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George Steinbrenner: 1930-2010

Jul 13, 2010, 10:28 AM EDT

Look out, boys: Baseball Valhalla is about to get interesting.

The news is everywhere now. George Steinbrenner has died.

My spiritual beliefs are, at best, conflicted, but I comfort myself with the idea of a great Baseball Valhalla in which all of those who made their mark on the game — for better and for worse — and have since passed now reside. I picture a nice calm, composed and orderly person working the front of the room. Maybe Branch Rickey.  He makes sure no one gets too loud and everyone is sitting at the right table.

That man’s world changed this morning, because Big Stein just opened the door, demanded a seat near the stage, started ordering stuff that’s not on the menu and slipped a twenty to the bandleader to play something with some pep.

In so doing he’d only be keeping true to form.  As we’ll hear over and over again in the coming days, George Steinbrenner changed everything about baseball. He did so without apology.  He did so for one simple reason: because he wanted to win. He was greedy for victory and glory, and in saying so I don’t think I’m saying anything with which he would disagree.  He bought a sports team. The object of sports is to win. Anyone not greedy for such a thing got into the business for the wrong reasons.

I’m not a believer in whitewashing things when someone dies because the last thing we should be doing when we lose someone is telling lies that push their true essence further away from us. To ignore the unpleasant facts — that Steinbrenner was pain in the ass; that his ethics left much to be desired; that for a good decade there he did more to impede the Yankees’ on-the-field success than he did to help it — would be to lose the man a second time, first in body then in spirit.  He was what he was.

And what he was, contrary to what many people have said for so many years, was good for the game of baseball.  For decades before his arrival on the scene — and for some time afterwards, actually — baseball was a boy’s club of collusion and gentleman’s agreements that did far more harm than good.  George Steinbrenner was no gentleman, thank God, because if he was there’s a good chance that players would still be making terrible money and monied old blue-bloods would be agreeing who should play where, to the competitive detriment of the game.

Steinbrenner wasn’t a point man on free agency, but if it wasn’t for him it may very well have been a different beast.  It was Steinbrenner who gave Catfish Hunter that million dollar deal when Charlie O. Finely frittered away his monopolistic rights on Hunter’s contract.  It was Steinbrenner who went after Reggie Jackson, making one of free agency’s first big splashes.  It was Steinbrenner’s money and willingness to use it that caused the other owners to launch a collusion scheme in the 80s that ended up busting the free market open wider for the players in the long run than might have otherwise happened. Steinbrenner wasn’t a saint here — he grudgingly went along with collusion — but he was certainly a prime actor in forming the current free and, in my opinion anyway, fair market labor faces today, and that’s been good for the game overall.

And of course his impact on the Yankees is incalculable. Books have been written about what Steinbrenner meant to the Yankees and what the Yankees mean to baseball.  Many of us chafe at their hegemony, but baseball in the 20th and early 21st centuries cannot be understood without reference to that team, and while there was a brief ten or eleven year respite in the 60s and 70s, most of us living today came to baseball in a Yankees-dominated world in one form or another.  We may not love baseball because of that, but it certainly hasn’t prevented us from loving it either, no matter how much we grouse.

But there’s plenty of time to reflect on his objective legacy, and I’m sure we’ll be doing that more as the day goes on.  In the meantime, we should all just reflect on the force of nature that was George Steinbrenner. The flair. Flair which, truth be told, I figured would have had him dying on the eve of the seventh game of the World Series.
Or maybe on Opening Day. But All-Star day is pretty good too, as
far as these things go.

“Waiter! Keep that shrimp cocktail coming! Don’t you know who I AM!”

Yes, we do Mr. Steinbrenner. Yes we do.

  1. Pisano - Jul 13, 2010 at 4:47 PM

    Very well said . I am just the opposite of you , but I too would never degrade anyone associated with the Red Sox family , especially on the day of their passing . Is nothing sacred on this earth ?

  2. S G - Jul 13, 2010 at 4:49 PM

    Hmmm…perhaps he was the “Richard Nixon” of the sports owners–brilliant in some ways, yet also flawed at the same time in other ways? A then-walking contradiction…

  3. Lenegal - Jul 13, 2010 at 5:11 PM

    RIP George from a life long Yankees fan.
    I bet Billy Martin was there to greet you.

  4. Zorro - Jul 13, 2010 at 6:52 PM

    Good for baseball?? You have got to be kidding. Steinbrenner was a vile, repugnant, convicted felon whose effect on major league baseball is reminiscent of the Black Plague’s march through Europe in the Middle Ages. He took advantage of the corrupt financial structure that is unique to major league baseball. The elements: a free agency system that puts star players up for grabs after a few years, absence of full TV revenue sharing (like what they have in the NFL), and absence of a salary cap (like what they have in the NBA). No other major sport is like this. It was tailor made for Steinbrenner, without any management skills and baseball sense, but obsessed with winning at any cost. Put those together with the TV networks dumping huge gobs of money on the Yankees, and you have Steinbrenner going out on a shopping spree every season to rip off other teams of their star players. He was Robin Hood in reverse, taking from the teams poor in talent in order to further enrich his talent rich Yankees. Good for baseball? Tell that to the fans in Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and other cities whose teams have no realistic chance of winning the World Series and will not in the forseeable future. Major league baseball will eventually die unless the financial structure is changed so that a Steinbrenner can’t simple buy a championship every year. This is a great day for baseball and a great day for the world. Meanwhile we can celebrate the removal of this cancer on the game. Don’t go telling me how evil I am because I am happy he’s gone. I know evil when I see it, and Steinbrenner was evil. The world is a better place without him.

