Tuesday, July 13, 2010

George Steinbrenner (1930-2010)

Just 2 days after the passing of public address announcer Bob Sheppard, the New York Yankees, and all of sports, for that matter, are mourning the loss of another Yankee icon.

9 days after celebrating his 80th birthday, George Steinbrenner, the impulsive, hands-on owner of the defending World Series champions, passed away this morning after a heart attack.

Steinbrenner, a former college football assistant coach and a shipbuilder out of Cleveland, purchased the Yankees from CBS, Inc. in 1973. Just three years later, the Yankees won their first American League East title, leading to the first of three consecutive appearances in the World Series. New York was swept by Cincinnati that year, but came back the next two years to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers. After more than a decade on the outside looking in, the Yankees were back in a big time way. Steinbrenner craved the spotlight and its accompanying headlines almost as much as he wanted the team to return to its past glories, such that it became an obsession, it would seem. His feuds with on-again-off-again manager Billy Martin (5 tours of duty as manager) and slugger Reggie Jackson have become the stuff of legend.

Steinbrenner parlayed his tiffs with Martin into a commercial for Miller Lite beer, and even went so far as to appear on Saturday Night's Main Event, Vince McMahon's periodic late-night wrestling specials for NBC. Rule-breaking manager Bobby Heenan sought advice from Steinbrenner, seated at ringside one night, on how to deal with a disgruntled employee, in this case, wrestler Terry Taylor, aka the Red Rooster, who would soon be feuding with Heenan. Steinbrenner simply told Heenan that the best solution would be to fire Taylor. However, Heenan, as memory serves, never got that satisfaction.

As an owner, Steinbrenner was the measuring stick for some of today's more self-indulgent types, like football's Jerry Jones (Dallas Cowboys) & Daniel Snyder (Washington Redskins), fellow baseball owner Peter Angelos (Baltimore Orioles), and basketball's Mark Cuban (Dallas Mavericks). Cablevision's James Dolan, a weekend rock musician when not mismanaging the NBA's Knicks, the NHL's Rangers, and Madison Square Garden, is a poor imitation by comparison. In fact, aside from Donald Trump, whose only foray into sports ownership was the USFL's New Jersey Generals in the 80's, the only man in the New York metropolitan area who could match Steinbrenner for bombast and impulsiveness would have to be Vince McMahon, whose WWE is probably not too far down the chain from the Yankees among NYC gate attractions.

Steinbrenner was not without his flaws, of course. He was suspended twice by Major League Baseball, the last for conspiring with a small-time gambler named Howard Spira to damage the reputation of one of his former stars, Dave Winfield. During the 1981 World Series vs. the Dodgers, Steinbrenner purportedly was attacked in an elevator while in LA, but some believe that incident was a put-on designed to rally the Bombers. It didn't work, as the Dodgers gained a measure of revenge for the losses in 1977-78.

Just a couple of years ago, George Steinbrenner turned over day-to-day operations of the Yankees to his sons, Hal & Hank. While Hank inherited his father's penchant for bombast, Hal is seemingly the quieter of the two. In just their second year running the team, the brothers watched as the Yankees won their first Series since 2000, dismissing Philadelphia in 6 games. Their father had been in declining health for some time, leading to his decision to retire, proving that in the end, he'd actually recognized the value of planning ahead.

Tonight, during the All-Star Game, I'd not be surprised if there's a moment of silence for both Steinbrenner & Bob Sheppard, as there most certainly will be one on Friday, when the Yankees resume the regular season in the Bronx. The Yankees will resurrect those black armbands that have been worn many times to honor former players and/or managers who'd passed on, and likely dedicate the remainder of the season to their long-time leader.

Rest in peace, George.

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