New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner died Tuesday in Tampa at the
age of 80. One of the most recognizable and divisive figures in
professional sports, Steinbrenner bought the the team in 1973 and spent
the next three decades diligently serving as baseball's dark prince. He
weathered long stretches of on-field futility, public feuds with
managers and players, and a two-year ban from baseball after paying a
gambler to dig up dirt on his own first baseman. He also won eleven
pennants and seven World Series titles, earning his place in Yankee mythology—for better or ill—alongside Ruth, Gehrig, and Munson.
Here's how he's being remembered:
- The Big Buy Richard Goldstein of The New York Times recalls the circumstances surrounding Steinbrenner's purchase of the club: "Mr. Steinbrenner was the central figure in a syndicate that bought the Yankees from CBS for $10 million. When he arrived in New York on Jan. 3, 1973, he said he would not 'be active in the day-to-day operations of the club at all.' Having made his money as head of the American Shipbuilding Company, based in Cleveland, he declared, 'I'll stick to building ships.'" That arrangement didn't last long. Per Goldstein: "John McMullen, a minority owner in the syndicate, soon remarked that "nothing is as limited as being a limited partner of George's."
- The Nixon Connection Salon's Steve Kornacki points out that it was Steinbrenner's "participation in a conspiracy to funnel corporate money to Richard Nixon's reelection campaign in 1972 that resulted in a felony conviction, a $15,000 fine, and a two-year ban from baseball (which was lifted nine months early by then-Commissioner Bowie Kuhn in 1976). And it was Ronald Reagan, another Republican president, who, in one of the final acts of his presidency in January 1989, formally pardoned Steinbrenner for that crime." Steinbrenner personally identified as a Democrat.
- Public 'Pricking,' writes San Jose Mercury News sports columnist Tim Kawakami, came with the territory around Steinbrenner: "Steinbrenner is the ur-example of an owner who is never satisfied ...who is willing to pay what it takes to create the fastest path to both, sometimes making mistakes, sometimes creating mini-dynasties."
- Rookies in particular incurred Steinbrenner's wrath, writes Sports Illustrated's Alex Belth: "'He spit the bit,' he said of pitcher Jim Beattie once after a bad start. He also loved to embarrass his stars. He publicly feuded with Dave Winfield for years, calling him 'Mr. May,' in 1985. In 1999, Steinbrenner called pitcher Hideki Irabu a "fat p---- toad" for not covering first base properly in a spring training game."
- Patience, ESPN.com's William Nack remarks, was in short supply with Steinbrenner: "[H]e came to the Yankees at the perfect time -- a time when he could buy anything on the market through free agency. He chased those baubles with a fervency that hinted of monomania. Though initially opposed to the concept, his early experiences with free agency -- through the immensely rewarding acquisitions of Hunter, Jackson and relief pitcher Goose Gossage -- made him a devoutly true believer in what it seemed to promise."
- Goodnight, Dark Prince "Over the next few days," writes the Houston Chronicle's Richard Justice, "you'll hear stories of Steinbrenner's meanness and his charity and how he struck fear into the heart of employees. They're all true stories. You'll also hear how there'll never be another one like him. And there won't be. Not even close."