Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Tribute to "The Boss". 1930-2010

Early yesterday morning, Major League Baseball lost its very own Yankee doodle dandy, George Michael Steinbrenner III.  Steinbrenner who was born on the Fourth of July was the most famous owner in sports history for the most popular and famous team in sports history.

Steinbrenner cherished everything about the New York Yankees from a very young age.  Growing up in Cleveland he always rooted for the Yankees.  When the Yankees would come to town Steinbrenner got excited seeing the luggage of famous sluggers like Joe DiMaggio being transported into the team hotel from the bus.

Born into a wealthy shipbuilding family, Steinbrenner attended Culver Military Academy, a prep school, where he learned the basic forms of discipline.  It was at Culver where Steinbrenner learned about General Douglas MacArthur, one of his idols.  Steinbrenner even had MacArthur's quote "There is no substitute for victory" hanging in the clubhouse.  Steinbrenner then attended Williams College, like his father and then went on to Ohio State University for graduate school, where he met the love of his life, Joan.

At the tender age of 42, in 1973, Steinbrenner headed a group that bought the New York Yankees from CBS.  At the time the group purchased the team for $8.7 million, a mere bargain considering the franchise is now worth about $1.5 billion.  Here's the kicker though, Steinbrenner's share was only about $160,000.  After his purchase Steinbrenner was excited to share the news with his dad, a man he desperately tried to impress from a young age.  The elder Steinbrenner's response?  It's about time George did something worthwhile.

At the press conference announcing George Steinbrenner's accession into the world of baseball, he famously made the statement that he would not be a hands on owner.  He would not be apart of the everyday operations and he was just there to provide the money and to bring the club back to respectability.  In the late 1960s and early 70s the Yankees became a laughingstock as CBS refused to appropriate the proper money to run a baseball club successfully.

Within his first six years of owning the club, the Yankees had made three postseason appearances while winning two World Series titles, the first of seven for Steinbrenner while he owned the club.

The Yankees of the 1980s and early 1990s were not so lucky.  Steinbrenner felt that he should control the operations of the team and be more hands on, the opposite of his proclamation at the press conference introducing himself as the new owner some ten years earlier.

Throughout his tenure with the team, Steinbrenner hired and fired 15 different managers, the most in the time period in baseball.  This also includes hiring and firing Billy Martin five different times.

Steinbrenner was also suspended from the game and his team for a total of 3 1/2 years.  Once, for being guilty of contributing illegally contributing funds for Richard Nixon's reelection campaign.  The other was for hiring someone to dig up information about one of his own players Hall of Famer, Dave Winfield.

During his last suspension, the one regarding Winfield, the "baseball people" in the front office were finally able to develop a farm system that would soon spit out stars such as Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter.  The front office also began signing the right players which allowed the Yankees to return to the postseason.  Beginning in 1995 and ending in 2008, the Yankees made the playoffs every year.  They also won four World Series titles in that time period.

Today's baseball players can thank Mr. Steinbrenner's check book for the birth of free agency and how much they are making today.  Free Agency began with Steinbrenner signing pitcher Catfish Hunter to a $3.75 million contract in the '70s.  Some of the big names that Steinbrenner signed include Reggie Jackson, Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, Jason Giambi, Winfield and Wade Boggs.

Steinbrenner was also known as a generous person off the baseball field.  He donated millions of dollars to needy school children, veterans who served the country, fire fighters, police officers, and numerous charities.  An elementary school in Tampa was renamed after him.  He also has the baseball field at UNC named after him, because his children attended the school.  He also donated $1 million to my school, Virginia Tech, following the tragedies of April 16, 2007.

I also know of a man who benefitted greatly from Steinbrenner's contributions.  He paid for his high school tuition to Culver Academy, and became close friends with his son Hal.  This man is forever grateful for Mr. Steinbrenner's contributions to him and his family.

The void that is left behind with Mr. Steinbrenner's passing will be unbelievably large to fill.  There will never be another owner like him.  I am grateful that he has been able to keep my favorite team so competitive for so long.  I'll end the post with a few of my favorite Steinbrenner quotes I found yesterday as well as some thoughts from those who truly knew George Steinbrenner.

George Steinbrenner:
"Winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing. Breathing first, winning next."
"I'm really 95 percent Mr. Rogers and only 5 percent Oscar the Grouch."
From the Steinbrenner Family:
"He was an incredible and charitable man," his family said in a statement. "He was a visionary and a giant in the world of sports. He took a great but struggling franchise and turned it into a champion again."
Derek Jeter:
It goes back to the first time I ever met him down in the Gulf Coast League. I had just signed, and you know, he was this figure that’s larger-than-life. Yeah, I was a Yankee fan, so I was well aware of him and his reputation. He came up to me and talked to me by name. I was more shocked that he knew who I was, but I guess because he gave me some of his money, he had to know who I was. Right from that day he said, ‘We expect big things from you.’ I’ll always remember that, because first impressions, you never forget. He expects a lot.”
Joe Torre:
“A lot of the huff and puff and blow the house down, there was so much more to him than that. Going into the job, I certainly went in with my eyes wide open. We all witnessed what went on from day to day and how tough it was to work for this man. But I knew I was at a crossroads in my career and when I accepted the job – I never hesitated in accepting the job in ‘96 – he was a great guy to work for because all he wanted to do was win. And in doing that he certainly spent a lot of money. He felt a great obligation to the fans in New York. The players would gripe about him and I would gripe about him and all that – tried not to do it publicly – but all he wanted to do was win and that’s what the city of New York was all about.” 
Bud Selig, Commissioner of Baseball

"He was and always will be as much of a New York Yankee as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and all of the other Yankee legends," baseball commissioner Bud Selig said. "Although we would have disagreements over the years, they never interfered with our friendship and commitment to each other. Our friendship was built on loyalty and trust and it never wavered."

