Jul
07

On his 80th birthday, the Boss and Cooperstown

By

George Steinbrenner turned 80 this past Sunday, and the New York media took the time to fete the Boss. Harvey Araton talked with current Yankees who remembered the fiercely competitive owner. Filip Bondy found fans players alike who were thanks for the Boss’ World Series obsession. MLB.com’s Barry Bloom waxed poetic, and ESPN’s Wallace Matthews calls for enshrinement. What a lovefest.

For Yankee fans of any age, it’s hard to distill Steinbrenner’s reign as Yankee owner into anything resembling a narrative. A carpetbagger from Cleveland, he purchased the team at its darkest moment after CBS ownership had decimated the once-proud franchise. With a newly renovated stadium as a backdrop, George built up a championship team and a reputation for micromanaging. “We plan absentee ownership as far as running the Yankees is concerned,” the Boss infamously said upon purchasing the team. “We’re not going to pretend we’re something we aren’t. I’ll stick to building ships.”

Yet, building ships was not in the cards for the Yankees. Steinbrenner wanted to win, and he wanted to win on his own terms. He hired, fired, rehired and refired Billy Martin more times than anyone could count. He threw money at problems, landing Reggie Jackson amidst clubhouse dissent and then signing Goose Gossage with Sparky Lyle already around to close. Winning once wasn’t good enough, and he put more and more pressure on the team to win and win at all costs.

After success in the late 1970s, George became too much for the team in the 1980s. He ordered trades that left the farm system barren, paid more than top dollar for free agents who weren’t worth the money they earned and obsessed over the drive and devotion of stars such as Dave Winfield. He pushed away Yogi Berra and Lou Piniella, and he continued to run through managers as though they were tissues.

In the 1990s, the Boss finally seemed to realize that the Yanks weren’t going to win 162 games a year. He allowed the farm to grow, and he sat back satisfied as the Yanks won four World Series in five years and spent the 2000s raking in the dough. Still, he meddled when he shouldn’t have, acquiring Randy Johnson years too late, establishing a Tampa faction to challenge Brian Cashman needlessly. The Yanks racked up the wins, but the team was flawed.

When George’s health started to slip away, the tributes came out in full. Matthews, who doesn’t want to limit the Hall of Fame to only those who were “exemplary human beings,” says Steinbrenner should be in Cooperstown because of his contributions to the game. The Yankees, through their spending, have radically changed baseball economics, and even when the game off the field shakes down to 29 clubs facing off against George’s dollars, Steinbrenner’s clubs have kept on winning. TV deals are more lucrative because of him, and record-breaking crowds flock to see the Yanks both at home and on the road. What’s good for baseball is, after all, good for baseball.

But George isn’t an easy man to pigeonhole. He violated campaign finance laws and was suspended after he sent a private investigatory to spy on Winfield. He was a cranky and temperamental owner whose need to have his finger stirring the pot probably cost the Yankees more championships during his reign than they won. Some would say he ruined the game with his spending.

So George the octogenarian trudges forward. His sons run the team, and he serves as the aging patriarch. The media loves him because he made for great headlines. Wallace Matthews and Filip Bondy are fond fans of the boss because he made their jobs easier. With an eruption from Mount George or a firing, the daily articles practically wrote themselves. Whether he belongs in the Hall though, enshrined forever in Cooperstown, is open-ended indeed.

Categories : Front Office
  • A.D.

    And to think Steinbrenner wanted to buy the Indians, the Yanks being his second choice.

  • pat

    Heh, George didn’t exactly willingly take a back seat during team operations from 1990-1993.

    • Pete C.

      You’re right, and when the suspension was lifted it was big news. Even with the bad mentioned the Prod of the Yankees, is probably one of the most important figures in the sport for the last 40 years.
      Think about it like this; yeah he spent absurd amounts of money, but the part nobody mentions, is how much he must have made for his partners.

  • Mike HC

    Nice write-up.

    I have no complaints with King George. The Yanks won 5 World Series in my age 11-24 seasons, and only missed the playoffs once. He made for high entertainment and was a true living legend during my lifetime. I have nothing but fond memories.

  • Jose the Satirist

    I’m fully in support of George Steinbrenner in the HOF. I can’t think of any owner more talked about in the last 30 years than him.

