Just a few days after George Steinbrenner celebrated his 80th birthday, I pondered Cooperstown for the Boss. Despite his temper and problems with baseball’s top authorities, George has been one of the most influential and revolutionary owners in professional sports. He turned a $10-million investment in 1973 into something worth over $1 billion in 2010, and he of course made enemies along the way.
But while baseball history is littered with the names of those fired by Steinbrenner, the Boss had another side that didn’t make headlines. His charitable contributions were immense, and employees past and present say George, even at his worst, was always loyal to those loyal to him and the Yankees organization. He wasn’t all bad; he wasn’t all good; he just was.
For the Yankees, today is a day of mourning. George had been the face of the organization for 37 years, and during that time, the 29 other baseball teams had changed hands 100 times. Yet, the Steinbrenners endured. In George’s first year as owner of the Yankees, there were just 24 Major League teams. Today, they are 30, and the Yankees, winners of seven World Series trophies on his watch, rule the roost, and even as Yankee fans can forget how George’s meddling mired the franchise in 1980s mediocrity, those around baseball remembered the man today.
“This is a very sad day for me and Carmen and all of baseball,” Yogi Berra, who had a 15-year feud with Steinbrenner, said. “My sympathies go out to the Steinbrenner family. George was The Boss, make no mistake. He built the Yankees into champions and that’s something nobody can ever deny. He was a very generous, caring, passionate man. George and I had our differences, but who didn’t? We became great friends over the last decade and I will miss him very much.”
Bud Selig, who banded together with other owners in frequent attempts to rein in Steinbrenner’s spending, spoke: “I have known George ever since he entered the game in 1972. He was my dear friend for nearly four decades. 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. We were allies and friends in the truest sense of the words.”
Don Zimmer, another baseball figure who had a falling-out with Steinbrenner, wanted to remember the good times. “I would prefer to remember him just as he was the first time I met him. I was managing the Red Sox and sitting in the dugout several hours before a game at Yankee Stadium. He was on the mound in a white shirt pitching batting practice to his son. A father throwing to his son,” the Rays’ adviser said. “His impact on the game is impossible to measure. If you were a Yankee fan there was no better owner because he would do anything at any cost to put the best team on the field.
The Red Sox will honor George Steinbrenner with a moment of silence before the Thursday game at Fenway Park. “I had the good fortune to call George Steinbrenner both partner and friend,” current Boston owner and former Yankee partner John Henry said. “I had the privilege to watch George as he built a system that ensured his beloved Yankees would have a strong foundation for sustained excellence. And then we fiercely competed in the American League. George Steinbrenner forever changed baseball and hopefully some day we will see him honored in baseball’s Hall of Fame as one of the great figures in the history of sports.”
Echoed Larry Lucchino, who once called George’s Yankees the Evil Empire: “My respect for George went beyond the baseball field because of his sincere and longstanding commitment to charity, and to people in need. He had a giant heart, often well hidden from public view. Part of his legacy here in Boston will be the profound kindness he showed to numerous local philanthropic causes, especially as a regular and generous contributor each year to the Jimmy Fund of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.”
John Sterling, the homerist of Yankee homers, spoke about the Boss’ contradictions. “I’ve heard one million George Steinbrenner stories of things he did for people that would bring a tear to your eye. So he was a combination,” he said. “Was he a tough boss? Boy, you bet he was. But he also had the softest side to him. In my own way, I really loved him. He took care of so many people in so many ways. I’m really very sad today, but he did phenomenal things for the Yankees.”
Joe Torre, the last manager to be kinda, sorta fired by the Boss, added his own comment: “I will always remember George Steinbrenner as a passionate man, a tough boss, a true visionary, a great humanitarian, and a dear friend. I will be forever grateful that he trusted me with his Yankees for 12 years. My heart goes out to his entire family. He will be deeply missed in New York, Tampa and throughout the world of baseball. It’s only fitting that he went out as a world champ.”
It is indeed only fitting that George went out on top. His Yankees are World Series champions with the best record on baseball. He wouldn’t have had it any other way.
After the jump, a video from CNN of George in his own words.