Tuesday, July 13, 2010
What Sucks...The Reaper
In the 40 years or so since purchasing the Yankees, George Steinbrenner became an enormous presence in New York and the news of his death Tuesday morning in Tampa, set the media off playing non-stop tributes and commemorations of his life and career.
As public figure, Steinbrenner was complicated to say the least. In no way the saint he is being made out to be in the retrospectives played on ESPN and YES, he however, in light a numerous stories of his NON-publicized generosity, is also not the monster one would think either.
Put proper perspective, Steinbrenner’s obit should play like dueling banjos, or in this case, “dueling obits” where “plus marks” and “minus marks” denote what’s good and bad. Here goes…
George M. Steinbrenner, one of 20th century’s biggest a-holes and worst bosses (-) who also never for one second flinched when it came to spending money to make his team better (+), died earlier today in Tampa, Florida at the age of 80.
Steinbrenner was born on the 4th of July and he and the people who worked for him never let anyone forget it (-) as if it made him more patriotic than you because his mom and dad “did it” sometime in early October, 1929. He was a native of Cleveland (-) where his father, born of German descent, owned a shipbuilding company and apparently tough-loved George into a dude who would at one point fire 20 managers in 23 seasons (-).
A guy who seriously rocked the “turtle-neck/ sports coat” look (+/-), Steinbrenner in many ways was the perfect New York villain (+). He was the loud-mouth boss who never played the game yet, spoke with extreme authority about how the game should be played and how the people who worked for him should look.
Early in his career as an owner, he furiously backed the idea that a player’s rights should be held exclusively by the team he plays for, and dealt to anyone they wanted at their pleasure, also known as the “reserve clause” (-). When players, such as Curt Flood and Andy Messersmith courageously over time came forward in protest of this, setting the wheels spinning for modern free agency, Steinbrenner along with all the other owners braced against it. However, when it became clear that free agency was going to be a reality, no one embraced the concept of using it to better a team more (+).
Early on in his tenure as owner, the Yankees were a team a long way from their glory days of the 50’s and early 60’s. Steinbrenner’s genius was simply going out and getting the best players available on the market to make his team better. In 1975 he did that when he signed Catfish Hunter (+). By 1976, the Yankees were in the World Series.
After losing the World Series to the Reds in 1976, George went out and signed Reggie Jackson (+). The Yankees won the Series in 1977 (fueled by incredible play by Reggie) and then again in 1978 when they made one of the greatest comebacks in the history of the sport.
Steinbrenner’s incredibly abrasive style led to the habitual firing and hiring of managers. At times, this was comical and created the Bronx Zoo like atmosphere. Hiring and firing Billy Martin lead to some great baseball moments, and a few very funny Miller Lite Commercials. However when Martin’s tenures entered the “4th” and “5th” reigns, the laughs began to subside considerably. At times, it seemed Steinbrenner would do anything for his players (+) but even that could be dangerous, as Steinbrenner explored contacting the Black Panthers to “take care of” the wife of center fielder Mickey Rivers so Rivers could concentrate more on the field.(-)
Steinbrenner also, in 1980, fired Dick Howser (-) who that year managed the Yankees to 103 wins, when Mike Ferarro, Howser’s 3rd base coach at the time sent Willie Randolph home where he was thrown out- something not unprecedented in baseball. (Howser went on the manage Kansas City to their only World Series title. (+))
Steinbrenner also fired the great Yogi Berra after 16 games into a season. (-) 16 GAMES! Yogi Berra was the reason the Yankees existed! He had 10 friggin’ rings and fought at D-Day for Christsakes! On top of that, it took Steinbrenner 14 years to apologize! (-)
In between this all, Steinbrenner got into a fist fight with a Dodger fan in LA after the Yanks lost to the Dodgers in the World Series (-) and was banned twice from the baseball(-). During his absence both times, the Yankees were able to rebuild their team into a winner (+). He was behind the trades of Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps, and Doug Drabek for Rick Rhoden (-). He also got rid of 1982 MVP and 2 time batting champion, Willie McGee (who looked like ET) and decided to re-brand the Yankees as a speed team in 1982 when he signed old dudes from the Big Red Machine like Ken Griffey, Sr. and Dave Collins and then a 3rd of the way into the season, bailed on that plan and signed John Mayberry to play first base (-). That year he went through 3 (three!) managers.
People forget about the 80’s. They were rough. One year he doled out huge salaries to three separate #4 starters (Dave LaPoint, Andy Hawkins and Ed Whitson- maybe his worst signing of all time- the guy couldn't pitch in NY City b/c he was booed so voraciously (-)) and put them on the team thinking that they’d pitch like aces or something. Also, no one talks about this but I’m pretty sure Bucky Dent managed the team for a little while too.
