George Steinbrenner’s Bronx legacy

Shelley Duncan will make for great quotes
The Joe Giradi effect

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.

Meanwhile, the writers at the Yankee GM Blog have started a petition for George M. Steinbrenner Day. They want to see the Boss honored at Yankee Stadium before it’s too late.

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.

Shelley Duncan will make for great quotes
The Joe Giradi effect
  • Pique

    Ben, I understand what you’re trying to say, but I think you ended the piece on a bad note.

    Looking at all the horrible owners out there in pro sports today, I think we should really appreciate what we have/had in the Steinbrenner family. Sure he isn’t perfect, but I’d rather have an over-involved owner than someone like Pohlad who looks at his team as “just another investment”.

  • Count Zero

    No doubt Ben — that is the paradox that is “The Boss.”

    I spent all of the 80s and much of the 90s absolutely loathing him. I hated his reliance on free agents, his constant tirades in the press, and his treatment of legends like Yogi and Billy. My attitude softened towards him after that (although there were still moments — like when he forced the trade for Randy Johnson — when I hated him for interfering where he shouldn’t), and I guess I now think of him somewhat fondly.

    One thing for sure — love him or hate him, you have to acknowledge he has had more influence on MLB than any other figure in the last 30 years. He will cast a long shadow, and putting him in the Hall is a no-brainer IMO.

    • Ben K.

      Agreed. I was talking about this with my parents recently. George and Bud, two guys we love to hate and hate to love (less love in Bud’s case), are bound for the Hall. Their respective impacts on the game have been astronomical.

      • Ron

        If steroids keep McGwire (and Clemens?) out of the HOF, why shouldn’t they also keep Selig out, who presided over practically the entire era?

    • Mike

      Steinbrenners are crooks. They had the money advantage and really bedeveled the sport of baseball. It was no longer a competitive sport. I love baseball. I love everything about it. I hate the way that cockroach and his family paid for a Harlem Globtrotter team of baseball and took away the spirit of competion. I believe that cockroach even paid players from opposite teams to flop. Watch the past world series where the cockroach yankees have won and look at certain moments. It’s only evident. Let’s go back to 2009 in the ACLS where Chone Figgens and Eric Aybar stand looking at each other as the ball drops. It was a play these fools had made over and over again for an easy out. You can’t tell me that it wasn’t paid for. Scott Kazmir in game 6. Same series, same year. He threw the ball over Howie Kendricks head and the ball nearly went into the dug out. You can’t tell me that wasn’t paid for.
      Stienbrenners are crooks. They’ll do anything to make a buck. You can cut me from neck to nuts and I won’t tell you any different.
      I’m out. Peace.

  • Zack

    Does Bud deserve to be in the hall if his impact has largely been negative? You can cite the $ numbers, but in some ways that was in SPITE of Bud…

    But in any case, Pique, I think you are confusing the issue a bit. Pohlad is just as over involved, just in a different way. As in, don’t spend any $. George being over involved has basically brought the Yankees nothing. Look at the times when George’s hand was most present, pre-suspension and post-2001. Both times he was directly responsible for making the Yankees worse. It was his time away that allowed Stick to rebuild and on his return he was more hands-off. And post-2001, its been his demand for the big free agents and more and more offense that destroyed the farm system.

    We can thank George for opening his wallet, and believe me, I am thankful for that everyday. But lets not rush to canonize him the way that everyone seems to be after they retire/die/whatever these days. As Ben points out, the man was pretty much an a-hole and a relatively bad baseball mind. What he is good at is building a corporate empire with $, marketing, and attention…

  • mooks

    His “legacy” may actually wind up putting him in the hall of fame.

    The campaign stuff to Nixon, his only mistake was that it was Nixon and he got caught, owners have done far far worse.

    However, having been a very active and involved owner, he oversaw 10 Pennets, 6 of those being world series champions….in 35 years.

    Numerous HOFers, and other accolades……..and I am not even a supporter of the guy, I wanted him to sell the team.

    Go Figure.

  • Casper

    GMS3 did not build the late 90s championship teams. Those teams were built when he was on his forced hiatus. He stayed relatively hands-off (relative to his past history) upon his return from that hiatus, and the mid to late 90s were truly an enjoyable time to be a Yankees fan, on many levels.

    I appreciate that he spends money on the team, but that’s not enough in my book. Every owner SHOULD be doing that, it’s not necessarily something we should be holding out as his greatest achievement. With the recent run of success it’s easy to forget what he did to this organization in the 80’s – it wasn’t pretty. Got to hand it to the guy, he’s going out on a high-note. He’s never been as popular (or, really, popular in the least) as he’s been these last few years.

    • mooks

      If some of the stories are true about when he was banned the 2nd time from baseball, he is very very lucky, that his “lifetime” ban was commuted, otherwise, he would have been gone from baseball forever.

      That said, His HOF chances do look very good…..even if he doesn’t deserve as much credit as he does/will get.

  • wayne’s world

    This revisionist attitude towards George in the piece and in the comments is surprising to me. The Yanks finally got good again when he finally stopped micromanaging the team and allowed people who know baseball far better than he did put a team together. And as to lavishing resources on the team when other owners don’t: it’s simply a byproduct of the fact that the Yanks play in the number one media market in the company. They have unparalleled financial resources because of the huge tv monies that far exceed those of virtually every other market, including Boston.