    He may not have been the richest owner, or nicest owner, or the smartest owner, but he sure as hell invested a great deal in his team. He has been owner for 6 World Championships. Has any owner ever had that many WS rings?

    While he certainly had his share of blunders, I think he as an owner is the very definition of a HOF executive. Someone who pushes for that Wold Series year after year.

    • poster on a different computer

      I fully agree.

    • http://kierstenschmidt.com Kiersten

      “He has been owner for 6 World Championships. Has any owner ever had that many WS rings?”

      Count again.

      • Jose the Satirist

        I knew someone would try and call me out on that. After 2007 he has no where near the stake he used to have. You could argue the owners for the most recent World Championships was more reflective of Hal and Hank controlling the team.

        Basically he was pretty much sole owner for 6 World Chamipionships. But owned at least a part of the team for 7 World Championships. I was just reflecting his peak owner years.

        • http://kierstenschmidt.com Kiersten

          He still owns the team. The whole team.

          • Jose the Satirist

            He still owns something around 55% of the team stake. The rest is mostly Hank and Hal. I was simply reflecting his years as sole owner. I guess I should have just put 7. I don’t know what more you want me to say, I guess I was wrong even though I purposely chose 6 instead of 7. Whatever.

            • http://kierstenschmidt.com Kiersten

              No, I get what you’re saying. But his HOF plaque will still say he was owner for 7 (hopefully more) World Championships.

  • Klemy

    His desire to win is unmatched in baseball, maybe any sport. For that, I’ll always be thankful. Watching teams in Buffalo lose year after year, never making a big move, I’ve always had the Yankees to have hope in. He wasn’t always successful, but the man always gave it a shot.

    • Jose the Satirist

      Yup. Even in the dark period of the 1980s, George always made it feel like he was trying to get players to make the team better. His urge to win was palpable during every free agency period, even if the players he wanted didn’t always come.

  • 28 this year

    Plus, he is one of the few owners that everyone knows. I think that speaks for itself.

    • Mike HC

      That just means he was a loud mouth. The winning didn’t hurt either though, obviously.

      I bet more people know who Mark Cuban is (has won nothing) then the Spurs owner (4 rings).

      • poster on a different computer

        I have absolutely no idea who Mark Cuban OR the Spurs owner is.

        • Mike HC

          thats why I said “more people” and not everyone.

      • whozat

        Well, but if we look back on Mark Cuban when he’s dying, and see that the NBA is different because he was an owner…doesn’t that make him part of the history of the game? And isn’t that what enshrining owners and union guys and commissioners is about?

        • Mike HC

          true. If he ends up having a big impact on the game. I just don’t think notoriety speaks for itself. It depends on why you are so well known.

        • Slugger27

          what’s different about the NBA because of mark cuban?

          • whozat

            Not saying anything is, which is why I think the analogy between him and Steinbrenner isn’t a good one. But I don’t think Mike HC was making that analogy, just holding Cuban up as an example of someone who’s known, but not necessarily a pivotal figure in the history of his team’s game.

            • Mike HC

              yea. You are on it.

          • Mike HC

            He created one of the greatest offenses of all time by not signing Nash and letting him leave to Phoenix, ha.

    • whozat

      Yeah, I feel like, for owners and broadcasters and the like…it’s about FAME. George Steinbrenner is and was a famous owner. For players, it makes sense to me to talk about their on-field performance — ensuring that you enshrine those who were famous because of their excellent play. But for people who are off-the-field in the first place…the dude was famous. How do you tell the story of the MLB for the last 30 years without talking about King George? A LOT?

      • Mike HC

        But how can you tell the story of the last 30 years without talking about Sosa, Big Mac, Bonds, ARod, Ortiz (all guys who I hope get in one day, but as of now, it is not looking good). So the Hall of Fame is not just about Fame.

        You need to be well known for the right reasons. Not because you bet on games, or cheated, or just spouted off at the mouth a lot.

        I love George, I think he is a HOFer, but not just because he is well known. That is selling him short I think.

        • whozat

          I already said that, for players, it’s not just about fame. It’s about being historically good at baseball.