He was famous for calling managers mid-game (-) and making demands and in some crazy scenario he paid some scumbag gambler guy named Howie Spira to get dirt on Dave Winfield because he wanted to publicly embarrass him for something. (This lead to his 2nd banning from baseball (+)). Rounding out the 80’s he aggravated Goose Gossage, Graig Nettles and Dave Righetti enough to make them leave New York and hired the dude who traded Al Leiter for Jesse Barfield who was way, way over the hill at the time. I’m not even mentioning the fact they traded away Fred McGriff for Dale Murray.
The team went for years without developing a decent pitching prospect that could lift them up to first place- (Doug Drabek and Bob Tewksbury could have been those guys, but they were traded) as Lou Piniella and Billy Martin traded spots managing the team.
The early nineties represented the nadir of the Steinbrenner era. Thankfully Fay Vincent, commissioner at the time, saved the day by banning Steinbrenner from running the team because of his association with Spira (+). During this time, the Yankees were awful on the field and sported such legends as ill-nicknamed Hensley “Bam-Bam” Meulens, the recently deceased Oscar Azocar and Wade Taylor who I think recorded at the time, the worst ERA of any pitcher in the history of the game with a certain amount of innings pitched. (Ed NOTE: Record may have been surpassed by Kei Igawa). The low point possibly coming on July 1, 1990 when Andy Hawkins pitched a no-hitter against the White Sox and lost.
However, off the field, led by Gene “Stick” Michael, one of the many NY Yankee managers fired by Steinbrenner in the past now the team’s General Manager, the team began to slowly rebuild. A few very savvy Michael trades (Roberto Kelly for Paul O’Neill) and the minor league development of the “core four” Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and the great Mariano Rivera along with Bernie Williams, prepared the Yankees for a new era of excellence.
Steinbrenner reappeared in time for an epic playoff battle between the Yanks and the Seattle Mariners. The Yankees lost 3 games to 2 and George decided to fire his popular manager Buck Showalter (-) and replace him with Joe Torre- a move panned at that time. But Torre proved to be just the right man for the job and the Yankees would go on to win 4 of the next 5 World Series and make the playoffs for the next 12 years (+).
As World Series victories became the norm, George Steinbrenner began his own personal re-branding. The new George Steinbrenner was now showing up at World Series trophy presentations, openly weeping with joy. His image softening, Steinbrenner continued to press the city for a new ballpark however he wasn’t openly threatening to move to New Jersey or Manhattan’s West Side (a move that would have devastated the Bronx) as much anymore (forgot to mention that earlier as it was a thing he constantly did in the 80’s and 90’s.) (-)
His health deteriorating, Steinbrenner soon ceded control of the Yankees to his sons (Hal(+) and Hank (-)) and shortly thereafter took on a more symbolic role in the organization. With appearances at the stadium becoming rarer and rarer, last season the last of Steinbrenner’s wishes finally became a reality when the new Yankee Stadium was open, and loosely christened “The House That George Built”. Fittingly in its inaugural season, the Yankees won the World Championship.
Steinbrenner was a lot things but as Yankee fans must admit, almost never boring. Also, he always spent the money to make the team exciting. Which, as a fan, is all you can ask for. Jesus, can you imagine being a Royals fan? Or someone who roots for the Pirates? Think those guys wouldn’t trade their cheap owners for a loud a-hole if it meant they’d be in the mix for the pennant year after year?
Yeah, George Steinbrenner was an egomaniac (-), and yes, many times he brought disgrace to the Yankees (-), let’s not forget he was banned from the sport for making illegal contributions to Richard Nixon’s campaign- he but he did give you Catfish, Goose, Reggie, Winfield, signed Mattingly to a long term- brought you Danny Tartabull because he thought he had to do SOMETHING, then got you Jack McDowell, David Cone, and John Wetteland before giving the green light to resign Bernie, take care of Jeter and sign Rivera and Posada. Peppered in there was signing Clemens and El Duque who was awesome in the playoffs and over-paying for Hideki Irabu who was awesome when he was called a “fat, pussy toad” by Steinbrenner. And clearly the business model being set allowed for the arrivals of A-Rod, CC, Teix and AJ for the most recent championship.
On top of all of this was Steinbrenner the charitable guy who took great pains to take care of the families of fallen police officers, give scholarships to many, many young people in both New York and Florida and find a place on his payroll for a lot of the people he had fired along the way.
A larger than life figure, he hosted Saturday Night Live and was a character on Seinfeld and his time as Yankee owner- whether it be as someone who raised the standard of living for baseball players, or an owner who incorporated owning his own cable channel as part of his revenue stream- forever changed the sport.
Buying the Yankees for 8.8 million dollars in 1973, and turning them into a multi-billion dollar entity by 2010 is no small accomplishment and neither is the 7 World Championships and 11 Pennants he accumulated along the way.
So yeah, good night Boss, I hope you fired the reaper a few times on your way out.
George Steinbrenner, RIP.
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