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."

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