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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. Church of the Perpetually Outraged - Jul 13, 2010 at 10:41 AM

    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
    Let’s not forget the amazing charity that Steinbrenner could show under his gruff exterior. The same man who threatened to pull the dental plans of his workers to save money, and the same man who hired someone to dig up dirt on Winfield, was also known to bend over backwards trying to help people like Darryl Strawberry. In Olney’s book, Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty, he recounts how Steinbrenner told Straw he’d do everything possible to get him help. That he’d always have a job with the Yanks, offering numerous “second chances” even after he kept getting busted for drugs.
    Hopefully we hear more and more about the latter stuff than the former.
    RIP Mr. Steinbrenner.

  2. schlegrun - Jul 13, 2010 at 10:42 AM

    Sad day in Baseball. I am a lifelong Phillies fan and always will be. I truly do not like the Yankees at all but, its funny, I always wished the Phils would have the same sort of ownership as the Yanks. It may not always produce championships but it should doesnt hurt your chanes.

  3. Ralph - Jul 13, 2010 at 10:43 AM

    Hopefully Bob Sheppard announced Steinbrenner’s arrival. RIP George.

  4. 27xchamps - Jul 13, 2010 at 10:47 AM

    HOW TRUE

  5. YankeesfanLen - Jul 13, 2010 at 10:47 AM

    Baseball in the early 70s was turning into a corporate mess with big conglomerates and a few flinty owners threatening to choke off any chance of it remaining America’s Pastime. No investment= no excitement.
    George loved owning a baseball team. Loved running a business. Loved running other people too. He changed things and it has had for almost 40 years a snoiwball effect. We now have shiny new stadiums, well paid players who receive great and expensive development and a fine passionate fanbase.
    Would this have happened without George? No. Great businessman, Unparalled Unequaled baseball man. May someone like him come along in 40 years if baseball needs another kick in the pants, but they won’t match The Boss.

  6. 27xchamps - Jul 13, 2010 at 10:48 AM

    The World of sports has lost the greatest Owner to ever live.. Had the pleasure to see him many times when the boys still trained in Ft.Lauderdale.. Was always great to the fans!!! We love you George
    R.I.P BOSS

  7. Simon DelMonte - Jul 13, 2010 at 11:06 AM

    Holding my tongue, but wondering where and when I can tell my tale of how the best owner in baseball made me a Mets fan by also being the worst.

  8. Old Gator - Jul 13, 2010 at 11:08 AM

    His not being there anymore is like looking out a window in Alaska on one of those days when Denali disappears in an ice crystal haze. He wasn’t really a New Yorker but he was as much a feature of New York as the Empire State Building, and gave his adopted town a serious helping of tough love during his reign.Truly one of the most unique and memorable figures ever to own a sports franchise, yet Steinbrenner was so much more: a style that couldn’t be copied, a temper that inspired envy from Vesuvius – and, whatever you thought of the Borg as a corporate culture, his cognizance of and solicitude for his team’s fans was unmistakable. Sad to say, I’ll be mulling this last point repeatedly as July 31 looms because the contrast between King George’s passion for his team and the parasitic, even contemptuous posture of the little bloodsuckers who run my Feesh couldn’t possibly be more stark in a Newtonian universe.

  9. Jonny5 - Jul 13, 2010 at 11:39 AM

    I never knew the man, yet he always gave me something to talk about. Those Damn Yankees, or the Bankees, or yankers. Take your pick. He built a team that roused Anger, disgust, and contempt from fans of around 30 teams, and built a baseball empire with more fans than many teams combined. RIP, George, you added something to the game that it never had and never will have again, George Stienbrenner.

  10. Baseball First - Jul 13, 2010 at 12:21 PM

    Simon says, “Holding my tongue, but wondering where and when I can tell my tale of how the best owner in baseball made me a Mets fan by also being the worst.”
    Thank you, Simon,
    There are times when saying nothing is the best road to take. Your tale is a moot one at this point.

  11. tomahawkmike - Jul 13, 2010 at 12:55 PM

    Shiny new stadiums…built with someone else’s money…

  12. Joker34 - Jul 13, 2010 at 1:30 PM

    @Ralph
    Amen my friend. I am not a Yankees fan by any means, but what this organization has endured this week is pretty heartbreaking. Steinbrenner has impacted all baseball fans in one way or another. He will have a lasting impression on the game and will continue to be remembered by many. Even though I may hate the Yankees, I have a deep respect for Steinbrenner and the legacy that he has left behind. R.I.P. George Steinbrenner.

  13. bh0673 - Jul 13, 2010 at 1:35 PM

    but tamahawk it could have been the Indians instead, George wanted them first. Whatever he did bad and there was a lot he did so much good behind the scene and for baseball, he will be missed.

