Looking at an inaccurate Steinbrenner biography

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Where would the Yankees be right now without George Steinbrenner? It’s absolutely impossible to say for certain, other than “not like they are now.” Which can be a good thing or bad thing, depending on your worldview.

Whenever I see something George-related, my ears and eyes perk up. Peter Golenbock, of The Bronx Zoo fame, recently published a biography of The Boss, titled George: The Poor Little Rich Boy Who Built the Yankees Empire. It’s on my reading stack, but unfortunately it’s a ways down. Seeing as I might not get to it for a while, it was nice to see Hugging Harold Reynolds post an interview with the author, wherein he talks about his subject.

While the whole interview is worth a look, my favorite part came when HHR asked Golenbock about Hal and Hank — specifically about how the team will be run and how it will be different from their father’s reign. Says Golenbock:

What the Yankee fans can expect in years to come is a much more rational approach to running the team. With George at the helm, he would ignore the advice of his talented baseball scouts and general managers, often making stupid or ill-advised personnel decisions. Buying Steve Trout was just one of many such decisions. Hal and Hank will be more likely to trust their baseball people and sign players who will help them more often than not. The signing of Sabathia, Burnett, and Teixeira are proof that they will sign talented players, not too-old retreats or pitchers with reputations who are injured, as George did. Since the Yankees will be making a fortune from ticket sales and from the YES nature, their overspending won’t break the bank. In my opinion, the Yankees will be a much more dangerous franchise going forward.

A franchise more dangerous than one which won six championships under George? Now that’s scary good. Then again, citing only those six championship seasons overlooks a number of other factors, including the Yankees cellar dwelling in the late 80s, and that the late 90s dynasty was assembled while George was banned from baseball. Still, to say that the franchise will be run better seems a bit of a stretch.

Why isn’t George higher up on my reading list? Other than having more interesting books ahead of it, there’s another reason: factual accuracy. Murray Chass (h/t BBTF) points to Goldenbock’s history of inaccuracies, and warns of much the same from George. This isn’t just Chass’s criticism; these errors have been acknowledged by the book’s publisher, John Wiley & Sons.

What does that mean? It means that Goldenbock has written another baseball book, another book about the Yankees, and that’s not good. In fact, it’s downright dangerous. It’s dangerous because whenever he has written a baseball book, Golenbock has created errors for posterity.

Years from now some kid will take a Golenbock book out of his school library and think he is reading an accurate history. Golenbock and accuracy are an oxymoron.

The review includes an expression of regret from the author for the mistakes and a statement from the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, which said in part, “Regarding Peter Golenbock’s book, we are currently taking steps internally to correct the errors which will be reflected in the next reprint.”

But the reviewer must be faulted, too. “As an avid baseball fan,” he writes, “I’ve enjoyed Golenbock’s past works, which include collaborations with former Yankees Graig Nettles, Billy Martin and Sparky Lyle. Those associations gave me good reason to expect ‘George’ to be interesting and entertaining.”

How could he have read those other Golenbock books without finding the same kind of faulty writing he exposed in “George?” He would have had to have read the books with his eyes closed not to see them. The Lyle book, “The Bronx Zoo,” for example, contains 68 factual errors.

Sixty-eight factual errors. Don’t they pay people to go through books and find these? It might seem like Chass nitpicks with some of these errors, but I don’t take issue at all. If Golenbock is making simple errors on things like hotel names and the handedness of a batter (uh, Duke Snider was a righty?), what other lazy errors is he making?

One of these days, we’re going to get an 800-page biography of Mr. Steinbrenner, and it will be glorious. It won’t dabble in psychology and try to define George’s various compulsions and neuroses. It will cover the man and his effect on the people around him. Hey, maybe that’s a future RAB project. I think we’d have more than a few willing participants.

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  • I Remember Celerino Sanchez

    Joe, I think you mean “Inaccurate” (headline).

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

      Did I have it wrong before?

      • http://www.riveraveblues.com Benjamin Kabak

        Yes sir. I fixed it.

        • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

          Out of curiosity, what was the typo? I actually changed the title right before posting (still don’t like it).

          • http://www.riveraveblues.com Benjamin Kabak

            It said “inaccuate.”

            • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

              Bah. I hate Rs anyway.

              • Mike R. – Retire 21

                Funny. Your mother loves it in the Rs Trebek! Get it? In the arse!

                • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

                  You think you’re pretty smart, don’t you, Trebek? What with your Dago mustache and your greasy hair!

                • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

                  I’ll take “Catch The seMen” for $200.

                • ClayBuchholzLovesLaptops

                  I had relations this morning, Trebek, hope we didn’t wake you.

  • jsbrendog

    it’s just such a shame that he has to go out like this, george i mean. I’ve seen what dementia and alzheimers can do and it is not pretty. poor guy.

  • http://www.riveraveblues.com Benjamin Kabak

    My thoughts about Steinbrenner are often very contradictory. I remember how happy everyone was when he was suspended in 1990. I remember fans clapping at the news. I know that the Yanks were able to put the pieces in place to build a lasting dynasty with him on the sidelines.

    But I also realize that he’s been more willing than most to reinvest his profits in the team, and I know that he’s had something of a revolutionary impact on the business of baseball both before and after his suspension. Assessing his real legacy will be a tall order for anyone.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Benjamin Kabak

      Also, fun story: I was at the game as fans realized he was suspended, and while I was just 7 at the time, I still remember the cheers from the crowd. More on that in this Times article. The Yanks sure were crappy that year.

      • The Lodge

        You’ve got to give him credit though. He really stopped meddling with the team and being an incredible control freak after that suspension (didn’t stop completely but toned it WAY down).

        Anyone remember the “George Steinbrenner Death Watch” on Weekend Update – SNL in the late 80’s?

        • mustang

          “Anyone remember the “George Steinbrenner Death Watch” on Weekend Update – SNL in the late 80’s?”

          Oh my God yes…LMAO

    • I Remember Celerino Sanchez

      You make an excellent point, Ben. The problem is that there are facts that are indisputable but conflicting.

      On the one hand, few baseball owners (if any) showed the dedication to winning that GS did. He put earning money off of the Yanks second to winning. (Not that he didn’t try and make money, just that it didn’t drive the train, like it does, say, with the S.F. Giants partnership). Generating revenue was a way to make the team better. And remember, through the 90s, he tried hard not to have the highest payroll in baseball. I don’t think it was until something like ’97 that the Yanks took over from the O’s.

      But, at the same time, there is no doubt that he personally ran the team into the ground in the 80s with bad moves. His drive, which was a help in the 1970s, had become a major liability in the 1980s, turning into a megalomania. And it’s hard to argue that the 1990s resurgence was only possible because smart guys like Stick Michael were allowed to do their jobs. And the Spira/Winfield debacle will forever stain him.

      I also can’t help thinking that the current Levine/Trost, class-divide, $2,500-seat way of thinking is what became of the Yanks when GS wasn’t around to explain the difference between generating money to put back into the team and out-and-out screwing the everyday fans. It’s hard to say if that reflects negatively on GS (he created the monster) or positively (he never let it get this out of control when he was in charge).

      How do you make sense of all of that and come up with a single yea/nay? It’s tough.

  • Axl

    I know him and a bunch of partners went in on the Yankees in the early 70’s and George actually paid $10MM for the team himself out of the group. But what ever happened to the rest of the guys who bought it with him? I never heard anything about it. Did he silently buy them out one year? And if so…how soon there-after?

    • http://eastrutherfordrant.com donttradecano

      Im pretty sure he bought them out, not sure how soon though.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      But what ever happened to the rest of the guys who bought it with him?

      He whacked ‘em.

  • mos

    I’m really not a fan of Steinbrenner. Actually, I’m an anti-fan. His Yankees won six World Series over a period of about three and a half decades, but the Yankees won twenty over the previous five (give or take). I wouldn’t call that an improvement, even if the modern rules and availability of talent makes the game a different beast. Not to mention the 80s were a travesty (the only decade without a Yankees Series victory), and you’re right: the superstar winning teams of the late 90s were built while he was banned from running the team.

    Let’s not forget he’s tearing down Yankee Stadium, too. I don’t know if anyone is tired of hearing people bitch about that, but it’s still a valid complaint for some of us. Growing up in the Midwest and now living in Texas, I consider myself lucky to have seen a game there (Clemens demolished the Tigers and Posada hit the game-winning homer), but my dad is really the reason I bleed pinstripes and he never had the opportunity to see a game.