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Farewell Mr. Sheppard!

Early this morning, longtime New York Yankees and New York Giants public address announcer, Bob Sheppard passed away.  Sheppard was 99 years old, and would have been 100 in October.  Sheppard served the New York community for over 50 years, calling the different baseball (1951-2007) and football (1956-2005) games between the two teams.

Sheppard began his career with the Yankees in 1951.  His debut, April 17, 1951 was also the same day legendary center fielder, Mickey Mantle too made his debut (Mantle was 21 years Sheppard's junior).  Although Mantle may have received more attention throughout his career, Sheppard was still highly regarded by the players, coaches and fellow media members who covered the team.

Sheppard had a philosophy to the way he introduced the players.  He believed that any PA announcer should be clear, concise, and correct, which to a fan should be nothing out of the ordinary.  Sheppard would actually be disappointed with many of the announcers that are around in this era across the major leagues (we won't even discuss the NBA as to honor Mr. Sheppard). Here's what he had to say about the state of the announcers a few years ago.
"A P.A. announcer is not a cheerleader, or a circus barker, or a hometown screecher," the epitome of the old-school style once said. "He's a reporter."

Fans can actually credit Sheppard for the correct pronunciation of Hall of Fame center fielder Joe Dimaggio's last name.  Sheppard believed that a "short a" would have been equivalent of nails on a chalk board.

Sheppard attended what was then St. John's College (now University) and was a seven time Varsity athlete.  He was both the College's quarterback as well as the first baseman and his graduating class president.  After graduating he moved on to Columbia University where he earned his master's degree in speech, where he soon became a college professor before leaving for the Yankees.

Players and fans received chills at the beginning of each game when Sheppard would simply greet everyone in the stadium with "Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Yankee Stadium."  Once the game began, players would walk as slow as they could to savor every last moment of hearing their named called by the almighty Sheppard.

Reggie Jackson dubbed him "the voice of God" and the nickname stuck, although Sheppard, a devout Catholic did not particularly like the nickname.

Before Sheppard took his extended leave of absence after what was eventually his last game on September 5, 2007, Derek Jeter asked Sheppard to record the introduction that Sheppard did for Jeter, so that he could always walk up to the plate for as long as he was a Yankee. Sheppard agreed to which he said was an honor to have a player of Jeter's calibre request his services.
"One of the greatest compliments I have received in my career of announcing," and wryly added, "The fact that he wanted my voice every time he came to bat is a credit to his good judgment and my humility."
For the record, Sheppard pronounces Jeter's name "Derek Jeet-tah". 

For every championship team that Sheppard was a apart of, he received a championship ring.  This includes countless World Series rings from the Yankees and a Super Bowl Ring for the four world championships with the New York Giants.  

Here is some reaction to the passing of Sheppard from the Yankees and around the world of sports:

Derek Jeter, shortstop:

"Players changed year in and year out, he was the one constant," said Jeter, who will continue to have a recording of Sheppard's voice announce his at-bats.
"Every time you heard it, you got chills," Jeter said of having Sheppard recite his name. "I remember him asking how to pronounce it to make sure he was pronouncing it right."
George Steinbrenner, Yankees owner:
"I am deeply saddened by the death today of Bob Sheppard, a good friend and fine man whose voice set the gold standard for America's sports announcers. For over a half century, fans were thrilled to hear his unforgettable voice and players were thrilled to hear his majestic enunciation of their names. Bob Sheppard was a great member of the Yankees family and his death leaves a lasting silence. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Mary, and their family."
John Mara, New York Giants co-owner:
"Bob Sheppard was the most distinguished and dignified voice in all of professional sports. We are very proud of the fact that he was the voice of the Giants for so many years. Bob was a true gentleman and the consummate professional. There will never be another one like him."
Joe Girardi, Yankees Manager:

"It is extremely sad," Girardi said. "When I think of Bob Sheppard, you think of all the tradition with the Yankees. You think about Ruth and Gehrig and Yogi and Joe D and Mantle and I think you mention Bob Sheppard. That's how important he was to this franchise."

"You realized you hit the big lights when Bob Sheppard announces your name."

As a fan that has grown up in the age of announcers who attempt to hype up the crowd while introducing the players, I wonder what it would have been like growing up in an era with announcers more like Sheppard. I question the announcers who feel the need to hype up the crowd for certain players.  Isn't that just contributing to the player's already enormous ego's?  I'm going to agree with what Sheppard said earlier about how it's his job as a media member to introduce the players.  

Even though Sheppard never slipped on the Pinstriped uniform or wore the royal blue of the Giants, he was a big member of both organizations.  He even has his own monument in the hallowed Monument Park at Yankee Stadium, which is reserved for Yankee greats like Ruth, Mantle and Yogi.

It will be interesting to see how both teams honor the greatest announcer in sports.  I expect the Yankees to add the black armband onto their sleeves when former or current players die.

I'll leave the post with the greatest tweet I saw from the day regarding Sheppard.  It's from ESPN writer J.A. Adande:

"Your attention please. Now ascending to heaven, Number 1, PA announcer, Bob Sheppard. Number 1."