In the span of 72 hours, Yankee Nation lost the voice of their franchise, Bob Sheppard and David Ortiz blasted homers out the park en route to the Home Run Derby title like he’d hidden C4 in his bat. Hours later, “The Boss” George Steinbrenner passed away at age 80.
As Al Leiter, described Steinbrenner, he was volcanic and volatile at his peak. It’s a trait, I respected despite despising the franchise he has assembled. In his first 23 years as owner, he’d changed managers 20 times before setting on Joe Torre for 12 campaigns. Thanks in part to George’s leadership and inflation, a franchise which was in a trough when George brought them for $10.2 million in 1973 is worth $1.2 billion today.
Yesterday, I wrote a piece defending Dan Gilbert, because quite frankly I liked his brash honesty and accessibility. It was the same sort of scorched earth policy which led to Ohio native Steinbrenner getting suspended from baseball by Commissioner Fay Vincent after he allegedly paid a small-time gambler, $40,000 for “dirt” on Dave Winfield, who was owed $300,000 in guaranteed money from the Boss. Steinbrenner could have lured King James to Baghdad, much less back to a 60 win team in Cleveland.
A few years ago, Gary Sheffield directly accused then manager Joe Torre of being a racist and hinted at racism permeating throughout the Yankees organization. What most admirers forget is George Steinbrenner habit of hiring of deserving and diverse minorities. In 1962, Steinbrenner was owner of the franchise which hired infamous coach of the “Secret Game”, John McClendon to become the first African American head coach in professional basketball. 23 years latter In 1995, Steinbrenner hired Bob Watson, the first ever African American general manager in the majors from the Astros to revive the Yankees dynasty.
In 1996, the Yankees won the first of four consecutive world championships. The following season, 1997, Steinbrenner went out on a limb and hired 29 year old female, Kim Ng as the youngest assistant general manager in the majors. 13 years later, Kim Ng, now with the Dodgers is on pace to become the first female general manager in the history of major professional sports.
There have been few owners who have enjoyed the same success and notoriety as Steinbrenner. It’s an exclusive club led by Jerry Jones, Jerry Buss and Patriots owner Bob Kraft. The Yankees are as synonymous with the name Steinbrenner as the BYU Cougars are with Young. The Lakers will join the selective pantheon of family, mom and pop owned conglomerate franchises when Jerry Buss ultimately hands off his Hollywood franchise to one of his children.
Jerry Buss is the only owner to have won more world championships than Steinbrenner’s seven in that span. In Steinbrenner’s defense, it was never just about the titles he rung up as owner than it was about the panache and bullheadedness he won them with. With his passing the Yankees organization will now look to Hank and Hal to sustain their father’s legacy.
Only one other pro sports currently franchise shares the distinction of bridging success from one generation to the next. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ Rooney Family has done it for three generations and six Super Bowls.
But for goodness sake, will somebody think about the children? Which offspring of Steinbrenner rises from the heir apparent as Yankees prominent voice? The worry is that the Steinbrenner’s succumb to apathy and sell the franchise. While it seems unlikely now, a few years ago, Steinbrenner was ready to hand the reigns over to his son-in-law Steve Swindal until a bitter divorce put a blemish in the blueprint as Hal and Hank took interest in projects outside baseball.
Without George Steinbrenner’s theatrics, where will the New York media find the obligatory contention in the Yankees organization they’ve grown accustomed to? Who will criticize Jeter’s party habits or dig up dirt on players Steinbrenner doesn’t want to play? Since relinquishing control of the organization to his sons in 2008, Steinbrenner had withdrawn into the shadows.
Hal Steinbrenner, 40, formally took over as controlling partner of the Yankees in November 2008, and brother Hank, 53, was put in charge of baseball operations. Oldest son Hank is the one who inherited George’s loud mouth and cantankerous perrsonality. Hank made his personal objective to fire back at Joe Torre’s managerial skills and reputation after Torre turned down the Yankees offer for an incentive laden one year deal. Hal also attempted to attribute “Red Sox” nation to a myth perpetrated by ESPN.
Hank is quiet and reserved. With any luck, those two personalities will create factions within the organization forcing Major League Baseball to go biblical on New York and split the organization into separate franchises. Seems absurd, but totally seems like a decision Bud Selig would come to.
Unfortunately, there will never be another character like Steinbrenner in baseball. As the last week has shown us, the NBA is now the last bastion of outspoken owners with a pulpit.
Three summers ago, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban applied for ownership of the cursed Chicago Cubs from the Chicago Tribune. It was the perfect intersection of fate and opportunity. As Steinbrenner was fading, Cuban appeared to be arriving. However, MLB’s rigid power structure quickly extinguished that potential fire in the Second City.
George Steinbrenner accomplished above and beyond in life as a sports owner as one could hope to accomplish. Along with seven titles in 37 years, he fired 15 different managers, was indicted for his involvement with Nixon and provoked two commissioners to hand down separate multi year suspensions. The Yankees spent over $420 million in on additions C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher and A.J. Burnett prior to the 2009 season.
It sounds callous, but as the ultimate businessman, Steinbrenner would appreciate his family inheriting his estate tax free, before the minimum 41% death tax for estates worth over $1 million is reinstated next year. Somewhere in the big press box in the sky, George is looking down thinking, “That’s money they could save towards Cliff Lee and Carl Crawford.”