    • http://eastrutherfordrant.com donttradecano

      The 20s-60s were a totally different game. There were less teams, no free agency, and im pretty sure there wasnt an amateur draft until 1965 so the Yankees had a shot to sign all the best amateur players.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Benjamin Kabak

      I certainly agree with you, mos, about the Stadium issue. For me, that probably tips it. As has been more than obvious around here, I completely disagree with the way the Yanks have approached the stadium.

      As for the winning, no team has won six World Series since he took over. The A’s and Reds have won three times, and a handful have won twice. So I’d say that six is a pretty good accomplishment. The game has changed drastically since the golden era of New York baseball.

      • Tony

        I feel the steroid era is the Golden Era. Championships & home runs – ohh the good old days – when Men wher Men.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      Alright, here goes. Buckle up.

      —————-

      “you’re right: the superstar winning teams of the late 90s were built while he was banned from running the team.”

      Not really. Steinbrenner was out from mid 1990 to just before the beginning of the 1993 season. Meaning, everything that happened during the 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1996 seasons preceding that first championship happened under his watch and with his approval.

      Let’s take a look at that 1996 title team:

      Girardi – acquired for prospect Mike DeJean after the 1995 season. Steinbrenner.
      Tino – acquired for prospects Russ Davis and Sterling Hitchcock after the 1995 season. Steinbrenner.
      Mariano Duncan – signed as a free agent after the 1995 season. Steinbrenner.
      Jeter – drafted in 1992. Stein-free.
      Boggs – signed as a free agent after the 1992 season. Stein-free.
      Gerald Williams – drafted in 1987. Subsequently traded away. Steinbrenner.
      Bernie – signed as an amateur free agent in 1985. Steinbrenner.
      Paul O’Neill – acquired for Roberto Kelly after the 1992 season. Stein-free.
      Jorge – drafted in June 1990. Stein didn’t step down as managing partner of the Yankees until August of 1990, so, technically, Posada is Steinbrenner.
      Ruben Sierra – acquired for Danny Tartabull in 1995. Subsequently traded away.Steinbrenner.
      Leyritz – signed as an amateur free agent in 1985. Steinbrenner.
      Tim Raines – acquired for non-prospect Blaise Kozeniewski in 1995. Steinbrenner.
      Strawberry – signed as a free agent in mid 1995. Steinbrenner.
      Cecil Fielder – acquired for Ruben Sierra in 1996. Steinbrenner.
      Andy Fox – drafted in 1989. Steinbrenner.
      Ruben Rivera – signed as an IFA in November 1990. Stein-free.
      Charlie Hayes – traded as a PTBNL for non-prospect Darrin Chapin before the 1992 season. Stein-free.
      Luis Sojo – claimed on waivers in mid-1996. Steinbrenner.
      Pat Kelly – drafted in 1988. Steinbrenner.

      Pettitte – signed as an amateur free agent in 1991… although the team did draft him during that Steinbrenner draft of 1990 and he didn’t sign. I’ll call it Stein-free, but it’s close.
      Kenny Rogers – signed as a free agent in 1995 for some fat SteinBucks. Steinbrenner.
      Cone – acquired in a salary dump in mid 1995. Steinbrenner.
      Jimmy Key – signed as a free agent in 1992 for some fat GeneMichaelBucks. Stein-free.
      Gooden – signed as a free agent in 1996. Steinbrenner.
      Ramiro Mendoza – signed as an amateur free agent in 1991. Stein-free.
      John Wetteland – acquired for prospect Fernando Seguignol in 1995. Steinbrenner.
      Mariano Rivera – signed as an IFA in February, 1990. Steinbrenner.
      Jeff Nelson – acquired for prospects Russ Davis and Sterling Hitchcock after the 1995 season. Steinbrenner.
      Bob Wickman – acquired for Steve Sax in 1992. Subsequently traded away. Stein-free (I guess).
      Brian Boehringer – acquired for Paul Assenmacher in the spring of 1994. Steinbrenner.
      Jim Mecir – acquired for prospects Russ Davis and Sterling Hitchcock after the 1995 season. Steinbrenner.
      Scott Kamieniecki – drafted in 1986. Steinbrenner.
      Dave Weathers – acquired for Mark Hutton in mid 1996. Steinbrenner.
      Ricky Bones – acquired in mid 1996 for Gerald Willaims and Bob Wickman. Steinbrenner.
      Graeme Lloyd – acquired in mid 1996 for Gerald Willaims and Bob Wickman. Steinbrenner.

