Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Boss Will Be Missed, I Suppose

     By Ross Newhan

     The camera of the mind will always see George Steinbrenner, in his patented white turtleneck and blue blazer, storming through the catacombs of the old Yankee Stadium in the cold of the October playoffs to confront a player, coach or manager regarding a questionable play or decision.

     He was a blitzkreig in motion, passionate and bombastic, a man whose syndicate bought the floundering New York Yankees from CBS for $10 million in 1973 and returned them to flagship status, valued by Forbes Magazine in April at $1.6 billion, far and away baseball's richest and most valuable. Steinbrenner, ailing over the last few years, died Tuesay morning at 80, his Yankees having won seven World Series titles and 11 American League pennants under his ownership, and if, with their $210 million paryoll, they came to be known as the Evil Empire, as labelled by Boston Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, I will always recall a 1984 interview with him at his Yankee Stadium office in which he didn't back away from his style or success.

    "Am I obsessed with winning," he said. "Absolutely. "I'm obsessed with winning and everything that goes with it--discipline, pride, achievement. Isn't that the essence of this country? Isn't that what New York is all about and the Yankees always should be? I have no reason to apologize."

    Well, there would be legal issues for which an apology would have been appropriate, but that wasn't his style.

    He fired and rehired managers (Billy Martin alone had five stints at the Yankee helm) and pitching coaches with such frequency that he became a caricature on the popular "Seinfeld" television series

   He went through public relations directors with the speed of a wildfire. Who could speak for him when he would be saying something entirely different 24 hours later?

     Famous last words?

    How about his remarks on the day he became principal owner in 1973?

    "I won't be active in the day to day operations of the club at all," he said. "I can't spread myself so thin. I've got enough headaches with my shipping company."

    What is there to say or conclude about his stewardship of baseball's most famous franchise?

    Well, any conclusion, the like man himself, is paradoxical.

    --He gave millions of dollars to charity, sending more than 100 underprivleged children to college, and yet gave $40,000 to Howard Spira, a known gambler, to dig up negative information on Dave Winfield and his foundation, resulting in Steinbrenner being permanently banned by Commissioner Fay Vincent in 1990 from the day to day operations of the Yankees, a ban lifted in 1993, and his second significant suspension, having been found guilty of a felony and misdemeanor for illegal corporate contributions to President Richard Nixon's 1972 re-election campaign (for which he was eventually pardoned by President Ronald Reagan).

    --He lifted the Yankee payroll to record heights, which gave him the right, he often said, to publicly criticize the players he was paying when they didn't perform up to expectations, at times creating such headlines with his generosity on one hand and his firings and fusillades on the other that the Yankee Stadium environment  became known as the Bronx Zoo.

     --He spread ill will and created complaints with many of his exhorbitant signings, and yet the same clubs doing the complaining happily accepted his revenue sharing checks as he raised the Yankees to marquee status again, ultimately built a new Yankee Stadium, created a network that brought in millions of dollars and further spread the pinstripe label.

     In the end, there was one other paradox, although how much he had to do with it as his health failed and he remained sequestered at his Tampa office is uncertain.

     He won a last World Series championship in 2009 under a new manager after the popular, respected and title winning Joe Torre was driven to leave by shabby contractural treatment.

    Torre wasn't specifically fired, as so many of The Boss' predecessors had been, but it was tantamount to the same thing, a last calling card from a man who will be missed--both the good and the bad.

    What else is there to say?


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