          I also wasn’t just saying that being known makes you an integral part of the story of the game. MLB is different because of George, which is I think what we’re both saying.

          • Mike HC

            Yea, I think we are on the same page. I was just nit picking the original post.

        • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

          Ortiz (all guys who I hope get in one day, but as of now, it is not looking good)

          Does not compute O_O

          • Mike HC

            Not sure if you are implying he shouldn’t get in because he is a Red Sox, or because the number are not there.

            I think you are saying numbers. In my book, Ortiz is a Hall of Famer. Those 5 years or so of absolute dominance is enough for me. And he has a decent chance of finishing up his career with more than 400 homers. Plus the two WS rings carrying the offense and good enough for me.

            And very feared, :)

            • RL

              He hasn’t been good enough for a long enough time span. Look at Mattlingly.

              • Mike HC

                I think he should get in too.

                Maybe my standards are just too low. It is just so arbitrary to me.

                • RL

                  I agree Mattingly should get in. As has been pointed out many times before, extremely comparable numbers to Puckett. The fact that he played on teams that couldn’t get into the playoffs is not his fault. (and I realize there’s more to it than this simple comparison). Who is in the HOF with comparable numbers to Papi?

            • nsalem

              What about that Dodger Coach’s great 5 years.

              • Mike HC

                Yea. My standards may be too low. I admit that.

                I guess Ortiz just personally left a huge mark on my own history of being a fan.

            • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

              I guess I see the argument, but as a DH, his numbers really simply aren’t good enough to merit it. We’re talking HUGE Hall here if Ortiz deserves a spot. Plus, not that it’s 100000% gospel or anything, but he’s not even a top 500 hitter through history:
              http://www.baseballprojection.com/war/top500.htm

              • Mike HC

                Yea, see my responses above.

        • Slugger27

          wait… you “hope” ortiz gets in the hall?

          actually… dont answer that

          • Mike HC

            Maybe I am too much a prisoner of the moment when it comes to him, but he was just too good for that 5 year period and got 2 rings for his trouble. Also close to 400 homers if not more when it is all said and done.

            I can easily see how you disagree though. I might be stretching it, and am not an aficionado on the HOF criteria beyond the obvious hr’s, and hit landmarks.

            • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

              If you put everyone with a good 5-year period in the Hall it’d be so huge, it’d become basically meaningless. Mattingly and Nomar would be in there easily in that case, and they really don’t deserve it.

        • http://kierstenschmidt.com Kiersten

          I think A-Rod still gets into the Hall because he’s no longer on steroids and is still mashing at the same pace he did 8 years ago.

          But that’s a whole other discussion.

          • Mike HC

            yea it is. Lets not even get me started down that line.

  • nsalem

    George deserves to be in the baseball HOF and also the Human HOF for all his charitable acts. If more wealthy people were as giving as him the world would be a much better place. However it was Gene Michael who allowed the farm to grow in the absence of Mr. Steinbrenner. Without the suspension it’s very doubtful that this dynasty would exist.

  • The Bomber

    Tom Yawkey is in Cooperstown for turning a franchise that couldn’t beat the Yankees into a franchise that, umm, couldn’t beat the Yankees. And along the way poured, for the times, unconscionable amounts of money into payroll and ballpark renovation, was a staggering drunk (but kept the liquor cabinet in the press room fully stocked, so he was a media favorite) and made sure no black man played for his team for more than a decade after Jackie Robinson. If that’s a Hall of Fame owner, then George goes in today. But I don’t know of any owner who went in before he died (O’Malley, Veeck, Dreyfuss) except Mack who was honored more for managerial skills.

    • poster on a different computer

      Interesting that Mack got in more for his managerial skills when he himself said, quite seriously, that a decent fourth place team was more preferable than a great first place team.

      • Jose the Satirist

        Yeah I’m pretty sure Mack got into the HOF more for managerial reasons. I don’t think as sole owner he ever won a World Championship and believe he ran into major financial difficulties with the team.

      • KeithK

        Mack was smarter than that. He didn’t just want a fourth place team. He wanted a team that competed for the pennant all season long before finally slipping out of the race late. That way you keep the fans interested and buying tickets all season long but don’t need to pay your players like champions. It really was a good strategy frmo a financial standpoint.