      ——————-

      The only members of the 1996 title team that were “built” while George was kicked out of the game were:
      Jeter
      O’Neill
      Boggs
      Charlie Hayes
      Ruben Rivera (who was a 22 year old rookie who got one postseason plate appearance)
      Pettitte (sort of)
      Jimmy Key
      Ramiro Mendoza

      The other 17 guys on the 25-man roster, and all the other ancillary pieces of depth on the 40 man, they all were either already Yankees before Stein’s suspension, or were acquired after Stein took control, and many of them were typical Steinbrenner big-ticket acquisitions (like Rogers, Cone, Wetteland, Tino, Strawberry, Gooden, Raines, Duncan, Nelson, etc.) Moreover, of the 8 guys who were “built” while George was gone, I feel pretty confidently he would have also bought Jimmy Key and Wade Boggs as free agents, and Hayes and Rivera are effectively blips on the radar. Hell, I have no reason to believe he wouldn’t have drafted Jeter at #6; in any event, it’s the 6th pick in the draft, we were damn likely to get something good. And, like I said, Pettitte was already on our radar pre-George’s ban. All you’re really saying for sure is the Kelly-O’Neill deal went down sans-George. The rest is pretty much moot.

      The claim that the team was “built” while George wasn’t around isn’t a strong one. You can say that Stick Michael used the time to let some of the kids grow on the far and not be traded for prospects, and it’s true, but the fact remains that the overwhelming majority of the 1996 title team was assembled under George’s watch from 1993-1996 and was done in the classic George Steinbrenner way: Buy good free agents and trade prospects for other good players entering their primes.

      • mustang

        This was so good that a tear of happiness just roll down my face.
        Man when you want to make a point, shit.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        Sorry, “let some of the kids grow on the farm

        Farm, not far.

      • Tony

        I like how you frame your facts. I agree with everything said. But – and this is a big But – Steibrenner’s time away helped start the chain of events that lead to the dynasty. We needed him to be away for a while to let the kids (jeter, bernie grow) without the threat of trading them away for short term gain. We also needed him back so he could be agressive to supplement the team as it was growing. I believe Steinbrenner grew during this time away and was a better owner becuase of it.

        I dont feel it is an either or choice – I just feel it was a “Perfect Storm” of events & circumstance.

        • mustang

          Agree.
          Well said.

          • Bo

            George deserves credit for actually getting suspended and setting up the dynasty.

            • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

              [ facepalm ]

              That’s the exact OPPOSITE of the factual record, Bo, which I just outlined for you.

  • mustang

    I lived throughout the George Steinbrenner years he was one of the first owners to truly use free agency to his advantage. He basically brought the players he needed and demanded nothing less then excellence from the people that work for him. He was a taskmaster that cracked a hard whip this was the way he earned is reputation. Somewhere a long the line the game pasted him and what worked for him at first became his Achilles’ heel. George was hard enough to like when the team was winning he became easy to hate when the team started to lose.
    Two things about George he put his money where his mouth is and if you were successful for him he never forgot it.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Benjamin Kabak

      George was hard enough to like when the team was winning he became easy to hate when the team started to lose.

      To what years are you referring when the team started to lose? The late 80s/early 90s? George’s rein seems to go win for a while, lose for a while, win for a while. Despite the lack of recent postseason success, the team is still very much in the “win for a while” phase.

      • mustang

        Most of the 80’s and early 90’s. To be honest George change a lot after the ban the true “Boss” has been around for years.

        • http://www.riveraveblues.com Benjamin Kabak

          He was control-happy during the 1980s in a bad, bad way.

          • mustang

            Totally agree. However that “control-happy” thing took a shit organization to the top. Times changed George just refused to change with them.

      • mustang

        “Despite the lack of recent postseason success, the team is still very much in the “win for a while” phase.”

        I think your mixing a lot of things together this current ” win for a while” phase is not a pre ban George at his prime team. I don’t think a lot of the current personnel would still be here if George was running the team in his prime.

        • mustang

          “I don’t think a lot of the current personnel would still be here if George was running the team in his prime.”

          Change

          I know that a lot of the current personnel would not be here if George was running the team in his prime.

