Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

George Steinbrenner – An Appreciation

The individual most responsible for the increase in baseball ticket prices over the last several years, George Steinbrenner died yesterday afternoon of a heart attack in his native Tampa. He was 80. Steinbrenner had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease since at least the early part of the zeros. Convicted felon, full-blown sociopath, on-and-off owner and figurehead of the New York Yankees, Steinbrenner would outbid any other team for free-agent talent – as well as for scores of players who were considerably less talented. Steve Kemp, Rawly Eastwick, Chuck Knoblauch, Bob Shirley and Ed Whitson may only be remembered today by diehard fans, but they cost Steinbrenner millions. To keep pace, other teams joined in the bidding wars, and their team salaries rose – as did ticket prices, since club owners passed those costs on to the fans. Meanwhile, the family firm that Steinbrenner inherited, American Shipbuilding, struggled and eventually filed for bankruptcy in 1993.

As Alzheimers set in, Steinbrenner’s sons Hank and Hal kept with the program: when Yankee third baseman (and admitted steroid cheat) Alex Rodriguez opted out of his contract in 2007, the Yankees rewarded the pumped-up slugger with a new $275 million, ten-year deal. The Steinbrenner sons also engineered the construction of a brand-new Yankee Stadium (this time using taxpayer money), to replace the fully functional, architecturally exquisite original ballpark that Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, and Yogi Berra once called home.

George Steinbrenner’s felony conviction stemmed from illegal campaign contributions to the 1972 Richard Nixon campaign; Steinbrenner copped a guilty plea and was fined. In 1989, he hired a smalltime con artist, Howard Spira, to spy on the Yankees’ future Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, ostensibly to get out of an onerous, multi-year contract with the star. Spira eventually went to jail for extortion; Steinbrenner was not criminally charged, but was banned from baseball for life by then-commissioner Fay Vincent. He was reinstated by Milwaukee Brewers owner Bud Selig after Selig led a cabal of owners to oust Vincent in 1993.

Steinbrenner’s spendthrift ways frequently met with success: the Yankees won several pennants and World Championships under his ownership. But there were just as many lean years where losses outnumbered wins. In good times and bad, Steinbrenner waged war with his players, his front office personnel and pretty much anyone with whom he came in contact. This was best exemplified by his codependent relationship with five-time manager Billy Martin, a favorite verbal punching bag and chronic alcoholic who died drunk behind the wheel. Steinbrenner’s ability to find fault knew no bounds: the most trivial matters, such as the state of a player’s facial hair, would spark tirades that often veered off into incoherence. He went through publicists, general managers, coaches and stadium personnel like he went through players: his employees cursed him even as a relative few of them enjoyed the benefits of his lavish spending. If there is a hell, he can look forward to spending time there with fellow owners like the Cincinnati Reds’ Marge Schott.

July 14, 2010 - Posted by | baseball, New York City, obituary | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 Comments »

  1. Good to see an “appreciation” that’s not pure Fox- or Disney-sponsored hagiography.

    It’s inaccurate, however, to say that the current Yankee Stadium replaced “the fully functional, architecturally exquisite original ballpark that Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, and Yogi Berra once called home.” That park only lasted through the ’73 season.

    Comment by Featherston | July 14, 2010 | Reply

  2. Excellent post, it was a very good read for me! It is a sad time for the baseball world especially with the all star game being played on the same day, but I am also surprised at the amount of praise that the man who was once known as the most hated man in baseball. He definitely did do a lot for the New York Yankees and I’m sure the city is very grateful for it. I also kind of like/hate the fact that I have a team to hate for in the Yankees because they just buy all their players. Also you think you could take a quick look at my blog cuz I really want to know what you think. http://chrisross91.wordpress.com/2010/07/14/greatest-owner-ever-hardly/

    Comment by Chris Ross | July 14, 2010 | Reply

  3. Featherston – thanks for reminding how much of a change the 1973 “renovation” was. The guy who probably misses the pre-73 stadium the most is Elliott Maddox who, if he hadn’t been hurt at that home game at Shea, would have made the acquisition of Mickey Rivers unnecessary and would have been the star CF on those 76-78 teams.

    Cool blog, Chris – this is a sad day in Red Sox Nation because Steinbrenner screwed up that team so bad – now the Yankees are a real menace like they always could have been if he hadn’t micromanaged everything. Somebody I know told me that every day Steinbrenner would send some low-level guy, an intern or something, out to get him lunch. If the guy messed up his lunch order, he was fired. If it’s true, it wouldn’t surprise me.

    Comment by the boss here | July 14, 2010 | Reply


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