(A reader sent me a link to this article. I feel an FJM would be appropriate here.)
George Steinbrenner was a loser. While insisting that nothing less than wining was acceptable, Steinbrenner owned the New York Yankees during the team’s longest World Series drought since its first appearance in 1921, a dry spell directly attributable to Steinbrenner’s insistent mismanagement.
Oh man, I don’t even know where to begin. No, the Yankees didn’t win any World Series titles in the 1980s, but they weren’t exactly a bad team. In eight of the decade’s ten years, the Yankees finished over .500; perhaps not brilliant, but not exactly the basement-dwellers that the author here seems to infer.
Let’s also not forget that the Yankees went to the World Series three times in the 1970s, once in the 1980s, three times in the 1990s and four times in the 2000s. There are some fans in Chicago and Boston that would have killed for that kind of success.
Steinbrenner, who died on Tuesday at age 80, was a bully and a brat, devoid of humility, class, and civility, born on third base, deluded that he’d hit a triple, and convinced he had to tell the whole world how he’d done it. Famed for his bombast and for making himself bigger than his players and team, tolerated only because he had money and power, this Yankee Doodle Dandy born on the Fourth of July paved the way for America to become a loser by his example.
Uh huh. Devoid of humility. Which is why Hal Steinbrenner said of his father in an interview, “He taught us that if two or more people know you are doing it, you are doing it for the wrong reasons.”
Sure, he was a tough boss, but to call him devoid of humility–and here Cohen makes no distinction between Steinbrenner on the field or off it–is libelous at best.
In his hometown of Tampa, Florida, Steinbrenner may have been more known for his philanthropy than his baseball machinations.
Just about every bit of praise eulogising Steinbrenner is 180 degrees wrong. The city’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, called him “a quintessential New Yorker” despite Steinbrenner hailing from Cleveland (Bloomberg’s from Boston, weekends in Bermuda), living in Tampa, and blackmailing New Yorkers with threats to move the Yankees out of town to get a new $1.5bn (£1m) stadium that embodies his penchant for vulgar excess. He was a terrific businessman, a daring capitalist who insisted he needed public handouts for his billion-dollar family company; taxpayers underwrote the bonds for that new Yankee stadium and renovated the previous one, and have been rewarded with ticket prices that top out at $2,500.
One, New York is a city of immigrants. Yes, there are plenty born and raised here, but there have always been a large number of those who come here from elsewhere.
Yes, Steinbrenner was a pure capitalist. Hell, most Americans are, no matter how liberal some (including myself) may claim to be.
Yes, tickets are expensive, but you know what? The demand is there. Look at the prices for Friday’s game as per Stubhub and the secondary market. Yeah, we’d love lower prices, but as long as the demand is there, the prices will be high, and as long as the Yankees keep winning, the demand will be there.
That said, it’s usually quite possible to buy $10-$20 tickets the day of or night before a game, and it’s usually corporations that buy up the $2,500 seats, anyway.
Steinbrenner was a laughable figure in the comedy series Seinfeld with nothing funny about him. He was a generous man whose many donations we never heard about – as anyone who follows baseball has heard about constantly for the past 35 years – who was breathtakingly cruel and petty. He was a great sportsman, suspended twice from baseball for breaking the rules and convicted for breaking the law. He was a great Yankee who infuriated and alienated the team’s players and fans and insulted the Yankees’ traditions and greatest legends.
I dunno, I’d say Steinbrenner’s ability to poke fun at himself is praiseworthy; as there are far too many who take themselves way too seriously today.
Steinbrenner wasn’t a saint, but his willingness to do anything to build a winning team is often something we say we wish we saw in other owners–like Loria or Pohlad or Dolan. Yes, Steinbrenner blurred and even outright crossed some lines, and no, we shouldn’t praise that, but no one is arguing for sainthood, just some (more) respect than Cohen gives.
Days before Steinbrenner, the beloved Yankee Stadium announcer Bob Sheppard died. Yankee fan websites are abuzz with variants on the theme that Steinbrenner had clung to life to wait for Sheppard to announce his arrival in heaven. Believe me, if there is a heaven, George Steinbrenner won’t be there.
And who are you to judge?
If Steinbrenner doesn’t make it up there, it probably doesn’t bode well for the rest of us.
I covered the Yankees as a wire service reporter during the 1980s at the height – or depth – of Steinbrenner’s reign of error. He spent lavishly, as always thanks to lavish team income, to assemble the best team money could buy, but the Yankees didn’t win any titles.
Yeah, and? Cohen here just sounds flat-out bitter. Look, the early 1990s, the Stump Merrill era, those were bad teams, no one is arguing otherwise. Yet if Cohen was covering the team in the early or mid 1980s, he’s skewing the memory of the team. They didn’t win any titles, but they could have done plenty, plenty worse.
With his American football mentality – if he hadn’t gotten rich from the family business, he would have become an itinerant assistant coach, wearing out his welcome at high schools across America after a year or two – Steinbrenner couldn’t understand that baseball is a marathon, with a season of 162 games, not 16, and that no team can win every day.
Most baseball fans in today’s age, with smartphones and the internet and instant gratification, have trouble understanding you can’t win every day. It’s not a New York thing; go read the Boston papers some time.
See, it’s a trade off about caring about the sport, about being a die-hard fan. You do invest emotionally, and even when every rational bone in your body is telling you to calm down, that there’s still 80 games left in the season, you still want to destroy thinks after Joba blows (another) eighth inning lead.
If Steinbrenner wasn’t any better than a Yankee die-hard, he certainly wasn’t any worse.