      • Chris

        Here are the list of years since ’73 that the Yankees had a losing record:
        1973 (80-82)
        1982 (79-83)
        1989 (74-87)
        1990 (67-95)
        1991 (71-91)
        1992 (76-86)

        So the only period of losing was the late 80s/early 90s. Even when the Yankees weren’t winning World Series, they were winning games.

  • mustang

    It would truly be fun to see how you guys here would of handled George in his prime. Patience wasn’t exactly George’s best feature.

    • Tony

      And the fact that in the 80’s & early 90’s It was cool to be a “Mets” fan & it was going against the tide to be a Yankees fan. I know – I lived it.

      • mustang

        me too.

        • Tony

          Its funny the way they feel about the 80’s – reminds me of how I feel about the late 60’s & early 70’s. If you dont live it then the bad seasons dont hurt – but I imagine those fans where livid with cbs.

          • mustang

            ” If you dont live it then the bad seasons dont hurt”

            Oh my God I wish somehow we could transplant that into the Yankees fans from 1996 on up. It’s so easy to preach about patience when mostly all they know is winning. Talk to me about patience after the team hasn’t seen the playoffs in 15 years. But the age difference is something that no one can do anything about expect to try and understand the other side.

            • Tony

              Hey these guys are pretty sharp & 90% of the time they make excellent points that you’ll never find in the papers or online. But I do crack up – because I lived the 80’s & I can still remember my feelings about the team – those feelings never go away.

              I remember in the late 90’s I was always terrified – that George would find a way to screw it up. Thankfully Joe had leverage – and to George’s credit he told his front office – ok you have free reign but if you screw it up – your out of here. Guess what they won so he could not say or do a damn thing. Overall I liked george because he could recruit & was willing to spend money (as opposed to the wipons who are cheap) I just felt he was unstable & there is something to be said with solid mgmt that stays in place for a long period of time.

              • mustang

                Don’t get me wrong I love the site. As much as I disagree with them sometimes as far as getting information from all levels and all sources this place is the best.
                I just wonder sometimes how much different opinion would be if the Yankees weren’t as successful as they have been.

                Agree totally on the second half of your comment.

  • Chris

    It’s interesting that the two stretches under Steinbrenner where the Yankees won the World Series (late ’70s and late ’90s) were both preceded by Steinbrenner being suspended.

  • http://newstadiuminsider.com Bobby

    I reviewed the book in two parts over on our site. I caught a few of the factual errors myself. Ultimately I decided not to make the errors the focus of our review. No matter how stupid and careless some of these mistakes may have been, I think you have to at least give Golenbock some credit for interviewing hundreds of people from Steinbrenner’s life. And while it’s pretty clear that there’s an anti-George theme to the entire bio, there are quite a few anecdotes centered around George that make the book worth reading if you aren’t too busy finishing up the Twilight series…

    NSI reviews the book:
    newstadiuminsider.blogspot.com/2009/04/george-steinbrenner-biography-book.html
    newstadiuminsider.blogspot.com/2009/05/george-steinbrenner-biography-review.html

    • TomG

      People need to start demanding more from sports journalists, there shouldn’t be any factual errors.

      I don’t want to compare Steinbrenner’s impact to Robert Moses’ or anything, but the guy was the head of a major New York City institution for three decades; he deserves a well researched biography like ‘The Power Broker’.

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  • MikeD

    Murray Chass? He needs a few lessons himself in accurate reporting.

    • Tony

      Oh come on – Murray is one of the good ones. He knows baseball & doesn’t have agenda’s.

      • Bo

        Chass is a good one. The Times misses him bigtime.

  • Bo

    Golenbock has a notorious repuation for being an unfactual hack. He’s probably the last person that should be doing a book on George.

  • Joseph M

    I read the book, the factual errors are just so overwhelming that the reader begins to become detached from the text completely. Golenbock writes the way Ed Wood made movies. What kind of errors are we talking about, he has Denny McLain on the 84 Tigers, the Yanks winning pennants in 1924 and 1959, Billy Martin being fired by the Rangers in 1974, Willie Randolph coming to the Yankees after the 1974 season, Munson dying in September of 1979, Roger Maris in the Hall of Fame and believe it or not I’ve just scratched the surface. Honest to God it is absolutely ridicous.

    The good news in all this (at least for me), I borrowed it from the library, no harm no foul.