full opportunity of with his first major signing of Catfish Hunter in 1975 to a $640K annual salary. This made Hunter the highest paid player in baseball, with a salary that was reportedly 6 times greater than his annual salary the previous season. Other players, of course, came to follow earning the title of highest paid player including Dave Winfield in 1980 and most recently Alex Rodriguez in 2007. Because of signings like these, many blame Mr. Steinbrenner for the inflation of ticket prices and the total cost of going to games across Major League Baseball, an opinion that I will not dismiss, but this was a product of the times that we were to see in the industry.
Mr. Steinbrenner was well-known for his high expectations and had no problem voicing them and even calling out players publically. His high standards did not start or end with winning, but was instilled even in the appearance of his players. They wore the uniform of the New York Yankees. There was pride and history to uphold. He would not accept less than what he thought was right even if he had to bench one of his premier players, which he did to Don Mattingly in 1991 for his long, mullet style haircut. Mattingly again tested those waters by growing a goatee in 1995. It was ultimately was trimmed to his signature mustache while he played his last season for the franchise.
After his reinstatement in 1993, Mr. Steinbrenner took more of what you can call (for Mr. Steinbrenner) a back seat approach to Yankee operations. He took more value in farming home-grown players such as Bernie Williams, less likely trading them away and a rebirth of the franchise was witnessed, and they were back in the AL East race for the pennant. In 1994, the Yankees led the AL East until the strike that canceled the rest of the season. In 1995, the Yankees returned to contention, reaching the playoffs for the first time since 1981. During these years of reinvention, Mr. Steinbrenner expanded the business, forming exclusive contracts with companies such as Adidas and selling cable rights to MSG Network, which due to dispute led to the formation of YES Network in 2002. He was a pioneer and whether other MLB franchises liked it or not, they ultimately followed suit. It was a business model that worked and worked well. He eventually “retired” in 2006, leaving ownership operations to his sons Hank and Hal.
To those outside the circle of Yankee fans, underneath the layer of “the bottom line,” Mr. Steinbrenner was a humorous man and generous man. He gave not just to the community, but also to those he cared about, including players. He was a man who believed in second chances (even 3rd and 4th chances with Billy Martin), giving Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden jobs when other teams or businesses affiliated with MLB would not due to their prior histories, especially with law enforcement. He gave considerably to charities (way too many to even list) and helped fund schools, other educational initiatives and community programs, especially in the Tampa, Florida area where he resided. He was a man who made light of himself on many occasions, whether it was primetime television and movies (portrayals and cameos), commercials and even an appearance as host of Saturday Night Live in 1990.
What I have seen in my lifetime as a Yankee fan under the ownership of Mr. Steinbrenner is this:
- Sixteen American League East Division Titles
- Eleven American League Pennants
- Seven World Series Championships
- One incredibly proud city called New York
- Millions of incredibly proud fans
Mr. Steinbrenner was a special man to many and a man who most fans of other teams wished they had as an owner. He knew how to build champions.
Thank you, Mr. Steinbrenner. You will be missed.
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