George Steinbrenner was stubborn
and tempestuous, an emotional powder keg who often went kaboom without a warning.
That kind of emotions defined the Steinbrenner persona. He was fast
to act and react because he cared. He cared like few other owners have in the
history of American team sports.
His passion helped the New
York Yankees become the most valuable franchise in sports. His passion fueled
seasons after seasons of success. He was candid about what he demanded from his
ballplayers, for his fans and from himself.
Above all else, George
Steinbrenner -- "The Boss," as foes and friends alike called him -- wanted to
win. Is that such a horrid legacy for a man like him to have etched on his
What words will make it on
that tombstone is not my place to guess. I never met Steinbrenner, which was my
loss. But I do know that sports, the team he built in his image and its fans
will never forget him or what he stood for. Steinbrenner, a real-life Yankee
Doodle Dandy who was born on the Fourth of July, died this morning after a
heart attack. He was 80.
His 80 years were a
whirlwind, packed with more emotional highs than lows. Now, Steinbrenner did
have his share of the latter, including with the baseball team he often lorded
over like Attila the Hun. He showed no patience for mediocrity or for managers and
GMs who produced it. They would fall in and out of favor with Steinbrenner on
his whim. Listening to them, you might think that Steinbrenner preferred to
manage the Yankees himself rather than leave the team in somebody else's hands.
I doubt that was the case, though. His bluster notwithstanding, he understood his role too well, which was to open his wallet, buy the best talent and bring it to New York. Sure, The Boss meddled some, more than his managers wanted him to. His meddling served as a constant voice screaming into their ears. The voice was telling them over and over and over and ... : take that talent and win with it.
Win, and Steinbrenner had no quarrel with what his managers or players did. Lose, and they faced his wrath.
That's a fair bargain, however. For unlike many franchises, the Yankees under Steinbrenner had no excuses for losing. They had an owner who never hesitated to buy them the best. They also had an owner who stood on center stage. Make no mistake, the Bronx Bombers were Steinbrenner's. They were made in his image: hard driving, ruthless and impassioned. They enjoyed a good fight, although not nearly as much as The Boss did.
In a childhood shaped by the Great Depression, Steinbrenner learned his values from those hard times and from the war years of the 1940s. Not that he grew up in poverty; he didn't. His father was a shipping magnate whose company moved freight through the Great Lakes, and his deep pockets opened opportunities for his son.
But George Steinbrenner, an Ohio native, didn't thrive off his father's reputation, because as successful as his father was, he accumulated none of the wealth, the power and prestige his son did.
And the son's power and wealth in the shipping business never brought him the prestige that owning the Yankees did. He bought the team in 1973 from CBS, and he put his imprint on it straightaway. He soon returned the Yankees, the most storied name in team sports, to prominence.
He signed big-name talent to big-dollar contracts, and Hall of Famers like Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter and Dave Winfield turned Steinbrenner's dollars into World Series wins.
As much as anything else, those World Series wins (seven in total) will be what most people will remember about Steinbrenner. As they mourn his passing, they will forgive the man's fits of rage and his public chastising of his stars. All of that is trivial, the byproduct of his longing to win at whatever he did.
Winning drove George Steinbrenner. It will be, as much as anything else, the legacy he leaves. People might not have liked his politics or his personality or his power, but men like him often face gossipmongers and critics. Yet even his critics have to admit The Boss ran a baseball organization as well as anyone else in baseball history, and he did so his way.