  14. Doug - Jul 13, 2010 at 1:36 PM

    Baseball First says”Thank you, Simon,
    There are times when saying nothing is the best road to take. Your tale is a moot one at this point. ”
    When the MSNBC link to the article is “Why George Steinbrenner was good for all of baseball”, I think it was fair. It’s not like he’s shouting it out at his funeral. He was good for the Yankees.

  15. Sportschump - Jul 13, 2010 at 2:06 PM

    http://sportschump.net/2009/04/28/a-tribute-to-the-boss/120/
    George Steinbrenner’s legacy as told by one humble Red Sox fan’s perspective

  16. jyak - Jul 13, 2010 at 3:01 PM

    Shiny new stadium built with revenue from Yankees….another clueless dumbass who doesn’t know anything about Mr. Steinbrenner’s marketing skills and how he brought this team to a dynasty….don’t think for one minute we, as Yankee fans, don’t appreciate what he has done for this team and their fans….

  17. talis4 - Jul 13, 2010 at 3:40 PM

    Give me a break!!!!! This guy was the biggest phony in sports history. The one good move he made (against the advice of his people) was to bring in Reggie Jackson. Remember, the Yankees made it to the World Series before Jackson got there. This move encouraged the phony to make the following moves: bring in Dave Winfield, Don Gullett, Ken Griffey Sr, etc. He decimated their farm system and doomed them to mediocrity for the next 20 years. The Yankees began to rebuild when steinbrenner was banished from baseball. With him gone the Yankees rebuilt the farm system and the team. They built a new dyasty just in time for the phony to take credit for it. However, once he came back he took the same actions. He brought in Giambi among others. Once again the team didn’t win, until he was too senile to take any more actions, and his sons (more or less) let the baseball people prevail (and bought up as much talent as possible to the tune of $300, 000, 000.00/year).
    Outside of baseball he showed the same “intelligence” and “expertise”. Didn’t he bankrupt Tampa Ship?
    I know that when someone dies people have a tendency to overrate their achievments. But COME ON!!!!!!!
    This guy was a blight to baseball, and something of a despicable human being.

  18. Florida727 - Jul 13, 2010 at 3:53 PM

    I’m sure his kids would appreciate reading your idiotic rant, especially less than 24 hours after his passing. Do us all a favor: lose your keyboard. You’ve already proven you’re an @$$. What left for you to accomplish?

  19. Pete leary - Jul 13, 2010 at 4:02 PM

    A hideous human being has left baseball in tatters.This greedy bastard ruined the greatest game in all of sport. A pig at the trough, he took competition out of baseball by showering these crybabies with more money that they could spend and left the small market teams in his wake.Good riddance to a truckload of RUBBISH!!!!

  20. Baseball First - Jul 13, 2010 at 4:05 PM

    Talis4, you are the despicable human being. You have a heart of stone and a brain of foam.

  21. Jezzo - Jul 13, 2010 at 4:13 PM

    As a lifelong Red Sox Fan and self-professed hater of everything YANKEE – especially A-ROID, let me note two specific facts:
    (1) Sports is about WINNING and love him or hate him George Steinbrenner was a WINNER!
    (2) Steinbrenner is synonymous with the Yankees and the Yankees are synonymous with WINNING!
    RIP GEORGE!

  22. Baseball First - Jul 13, 2010 at 4:14 PM

    Doug, I am not sure you understood the context of Simon’s post. I think he took the high road in not going into a negative rant about why he is now a Met’s fan. The man just died and Simon saw the wisdom of holding his tongue in this blog. Tomorrow, he may change his mind. My point was that it is too late for Mr. Steinbrenner to ever hear Simon’s displeasure.

  23. Baseball First - Jul 13, 2010 at 4:23 PM

    I do not believe there is a difference between A-roid and Manny-roid or Ortiz-roid. Nice try, Jezzo. There are few, if any, teams that have not been tainted by PED’s.

  24. oldesoxfan42 - Jul 13, 2010 at 4:24 PM

    I have rooted for the Red Sox since 1949 and George had me sputtering and fuming for
    many years. Still, on any honest list of great sport team owners he has to be with the
    top echelon. As for “Tails 4″ ‘s comment that he was a despicable man; George gave
    a great deal of money to Boston’s Jimmy Fund ( children’s cancer research hospital)
    over many years. That counts for a lot of good character in my book.
    Saint Peter is going to have his hands full when Billy Martin turns out to
    great George at the Pearly Gates, I think. Early Vegas odds favor Martin.

  25. cutty240 - Jul 13, 2010 at 4:42 PM

    Don’t make George somebody he wasn’t.He hurt baseball alot more than he helped it.He is ONE of the main reasons baseball is in the mess it is.He by himself KILLED SMALL MARKET TEAMS.He helped the Yankees,and himself.He fit with alot of what this country just went through.GREED.Hall of Fame,are you kidding me.Pete Rose should go in before George does.I’m sorry for his Family.But he is what he is.Please don’t make a hero out of him,that he is not.

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