  • Jose the Satirist

    Is there anyone out there who feels Steinbrenner isn’t a hall of famer? So far the thread seems to be people mostly supporting him, but sometimes for different reasons(is he famous, drive to win, impact on the game).

    I’m just curious the to hear the case against him by a non-supporter.

    • RL

      Having lived through the awful team of the mid/late 60′s and on through the early 70′s, it’s been great to have King George as the owner. The CBS Ownership was a disaster. I became a fan as The Mick was on his decline. As a life-long (well as far back as I can remember, anyway) Yankee fan, I certainly feel he deserves to get in. As has been pointed out by others, for better or worse, he changed the game. Whether you like him or hate him, changing the game as much as he has should qualify him.

    • nsalem

      Hi non-supporters are probably in the 45+ age group and I would hazard a guess that the majority of posters on RAB are not in that demographic. They are upset about the circus atmosphere that existed in the 70′s and the teams slow descent into baseball hell in the 1980′s. They would blame Steinbrenner for his meddling and micromanaging of the franchise. Frankly I think they should be over it by know and if they are not it is their issue.

      • Mike HC

        apparently not all of them, ha. See above.

        • YanksFan

          Not a freguent poster but I can agree w/ this point. I’m 40, was a 9 year old getting into baseball during the 78 season. As a teen, there were a ton of NYY fans who hated George. I always liked him b/c he wanted to win and everyt move he did make was to win. He was wrong in his thinking, but the heart & money were always there.

    • Jose the Satirist

      Apparently finding someone against Steinbrenner entering the hall of fame on RAB is more difficult than finding a unicorn.

      • Mike HC

        Where is “Bret” when you need him.

        If I could channel my inner Bret:

        1) Anyone could have won that much with the money the Yanks spent

        2) Yanks are bad for baseball because they use their financial advantage, to, uh, their advantage.

        3) Even if the Yanks make free agent and trade mistakes, they can still overcome them to win, meaning George is an idiot who won anyway.

      • nsalem

        He let baseballs best reliever walk at the age of 31 in 1983.
        That would be the equivalent of letting Mariano go after the
        2001 season. Some folks don’t forget and some do.

    • http://kierstenschmidt.com Kiersten
    • ROBTEN

      Is there anyone out there who feels Steinbrenner isn’t a hall of famer?

      I’ll have a go.

      My objection would be that the entire discussion presupposes that owners should be in the Hall of Fame. We debate whether there is a space for relievers or DHs in the HOF, but we simply assume that owners should be. But why? While Steinbrenner is partially responsible for a climate in which players’ salaries have risen dramatically, and thus all players have certainly benefited at least tangentially from his actions, it is more often the case that the interests of owners are at odds with those of the players.

      So, in this context, my criticism would be with the idea of including any owners at all.

  • CS Yankee

    A well written, unbiased piece of The Boss.

    I hated the drama that he created and grew in the 70′s but loved the teams.

    I hated that quite a few free agents avoided the Yankees in the 80′s and we overpaid for players like Danny Tarabull, but loved going into every (early) season with the possibility of success.

    Since about ’94 (thru ’08), I’ve only disliked a few costly contracts, some lame over use of bullpen arms, the exodus of almost every SP after 2003 (which created the hate moment of 2004), but loved the bats, closer and rings that occured.

    2009 thru today = “it’s all good”
    Arms, bats, glove, speed, attitude, farm development, etc.

  • http://kierstenschmidt.com Kiersten

    The bottom line is, despite all the problems, the two goals of any professional sports franchise are to make money and to win. The Yankees do both of those things better than any other franchise in American sports, and for that alone. Mr. Steinbrenner deserves a spot in the HOF.

  • wayne’s world

    Steinbrenner is a boorish felon whose public behavior set a standard for poor sportsmanship and lack of respect for the dignity of others. His bad baseball decisions kept the Yankees lingering in mediocrity for years. Does he deserve credit for bringing an iconic franchise back to life after it wallowed in the hands of an unworthy corporate owner for years? Well, folks, I could have done that. And I would have done it more quickly than he did. Let’s not let the fact that he’s old and frail make us forget that he stands for the worse of everything in the business world. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and his life’s work shows that. If it weren’t for his being a member of the lucky sperm club, we’d never even be talking about him.

