Steinbrenner left no doubt who was boss of Yankees
NEW YORK — He was baseball’s bombastic Boss.
He rebuilt the New York Yankees dynasty, ushering in the era of multimillion-dollar salaries and accepting nothing less in return than World Series championships.
He fired managers. Rehired them. And fired them again.
He butted heads with commissioners and fellow owners, insulted his players and dominated tabloid headlines — even upstaging the All-Star game on the day of his death.
George Michael Steinbrenner III, who both inspired and terrorized the Yankees in more
than three decades as owner, died Tuesday of a heart attack at age 80.
“He was and always will be as much of a New York Yankee as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and all of the other Yankee legends,” baseball commissioner Bud Selig said.
Once reviled by fans for his overbearing and tempestuous nature, Steinbrenner mellowed in his final decade and became beloved by employees and rivals alike for his success.
“George was a fierce competitor who was the perfect fit for the city that never sleeps — colorful, dynamic and always reaching for the stars,” former President Bill Clinton said.
Yankees captain Derek Jeter added: “He expected perfection.”
In 37 years as owner, Steinbrenner whipped a moribund $8.7 million team, in which he invested $168,000, into a $1.6 billion colossus that became the model of a modern franchise, one with its own TV network and ballpark food business. He replaced the iconic Yankee Stadium with a money-making duplicate across the street.
Under his often brutal but always colorful reign, the Yankees won seven World Series championships and 11 American League pennants, reclaiming their stature as the most storied team in American sports and redefining themselves as a brand marketed around the world.
He went on spectacular spending sprees that caused Larry Lucchino, president of the rival Boston Red Sox, to dub Steinbrenner’s Yankees the “Evil Empire.”
“I’m like Archie Bunker,” Steinbrenner said, referring to the blue-collar and sometimes boorish father in the television comedy “All in the Family.”
“I get mad as hell when my team blows one. I’m obsessed with winning, with discipline, with achieving. That’s what this country is all about. That’s what New York is all about, fighting for everything — a cab in the rain, a table in a restaurant at lunchtime — and that’s what the Yankees are all about and always have been.”
Steinbrenner’s larger-thanlife outbursts transcended sports and made him a pop culture figure whose firings were regularly lampooned on the TV comedy “Seinfeld.” He poked fun at himself as a guest host on “Saturday Night Live,” and he was portrayed with broad brushstrokes in the 2007 ESPN miniseries “The Bronx Is Burning.”
He even poked fun of himself in commercials. In a Visa commercial with Jeter, he called his captain into his office to admonish him. “You’re our starting shortstop,” Steinbrenner said. “How can you possibly afford to spend two nights dancing, two nights eating out and three nights just carousing with your friends?” Jeter responded by holding up a Visa card. Steinbrenner exclaimed “Oh!” and the scene shifted to Steinbrenner in a dance line with Jeter at a night spot.
His trademark white turtleneck and blue blazer became costume shorthand for a boss full of bluster.
“George was The Boss, make no mistake,” said Berra, the Hall of Famer who ended a 14-year feud with Steinbrenner in 1999. “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?”
New York was 11 years removed from its last championship when Steinbrenner, then an obscure son of an Ohio shipbuilder, headed a group that bought the team from CBS Inc. on Jan. 3, 1973, for less than $9 million.
Forbes now values the Yankees at $1.6 billion, trailing only Manchester United ($1.8 billion) and the Dallas Cowboys ($1.65 billion).
Steinbrenner ruled with obsessive dedication to detail — from trades to the airblowers that kept his ballparks spotless. When he thought the club’s parking lot was too crowded, Steinbrenner stood on the pavement — albeit behind a van, out of sight — and had a guard check every driver’s credential.
But he also tried to make up for his temper with good deeds and often-unpublicized charitable donations.
“I’m really 95 percent Mr. Rogers,” Steinbrenner said as
‘I’m obsessed with winning, with discipline, with achieving. That’s what this country is all about.’
GEORGE STEINBRENNER New York Yankees owner
he approached his 75th birthday, “and only 5 percent Oscar the Grouch.”
His rule was interrupted by two lengthy suspensions, including a 15-month ban in 1974 after pleading guilty to conspiring to make illegal contributions to the re-election campaign of President Richard Nixon. Steinbrenner was fined $15,000 and later pardoned by President Ronald Reagan.
He also was banned for 2½ years for paying self-described gambler Howie Spira to obtain negative information on outfielder Dave Winfield, with whom Steinbrenner was feuding. Steinbrenner had been in fragile health for the past six years, living in Tampa, Fla.
When the former Big Ten assistant football coach bought the team, he famously promised a hands-off operation.
“We’re not going to pretend we’re something we aren’t,” he said. “I’ll stick to building ships.”
It hardly turned out that way. He changed managers 21 times and got rid of a dozen general managers. When a Yankees public relations man went home to Ohio for the Christmas holiday, then re- turned in a hurry for a news conference to announce David Cone’s re-signing, Steinbrenner fired him.
Steinbrenner hired Billy Martin in 1975, 1979, 1983, 1985 and 1987, firing him four times and letting him resign once in a love-hate relationship.
Martin disparaged outfielder Reggie Jackson and Steinbrenner by saying: “The two of them deserve each other — one’s a born liar, the other’s convicted.”
Steinbrenner once called portly pitcher Hideki Irabu “a fat toad.’’
“Have I made mistakes? Yes,” Steinbrenner said in later years. “Are there things I would do differently? Yes.
“I’m human, and I have an ego. I’ll admit that. But, if the goal is to win, I’ll stand on my record.
“Winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing,” Steinbrenner was fond of saying. “Breathing first, winning next.”
He kept a sign on his desk that read: “Lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way.”
He was an assistant football coach at his alma mater, Ohio State University, along with Northwestern and Purdue; a vice president of the U.S. Olympic Committee from 1989 to 1996 and a horse owner, with six entries in the Kentucky Derby.
He might not have expected to die this way.
“I don’t have heart attacks,” he once said. “I give them.”
George Steinbrenner ran Yankees for 37 years.
New York Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte, right, manager Joe Girardi, center, and third baseman Alex Rodriguez comment Tuesday on the death of team owner George Steinbrenner.