Stein­bren­ner left no doubt who was boss of Yan­kees

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Ron­ald Blum

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.

Chris Carl­son AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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