It may be just a coincidence that the birthday of the most important and transcendent figure of America’s pastime, coincides with that of the entire magnificent nation, on the Fourth of July; but it’s telling in a way. George Steinbrenner III took a franchise which had been an after-thought for years, and turned them into the most relevant, winningest and certainly most important organization in all of sports.
It’s no wonder that after dying of a heart attack this morning, people are not mourning The Boss. They are truly celebrating his life chocked full of accomplishments. And rightly so.
Love the Yankees or hate them, if you were a baseball fan from 1973 until 2006 – when George gave up control of his team to his sons Hank and Hal Steinbrenner – you cared about them. And that was largely due to the aura their illustrious owner brought the club. So much so that non-fans, more interested in diamond jewelry than diamonds you played on, knew who George Steinbrenner was. Even your wives and sisters understood what the Yankees meant to our culture.
The Yankees meant prestige. They meant significance. They meant power. The Yankees meant New York City, and New York City defines America. Hard work, the city which never sleeps, bright lights, fame and fortune; glitz. Think of New York and then think of power, they are one in the same. The long-time Yankee leader breathed power. It’s one of the reasons that before Joe Torre came along, to manage the Yanks in 1996, Steinbrenner had gone through 20 managers in 23 seasons. Things were to be done HIS way.
Talk about a lack of job security.
But while one could always question the effectiveness of his decision making during his tenure, no one could question Steinbrenner’s will to win. He was an owner who understood that the best way to make money in sports, was by putting a hot product on the field. Compete, WIN and watch the cash cows stampede through the gates and into your wallet.
For a guy who purchased a majority share of his team in 1973 for $10-million, it’s nothing short of remarkable that 37 years later, it is valued somewhere in the neighborhood of $2-billion. Try to wrap your brain around those two numbers for a moment.
If you continually make wise investments, you will be rewarded.
And Steinbrenner was also rewarded with rings and trophies from the late ’90s Yankee dynasty. Joe Torre, Paul O’Neill, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada, headed teams that ended up winning The Boss four World Series. And while Steinbrenner had fielded two previous winners in 1977 and 1978, it was those ’90s clubs that ultimately secured his legacy. In the public eye, those years took him from egocentric loony, who couldn’t hold to his commitments, to universally revered WINNER.
I remember the good ol’ days of sports fandom, before fantasy sports came and clouded everything up. Back when good was good and bad was bad. And the Yankees were BAD. If you pulled for pinstripes, well, you might as well have been singing Satan’s praises, because George Steinbrenner walked around with horns and a pitchfork.
He was the thief who’d steal your best players in the dark of the night, with promises of riches; like the Pied Piper whistling a lustful tune into the wind. Seemingly no one could resist Steinbrenner’s wallet-flute.
It’s up for debate as to whether or not The Boss’s free spending ways were good or bad for baseball. Believe me, a number of words higher than Rickey Williams in Jamaica, have been wasted on that debate. But what cannot be disputed is that nearly every other fan, from each of the other 29 MLB teams, would have loved to have had their owners spend like Steinbrenner.
The soap boxes have been stood upon by megaphone squawking, politic-pushers, lambasting Steinbrenner for ruining the game which we love. For hogging all the talent. For tanking gamesmanship. It’s been SO unfair to the Twins, Royals, A’s, Reds, Astros, Brewers, Marlins and so on; but those very same loud mouths who have sworn to their graves, how proud and righteous their franchises have been for not doing the same, are flat-out liars. Most of them anyway. Because if their teams had a sudden, unexpected girth of an extra $100-million lying around the team front office, you bet your baloney those fair play defenders would have turned on their stance in a heartbeat, urging their owners to bring in higher priced talent.
That’s just the American way. Like it or not. We want the best, we want it NOW, and we want it consistently. Anything short of that is failure.
No, George Steinbrenner’s Yankees didn’t win all 33 titles from 1977-2006, – not for lack of trying – but the nation knew who the most significant franchise in all of sports was. The sports heartbeat of our country:
The New York Yankees.
George Steinbrenner’s New York Yankees.
Love ’em or hate ’em, you have to respect ’em. Because like America, all Steinbrenner wanted to ever do, was stand alone atop the mountain. Gazing out at everything he rose above.
And what a glorious view he has.