Yesterday, the Yankee family lost one of its most polarizing figures when George Steinbrenner died of a heart attack at 80 years of age. After having a day to reflect on Steinbrenner’s passing, I have realized this is the end of an era. The Yankees have lost an icon. Steinbrenner revolutionized the way owners ran the show. He has paved the way for the likes of Jerry Jones and Mark Cuban. But before I get further into his legacy, I want to give you a background of his reign as the New York Yankees owner.
He bought the Yankees franchise for a net cost of $8.7 millon in 1973 and managed to take a struggling franchise and turn them into the perennial winners we know today. In Steinbrenner’s 37-plus seasons as owner, he won 16 AL East titles, 11 American League pennants and 7 World Series championships. This however, did not come without some controversy. In his first 17 seasons as owner, Steinbrenner changed managers 17 times including firing and rehiring manager Bily Martin five times. In addition, he has also been banished from baseball on two separate occasions.
The first time occurring in April of 1974, when Steinbrenner pleaded guilty to making illegal contributions to Nixon’s re-election campaign, and to a felony charge of obstruction of justice. As a result, commissioner Bowie Kuhn suspended him for two years, but Steinbrenner managed to have it reduced to 15 months. And the second time occurring in July of 1990 when Steinbrenner received a lifetime ban from baseball from Commissioner Fay Vincent after he paid a gambler to dig up dirt on the disappointing Dave Winfield.
When the fans at Yankee stadium got wind of this news, they cheered the decision. Most Yankees fans at the time, including several members of my family had grown sick and tired of Steinbrenner’s antics. He was one of the first owners to treat his players as employees and publicly criticized them for underperforming. But three years later he was back. Steinbrenner was reinstated and the Yankees were on the rise with young farmhands such as Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams and Andy Petite. The rest is history.
The bottom line is George Steinbrenner is arguably the greatest owner in the history of sports. His critics may not have liked his style, but you cannot argue with the results. He had a win at all costs attitude that may have angered some people but the end result was always the same. As he once famously stated, “Winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing. Breathing first, winning next.” Love him or hate him, you have to tip your hat to him.