Tuesday, July 13, 2010

George Steinbrenner is Dead

Let me level with you guys: I'm not going to have many earth-shattering thoughts on George Steinbrenner. The Yankee message boards are full of tributes, and personal stories, and it makes for some interesting reading. And Deadspin ran a little retrospective that covers his career high-and-low-lights. The information and emotions contained therein should be everyone's primary source.

The main emotion I feel toward Steinbrenner is gratitude. I'm very, very grateful that my team had an owner willing to spend boatloads of money to create an awesome baseball team. I love following the Yankees. I'd love it if they lost 90 games every season. But I love it even more because they make the playoffs and contend for a World Series title year after year after year. I love celebrating in October and early November. I love the history, the drama, and yes, the winning aura.

Then again, I'm young. By the time I became a fan, the ebullient, incorrigible, irrepressible Steinbrenner had given way to a calmer, statelier, and older version. Power was given to the General Managers; first Gene Michael, then Bob Watson, and finally Cashman. The day-to-day operations fell to those gentlemen and their staff, and there was very little interference from the big boss.

But that wasn't always the case. In the 70s and 80s, Steinbrenner's tumultuous relationship with players and managers (particularly Billy Martin, who he hired and fired five times) dominated Yankee coverage. The feelings of many fans from that era are still profoundly negative. Steinbrenner had a penchant for abuse, and bullying, establishing harmful little feuds with fan favorites like Munson, Winfield, and Mattingly. Only when his image changed in the 90s, and he became a loveable former tyrant, did the older fans come around and embrace his style.

By all accounts, his past interference was a detriment to the team. When he returned to the team following his second ban from baseball in 1993, his active involvement was effectively over, and the team's fortunes reversed course. That year, they narrowly missed out on the playoffs. The next year, they were in first place when the strike curtailed the season. And between 1995 and 2009, they won five world championships and missed the playoffs only once. The Yankees were better off with Steinbrenner in the background, writing checks and letting the experts run the team.

But it's easy to forget that the Yankees were a disaster when he purchased them in 1973, and that his own bizarre modus operandi produced titles later that decade. Say what you want about his personality and character (and there's a lot to say), but his desire to win was never in question. People love to tell the story of his failed bid to buy the Cleveland Indians in 1971, and it really is a fascinating piece of 'what-if' history. It's impossible to predict a future that never happened, but can anyone really imagine that the Indians would be in their current title-less malaise with Steinbrenner at the helm for the past forty years?

The bottom line is that I don't have any lingering bad feelings from the old days, when Steinbrenner was a very different kind of owner. I've heard all the stories, but that's not the same. Instead, I know a quiet old man with a loud reputation who loves to win. And unlike many of his contemporaries, he's willing to spend money to make championships happen. As the Deadspin piece points out, he bought the Yanks for 8.7 million dollars, and they're now worth $1.3 billion. You can spend, and win, and still profit. The cheapskates around the league could take a lesson from the Yankee model of success. Steinbrenner's the guy who made it happen, and I wouldn't have wanted anyone else at the top of the Yankee totem pole.

This calls for a dramatic picture:

And one where he's on a horse, too:

There are a lot of connotations that come with the word "winner," and our owner embodies most of them. He was the boss. Rest in Peace, Mr. Steinbrenner.

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