Lucid Culture


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