  5. bigtrav425 - Jul 13, 2010 at 7:20 PM

    bout time this guy died! he was a scumbag and horrible for baseball overall…Good for the Yanks and new york but horrible for baseball

  6. Zorro - Jul 13, 2010 at 8:21 PM

    Dear Baseball First. Now that you have demonstrated that you are good at name calling, please demonstrate that you have even an ounce of sense, i.e. write something that indicates at least a glimmer of intelligence.

  7. twentyseventoseven - Jul 14, 2010 at 4:17 AM

    As a lifelong Yankees fan, i want to thank the Boss from the bottom of my heart with every fiber of my body. This man is one of my heroes. I was allowed to grow up as a winner. I was allowed to grow up knowing that my owner was going everything in his power to put the best possible product on the field, and he did that. The memories i have as a kid, as a young adult and now into middle age are going to be some of the fondest memories i have the rest of my life. Mr Steinbrenner made my childhood a happy one, but fielding winning teams. We won 7 titles under his reign and hopefully his sons can carry on the winning tradition, im sure they will, they’re the bosses sons and i’m confident they’ll do everything in their power to carry on the vision their dad started in the 1970s.
    Thank you Boss, you will be deeply missed.

  8. Al - Jul 14, 2010 at 9:33 AM

    George was the best owner, by far! Every owner has the capability of making a franchise great. George Steinbrenner reinvested his money to make the Yankees great again. What other owner has done that? He created the YES network and reaped more money that he also reinvested in the Yankees. Every stadium that the Yankees visit is sold out and reap big rewards from attendance to concessions. If the San Francisco Giants or Los Angeles Dodgers would invest in their teams they would make them much better and more profitable. Unfortunately they don’t and fans from these and other cities suffer because the teams usually suck. Each franchise can create their own television network also. Look how the Boston Red Sox have grown and Detroit, Tampa Bay, and Minnesota! They are just keeping up with the Yankees. It’s not the payroll, its the thinking. Minnesota has a small payroll, so does Tampa Bay. Reinvest in your team and you too will have a great franchise.
    George Steinbrenner is a visionary. If you read his history you will find that he actually wanted to buy the Cleveland Indians, fortunately for Yankee fans that didn’t work out. Thank god for that! Stop blaming free agency or paying to much for ball players. It’s all relative. Success is not always dollars and cents but creative thinking and reinvestment.
    You can love George or love to hate him but the bottom line is his passion for his team and putting them in a position to win every year. Wouldn’t you want an owner like George Steinbrenner as the owner of your team?
    Your not bad mouthing George Steinbrenner, you showing ignorance to creativity. Greoge Steinbrenner did not create Free agency. He learned how to embrace it and use it to his advantage. He reinvested in his team. No other owner in Baseball did that. Now Boston, Tampa Bay, Minnesota, and Detroit are doing the same.
    I will miss him greatly. He has done more for the game of baseball than anyone else in the game. Thanks again George for all the great memories! Say hello to Mickey, Babe, Joe D., Billy, Thurman and all the other great Yankees in Heaven.

  9. Jimsjam33 - Jul 15, 2010 at 10:32 AM

    ” My spiritual beliefs are, at best, conflicted, but I comfort myself with the idea of a great Baseball Valhalla in which all of those who made their mark on the game — for better and for worse — and have since passed now reside. ”
    The more a man studies about the nuances of this insignificant world the more blinded he becomes to the real purpose in life . George Steinbrenner is now aware and his eyes have been opened . He went to court yesterday and if his name was not found in the ” Book of Life ” his eternity will not be spend in a ” great baseball Valhalla . ” Mr. Calcaterra you are still alive and have a chance to pass life’s test .
    Define your beliefs and secure your faith because in the end your argument will not hold water . Am I a kook ? Time flys like the dust in the wind . You’re here and then you ain’t ! It’s the part after ” ain’t ” that counts . Then you can’t say ” well nobody told me . “

  10. Craig Calcaterra - Jul 15, 2010 at 11:05 AM

    Baseball Valhalla is purely my invention. As such, I can tell you with 100% certainty that they let everyone in. Even the bad ones. It’s kind of chaotic, but it’s totally fair. 😉
    I appreciate your concern for my mortal soul, JimJam. Unlike a lot of agnostic types I have a lot of respect for people of faith even if I don’t have it myself.

  11. Jimsjam33 - Jul 15, 2010 at 11:41 PM

    Interesting about your ” Baseball Valhalla ” being a conjuring of your imagination . I liken it to folks who believe in a ” Rainbow Bridge ” for their animals . Then there’s re-incarnation and all the talk about ” when I come back I wanna be a …” Sorry , but us human beings rationalize to our liking and comfort zones .
    Don’t worry Mr. Calcaterra I won’t preach… just inform . I , for one , can’t comprehend the purpose of life if the only purpose is to accumulate a bigger paycheck or 15 minutes of fame . That doesn’t work for me . I’ll just stick to being a lowly follower of the one who walked on this Earth 2000 years ago and died on the cross ! Have a good one .

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