    I hate to sound like a curmudgeon, but the guy always was a bum, right up until the time his dotage rendered him a non-factor.

  • Rich

    George is a complex man who, at least in the early part of his tenure, was far too prone to play out the psychological conflicts he had with his father in the tyrannical (and sometimes irrational) way that he ran the team. The interminable conflicts with Billy Martin were the quintessential example.

    I think George’s legacy is mixed, but I now choose to think that the positives outweigh the negatives, especially when he is compared to some truly loathsome sports franchise owners, like the Dolans. It may also because it’s difficult, at least from my perspective, to hold on to hostile feelings toward a man who is now in his senescence.

    Consequently, I think George will be remembered as much, if not more, for Jeter/Mariano than Buhner/Phelps, and his lasting legacy will be the six (or more) rings.

  • dan

    Hank: “Hey, Hal, I really feel like we should honor dad for being such a great owner all these years and finally handing down his Yankees to us”
    Hal: “And also for all his philanthropic work. Wait a minute, what about those guys that wanted to name the Tampa stadium after him?”
    Hank: “Oh yea, that would be a great idea!”
    Hal: “How about ‘Steinbrenner Stadium”
    Hank: “No, i got it. George M. Steinbrenner Memorial Field”
    George: [in Monty Python/Holy Grail voice] “I’m not dead yet!”

  • maximumpotential

    it’s ironic that George’s “legacy” has had the opposite path that Clemens’ has lol.
    think about it:
    before George’s suspension he was mostly disliked. as mentioned, those 70’s early 80’s teams were a mess. however, they were less back-page material P.G., but terrible on the field. i remember those losing teams in late 80’s early 90’s. other than Donnie Baseball they sucked. there was no George then. he came back in ’93 and we all know what’s happened since then.

    Clemens on the other hand: lol!
    best pitcher in the game loved by all, has now turned into an stooge. the idiot should’ve just said “yes i did it” like EVERYONE else in baseball has done and been on with his life. instead, he hasn’t “saved” his legacy, he’s ruined it by trying to make us think we’re too stupid to know he (and Selig) are lying to everyone’s faces.

    personally, i don’t care who juiced, as far as i can tell, it’s the same as a spittball, or not allowing blacks to play. just admit you did it, don’t spit in my face and tell me it’s raining.

    i was in the bleachers Game6 of the ’96 series. we had no idea when the World Series would be comming back to The Bronx. i remember waiting in line for like 20hrs. i remember Yankee Stadium feeling like an earthquake when Giardi tripled. i’ll always remember George (and that team of course) for that night.

  • Will

    I am sorry, but I don’t see how George’s propensity for firing employees and being hands makes him a monster. Sure, he’d fire a manager on a whim, but then he’d re-hire in another role and usually pay him more than he would get elsewhere. Demanding, irrational and bombastic? Yes. But it’s not like George was hiring and firing blue collar workers supporting families.

    I also think the campaign finance mention is a cheap shot, especially if you read up on the circumstances. Several credible sources support GMS’ claim that he was forced into the contributions and that the matter was more political than criminal. As for the Spira incident, while not a feather in his cap, I am sure Steinbrenner is not the only business man to employ an investigator over concerns about how his money (in this case a donation to the Winfield foundation) was being spent.

    Was George a saint? No. But, he was an owner committed to winning. Sometimes his approach worked, and other times it did not. Regardless, I wouldn’t trade in the 35 years of GMSIII for another chance to repeat those seasons. What’s more, George has been a very charitable person over his tenure with the Yankees. He deserves to not only be honored this season with a day, but a monument and a Hall of Fame induction should also be on the horizon.

  • Pete

    The Yankees became successful in SPITE of George Steinbrenner, not because of him. If he were not suspended in the early 90’s he would have squandered away the future the way he always did. No Bernie, no Jeter, no Pettitte, no Posada…How good would those teams have been then? I’m glad he’s relegated to no control over the team. He can’t hurt us anymore from a chair out on the sun porch while dribbling his oatmeal.

  • Marsha

    I don’t see how George Steinbrenner will be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Have we forgotten that he was suspended from baseball for illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon and then banned from baseball after hiring a gambler to get some dirt on Dave Winfield? As wayne’s world said, the guy is and always has been a bum.

  • wayne’s world

    Good point, Marsha. Unlike Mark McGwire, Steinbrenner’s a convicted felon. I like McGwire’s chances of getting into the hall better than George’s. Anyway, George now has a field named after him–that’s a sufficient honor. I still can’t believe how soft the River Ave. Blues crowd is on this guy.

  • wayne’s world

    Well, I may have spoken too quickly about the convicted felon status. He was a convicted felon but he was pardoned by Ronald Reagan so maybe the people at the Hall of Fame will put on blinders and pretend that he’s not a convicted felon. But he WAS a convicted felon. And he does have the honor of being number 7 on Time Magazine’s list of the 10 Most Notorious Presidential Pardons:

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