    • Tom Zig

      Lombardi?

  • BG

    George Steinbrenner’s relationship to winning has been greatly overstated. As a matter of fact, the Yankees built all of their dynasties when he was absent from ownership. In the 1970′s when Bowie Kuhn banned him for his illegal campaign contributions, Gabe Paul made some shrewd trades and built the core of the late ’70s, early 80′s teams. Yes, Steinbrenner signed Reggie, but by that time they were already championship caliber having won the pennant in 1976. With Steinbrenner controlling the team during the 80′s the team took a downward spiral. It was not until he was banned from baseball by Fay Vincent (for the Winfield-Howie Spira affair) that the Yankees started to rebuild. Gene Michael rebuilt the farm system in the early 90′s and made some shrewd trades to build the late 90′s dynasty. Then Steinbrenner wanted more control and tried to buy championships again in the 2000s. It was not until he got sick a few years ago that Cashman got to rebuild the team again and the Yankees are once again championship caliber. The Yankees have won in spite of Steinbrenner, not because of him.

    • RL

      And despite all of this, he was still the owner of the winningest franchise in sports history. He was owner during a period that the organization was among (if not at) the top of the sport. He took a sports franchise that was languishing and made it the talk of the sports world. And he made it BY FAR the most valuable sports organization in the world. While I hated his tactics during some of his tenure, looking at the big picture, he deserves to get in.

    • KeithK

      Beat me to it BG. The Yankees have won the most when George has been out of the picture and/or his influence limited by a strong front office. Not that George doesn’t deserve some credit. Through his drive to win and willingness to invest in a winning team he has facilitated a lot of positive moves for the Yankees. But the 80′s were ample demonstration that money spent unwisely doesn’t lead to championships.

    • RM

      Totally agree 110% BG. Looks like a lot of people here are too busy having a Steinbrenner lovefest and ignoring or looking past the real facts.

  • LeftyLarry

    George was a great man and great owner.Charitable to every cause and brought American Olympic team back to promoinace single-handedly.

    • CS Yankee

      err, no!

      He did little for the Olympic Organization except to challenge why the training facility is located in such a small market town.

      Baseball wise you could argue for or against him…

      For because of the model and brand restoration and not cutting corners on star caliber talent. Always giving to charitable causes, sliding players extra cash & telling it the way he saw it (plus fighting a dodger fan in the elevator). Honoring past Yankees with great success & contracts.

      Against him for the way he treated employees (Paul, Stick, Martin, etc), his criminal Nixon-like ways, and the general way he treated subordinates when he was in a bad mood.

      But his Olympic involvement was trival at best…thanks Peter U. for that.

  • Januz

    I am very pro-George Steinbrenner, and make no excuses for that. One problem with the Hall Of Fame and society in general, is the trend setters and real giants of a profession do not get rewarded the way they should (Or until they are dead), while being mediocre gets rewarded. For example: Bowie Kuhn elected to Cooperstown while Marvin Miller did not. Col. Ruppert not being elected, while guys like Tom Yawkey (Who never won a title in Boston) was enshrined. This goes to the concept of the “Starving Artist” (People just did not see the greatness in their lifetimes). The reason why people do not like Steinbrenner or Miller is they changed the game, and rocked the boat, and that cannot be debated. They were also hughly successful (Miller always beat the owners in contract negotiations, and Steinbrenner won six titles while he ran the franchise). Everybody loves to bring up George’s mistakes, but even the greats made errors. No one can say every song Paul McCartney did was good, but he is certainly a genius. Michael Jackson was a guy I would never want to live like (Not even for $1b), but he was a genius and a trend setter, and his contributions will be talked about 100 years from now. I don’t think he will live to see the HOF (Too much controvery). However, George Steinbrenner will never be forgotten, and like Col. Ruppert’s purchase of the Ruth contract 90 years ago, is still talked about, he will be discussed, and remembered (The Championships and the New Stadium come to mind). From where I sit, that is what matters.

  • http://www.teamnerdrage.com dr mrs the yankee

    They won’t put Ewing Kauffman in I don’t see why George should be in. Give him a plaque in the park that he wanted so badly.