NEW YORK (CBS) ― George Steinbrenner was my owner. He was my father’s owner. He was the man I wished owned every team I’ve ever rooted for. He did whatever needed to be done to make sure the fans got their money’s worth.
The sports world lost more than a legend on Tuesday. It will no longer have the services of a man who though flawed, cared deeply about everything he tried to do. Whether it was trying to maintain Yankees dominance or helping out the U.S. Olympic Committee or insisting on anonymously giving countless millions of dollars to charity, Steinbrenner more than made up for his faults.
And he always did it his way.
I grew up in the 1970s. At least early on it wasn’t the best era to call yourself a fan of the famed Pinstripers. My father, lucky man that he was, grew up in the late ’40s and ’50s, basically the golden age of Yankees baseball. He got to see championships all the time. I got to see a bunch of fourth-place finishes.
But around 1976 that all started to change. The Bombers got to the World Series that year and got swept by Cincinnati. Hey, at least they got there right? Hell no. Steinbrenner set the tone right then and there. Despite only owning the team for three years, he basically said just getting to the Series isn’t good enough, certainly not on my watch.
In ’77 and ’78, years I was finally old enough to actually appreciate at least a little bit of Yankees history, “the Boss” did right by me and millions like me by putting together a crazy cast of characters that gave us that which my dad felt was a rite of passage. The Yankees were champions in back-to-back years. All was right in the world.
The buck always stopped with Steinbrenner. He made no bones about his desire to win. He always felt New York deserved a winner and he went about his daily tasks with the soul intent of bringing titles to the Bronx.
With his family controlling the team the Yankees have won seven world championships and 11 AL pennants. And except for 2009, when Steinbrenner was too ill to attend the World Series, you always saw a look of exasperation mixed with delight on the man’s face in the champagne-filled locker rooms. I never once thought his tears were fake or drummed up for the cameras. It was as if the man realized just how insane he made everyone at the cost of winning.
But all the stress and agita that comes with being associated with the Yankees gets wipred away when they win, at least for a little while.
The beauty of the Yankees is there’s never any time to feel too good about yourselves. Championships are won and lost, the players get a little time off to celebrate or go hide under a rock and then, almost instantly, it’s that time again to start preparing for the next run at a title. This usually comes long before spring training.
In truth, the Steinbrenner era Yankees have been the envy of all sports fans. Sure, the haters can say the Yankees buy championships, but the vast majority of those people would have sold their souls to the devil to have Steinbrenner as their team’s owner.
And if they try to tell you otherwise, politely walk away today out of respect but come back tomorrow with a bat.
As his family noted in the statement released Tuesday morning, Steinbrenner was a true visionary, a giant in the sports world. I think he may have been even more than that. He was iconic in a way, almost this figure too large for New York.
His battles with his managers during his nearly four-decade run as owner were legendary. Wars with Billy Martin, foul treatment of Yogi Berra, a man with 10 World Series championship rings no less, attacks on Joe Torre, this coming after the guy had won four more titles and solidified his place in Cooperstown, and on and on.
The players hardly escaped his wrath as well. Remember the whole Dave Winfield “Mr. May” saga? Steinbrenner actually paid a known gambler, Howie Spira, $40,000 to dig up dirt on Winfield so as to prove the outfielder had been blowing his own charitable foundation’s money on “extracurricular activities” so to speak. Steinbrenner paid the price for his actions as then-Commisioner Fay Vincent banned him from baseball for 30 months.
Steinbrenner even used to pick on Don Mattingly, maybe the most revered Yankee since Mickey Mantle. He didn’t like his first baseman’s longish locks and didn’t mind calling him out in public over it.
So, yes, Steinbrenner was extremely difficult. However, he was the fans’ owner because, ultimately, he was all about justifying the outrageous prices people paid at the ballpark. He signed “Catfish” Hunter, who at the time was arguably the best pitcher in baseball. He went out and got Reggie Jackson and we all know what followed. Winfield, Rickey Henderson, David Cone, Roger Clemens, that list also goes on and on.
All to give New York the winner he felt it deserved.
On top of that, Steinbrenner built a cathedral for his team and a media empire for those not well enough off to watch his team live.
All along the way he emphasized the “Yankee way,” a manner of conducting yourself on the field that endears you to everyone. Again, half the world hates the Yankees, but it’s not because they act like hoodlums out there.
His sons, Hank and Hal, have run the family business the last few years and though the approach is somewhat different and a heck of a lot more tame, there’s no arguing that these two guys have the same mindset — keep the world title in New York, and if they lose it get it back as soon as possible.
Yeah, baseball is going to miss George Steinbrenner. The Red Sox may even miss him a little.
He was our owner, our leader, the man with a plan — all dressed up neatly in a blue blazer and white turtle neck.
Thanks again, George. Baseball won’t be the same without you.
By JEFF CAPELLINI, WCBSTV.com Senior Sports Producer
Email Jeff and following him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet