As the Boss’ control of the Yankees has passed on to younger generations of Steinbrenner children, Yankee fans are grappling with an interesting question: How will Yankee fans remember George Steinbrenner?
When I, on Monday, wrote about George’s buying the Yankees, I got the sense that the older Yankee fans have long passed judgment on George. He was a two-faced liar who would backstab fellow front office employees and his dugout and on-field personnel. He would do whatever it took to win and eventually wound up in trouble with the baseball law. In fact, I was at the game on July 30, 1990 when George was suspended, and the Yankee fans sitting around me applauded.
But a funny thing happened on the way to 2008. New Yorkers started adopting King George’s maniacal bend on winning, and the Yankees on the field became victorious once more. Following Steinbrenner’s reinstatement in 1993, the Yankees entered a period of prosperity largely unmatched in franchise history. They’ve finished first or second every season since 1993 and have won four World Series titles and six AL championships since then.
In the eyes of the public, George became a hero. He had the money to spend to build a winning team, and unlike owners in Baltimore or Minnesota, he was more than willing to spend it. The crowds – many of them fans who had never known the losing ways of the Yankees in 1980s and 1990s, let alone the Bronx Zoo years in the 1970s – flocked to Yankee Stadium and grew to love George Steinbrenner. He was the benevolent dictator occasionally good for a quote but growing noticeably older.
Now, movements are afoot to cement the Boss’ legacy in Yankeeland. Owner for 35 years, Steinbrenner’s name is synonymous with Yankee baseball for better or worse, and the team and its fans are coming to grips with that. On the official side, the Yankees renamed Legends Field in honor of George. From now on, Spring Training happens at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
All of this prehumous celebration of Steinbrenner has my mind rolling around his legacy. We can’t avoid honoring Steinbrenner, and he deserves it. But at the same time, we can’t forget the guy who would insult his business partners and fire his employees on a whim, who would flout campaign finance laws, who would hire private investigators to dig up dirt on his own players. His is a tortured legacy and one that does not fit neatly on the plaque Steinbrenner will probably get in Monument Park.