Steinbrenner’s impatience led to bad choices, and his megalomania forbade him from taking responsibility for them. So he fired managers, general managers and even public relations directors, with comic frequency. He dismissed the Yankees Hall of Famer Yogi Berra 16 games into the 1985 season, breaking an explicit promise that Berra had demanded before accepting the thankless manager’s job. Berra, who played on a record 10 Yankee championship teams, refused to associate with the team until Steinbrenner apologised. He did – 14 years later.
Better late than never. Actually, since the strike (and perhaps even a bit before that), the Yankee organization has been fairly stable.
Since 1995, there have been just three managers–maybe not Bobby Cox, but when you consider that outside of Tom Coughlin, Joe Girardi is the longest tenured coach/manager in New York, that’s still pretty impressive.
Brian Cashman was hired from within the organization and has been at the helm for over ten years, as well.
It’s not perfect and there’s no denying that 1980s Steinbrenner was a little too reactionary, but when progress has been made it should be noted, and here it has.
Leading baseball’s salary explosion, Steinbrenner believed that paying players like supermen would make them play that way. When they failed – and even the best hitters fail more than 60% of the time – Steinbrenner assumed the right to berate and humiliate them. One late afternoon in the Yankee clubhouse in 1988, the captain, Don Mattingly, the quiet centre of team turbulence, launched a spontaneous outburst against Steinbrenner. “All they give you here is money,” he said, bemoaning the lack of respect, courtesy and dignity on offer.
The advent of Free Agency and George Steinbrenner occurred very close to one another, and it can be hard, sometimes, to remember that before Free Agency, many Major Leaguers still had to take a second job in the winter. Do baseball players now make too much? Many of them, yes, but there is no law in America–nor should there ever be–that decrees how an owner must spend his money.
The best player on those 1980s teams was Dave Winfield, signed to a record 10-year, $18m contract. Winfield was a superbly gifted athlete, drafted in three professional sports, and a classy, handsome, personable individual, among the first athletes to establish his own charitable foundation. I was convinced he’d be America’s first black president.
Winfield compiled most of his Hall of Fame credentials as a Yankee, but Steinbrenner had signed him to replace Reggie Jackson, the self-styled Mr October (October being the month for the World Series). Winfield failed to get a hit in the Yankees’ 1981 World Series loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Steinbrenner took it as a person insult. He derided Winfield as “Mr May”. In 1988, Winfield set a record for driving in runs during April and told reporters: “Now it’s on to May, and you know about me and May.”
To get even with Winfield, and perhaps void his contract, Steinbrenner hired a lowlife named Howard Spira to spy on the player, hoping to find some dirt, particularly financial malfeasance, at the Dave Winfield Foundation. Spira got nothing on Winfield but lowered the boom on Steinbrenner.
Spira wasn’t just any lowlife, he was a chronic gambler. Since bookmakers paid off the Chicago White Sox (thereafter the Black Sox) to lose the 1919 World Series, gambling has been baseball’s cardinal sin. Steinbrenner’s sleazy association earned him his second suspension from the game – the first followed his conviction for making illegal campaign contributions to fellow football fan Richard Nixon – and, ironically, set the stage for the Yankees to end their record post-season drought and create the dynasty that had eluded them under Steinbrenner’s misrule.
With Steinbrenner out of the way, the Yankees were able to develop young players rather than trade them away for veterans in hope of a quick fix. The core team that won four out of five straight World Series and reached the playoffs every year from 1995 through 2007, came together when real baseball professionals ran the franchise
I’ll copy/paste this comment from RAB that shows just how those teams were constructed (read the entire comment to get a breakdown; it’s too long to post here):
The only members of the 1996 title team that were “built” while George was kicked out of the game were:
Ruben Rivera (who was a 22 year old rookie who got one postseason plate appearance)
Pettitte (sort of)
The other 17 guys on the 25-man roster, and all the other ancillary pieces of depth on the 40 man, they all were either already Yankees before Stein’s suspension, or were acquired after Stein took control, and many of them were typical Steinbrenner big-ticket acquisitions (like Rogers, Cone, Wetteland, Tino, Strawberry, Gooden, Raines, Duncan, Nelson, etc.) Moreover, of the 8 guys who were “built” while George was gone, I feel pretty confidently he would have also bought Jimmy Key and Wade Boggs as free agents, and Hayes and Rivera are effectively blips on the radar. Hell, I have no reason to believe he wouldn’t have drafted Jeter at #6; in any event, it’s the 6th pick in the draft, we were damn likely to get something good. And, like I said, Pettitte was already on our radar pre-George’s ban. All you’re really saying for sure is the Kelly-O’Neill deal went down sans-George. The rest is pretty much moot.”
Yet Steinbrenner was there front and centre to take credit for success while blaming others for failure. In his last gasp of conceit before formally ceding control of the team to his son Hank, Steinbrenner orchestrated the dismissal of manager Joe Torre, who’d led the Yankees to the postseason for 12 consecutive years.
Although there may have been undue pressure on Torre, he didn’t help his own cause when he didn’t pull his team off the field during that game. Also, considering the legions of lost bullpen arms, by 2007 there was considerable discussion as to whether Torre should stay on, even before any Steinbrenner quotes.
Over four decades, Steinbrenner embodied and popularised the values of America’s culture of arrogance seen in the banishment of civility and fact from political discourse, the Iraq invasion – a US victory, according to much of the press – obscene executive pay, and the 2008 economic meltdown. Yes, George, you really were a Yankee Doodle Dandy.
Yeah, Steinbrenner’s responsible for Iraq and the 2008 meltdown. Uh huh. Right. I’m gonna go tell that other George he’s off the hook.