George Steinbrenner died in Tampa this morning after getting a heart attack last night. He was 80. The Yankees owner was truly The Boss of the New York Yankees from 1973 all the way up to 2003, when his health started to fade in 2004. He was a national figure in American sports, filthy rich, and was known as strong dictator, a flashy spender to buy players, yet cheap when it came to small details, and the reason why the Yankees won championships (although the last part is a weak argument.)
I knew this day would come. I thought I would feel uncaring or even happy, but I’m not. For as much pain and suffering George Steinbrenner caused countless employees over his life, for as many boneheaded personnel moves and poor judgment he made with team decisions, I believe he paid for his sins for these last 7 years, in which his mental and physical condition fell off the cliff. Wherever his spirit ends up now, is not up to me.
You see after George Steinbrenner collapsed and fell down the stairs in late 2003 or during 2004, he was never the same. He was already sick before then. The Steinbrenner family is notoriously private, and the MEDIA didn’t dig further. When Joe Torre’s Yankees choked in the 2004 and lost against the Red Sox, Yankees baseball fans thought that heads would roll…but nothing happened. The Boss was out of the picture, although it was still a “secret”. The first stages of Alzheimer’s took its form with dementia. Another secret.
The Boss’ spokesman Howard Rubenstein would spin press releases, and George Steinbrenner would grant the occasional private interview- carefully staged by his sons and handlers. So to the MEDIA and the fans, it appeared that George Steinbrenner was still the Boss in 2005, 2006, and the 2007 seasons. It was only until the end of 2007- in October- that President Randy Levine admitted that George Steinbrenner has become a “chairman”. That statement came after Hank Steinbrenner was the new face of the organization (he turned out to be a figurehead- a kid that was just mimicking things his dad would have said.) George’s other son Hal Steinbrenner was the brains of the bunch, and he is now the face of the organization.
You could imagine how The Boss’s cronies tried to seize power from the aging Steinbrenner after 2003, but the power had the stay within the family. The decision was eventually made for General Manager Brian Cashman to actually run the show in 2008, answering only to Hal Steinbrenner and on some matters Randy Levine.
Because George Steinbrenner has been…absent…for the last 7 years, his public relations team, in conjunction with the New York MEDIA turned him from a horrible guy to being a flawed saint, but a saint, nevertheless. Even the baseball players under Joe Torre have always gone out of their way to praise the Boss. Derek Jeter has always been appreciative of Steinbrenner, even when The Boss yelled at him for partying out too late. The negative talk about Steinbrenner still came from reading in-between the lines from Joe Torre and his coaches. Torre had created a shield so The Boss would stay off his players’ backs, but Torre and his coaches would take the full blunt of Steinbrenner’s RAGE and ANGER.
And that’s why this is the only George Steinbrenner obituary that you will read that will mention how evil George Steinbrenner was. I say “evil” with judgment, because as a human being, I do judge behavior. Right now, when I read the comments on other sites, and see the news reports, I see universal praise and a jokingly downplay of The Boss’s wicked ways. As the YESNetwork and DailyNews will cry and mourn, they will downplay how George Steinbrenner BRUTALLY tormented and antagonized his employees. They will leave out the fact that the Yankees won championships in SPITE of the Boss’s influence, not because of it.
Steinbrenner’s greatest asset was his money…that’s why people liked him. He wanted to be a winner, and he had the cash to make it happen by getting high priced free agents and giving extensions. He was a shrewd and clever businessman. He was a boon for the economy, providing jobs to thousands of people. He donated to charities. He have Doc Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, and Steve Howe breaks. He did generous things behind the scenes, too. He loved his grandchildren. All of these are facts. But the facts also show that guys like Bill Martin, Gene Michael, Buck Showalter, Joe Torre, and others had to work AROUND and try to direct the unstoppable RAGE and ANGER The Boss always directed at them, coaches, players, or a doorman or secretary.
The Boss played the BLAME GAME, felt persecuted, had major trust issues, and was a control freak. It seems like 99% of his former employees have chosen to forgive and forget, and no one is going to come out now and speak the truth. Even Don Zimmer will let it go, since he’s old now, and lives near Tampa as well. The George Steinbrenner biography “The Last Lion” came out recently, and it has both his good and bad side in it, but the conclusion is that Steinbrenner did more good than bad and was necessary for the Yankees to be so financially successful. (So it it all about money? Attendance? Cable deal? Merchandising?)
You will read positive and glowing things about The Boss from Brian Cashman, Reggie Jackson, Joe Torre, Derek Jeter, Bud Selig, Mariano Rivera, Michael Kay, John Sterling, Paul O’Neil, and hundreds of others. They will all say how The Boss would do anything to win. In this day and age, where owners like the Marlins Jeffrey Loria seem to willingly sabotage their own teams, or teams are run by some faceless corporation, this stands out as being true. The Boss wanted to win, but so did Marge Schott of the Reds. Remember her? You know, the crazy racist woman? Yeah, it’s all about spinning legacies. I remember when George Steinbrenner was as hated as Marge Schott. I remember when Donald Trump was also hated, but he’s a well-liked figure now.
Would Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Derek Jeter remain with the Yankees for all of those years if the Yankees were a poor team? I mean, those three guys talk about pinstripes and tradition and loyalty. Or did they hang around for those great paychecks signed by George Steinbrenner III? I ask because that’s the can of worms that people like Mike Lupica and Bob Costas open when they say that George Steinbrenner is responsible for the Yankees World Championships.
In the 1970′s, the Boss’s public image was that of a rich entitled out-of-control millionaire. He was a magnet for controversy, and the players and MEDIA hated him. In the 1980′s the Yankees won NO championships with The Boss at the helm, as The Boss traded prospects for veterans. The Boss was vilified, and the Yankees were hated all around the country. Even Don Mattingly snapped at The Boss’s constant “motivational” player attacks.
Steinbrenner was “suspended for life” from baseball in 1990, and everyone rejoiced. During this period, guys like Gene Michael had more leeway and were to scout and build up youngsters like Bernie Williams for the mid-1990′s run. The Boss came back in 1993, but the pieces were already in place. The Boss still wanted to tinker wanted to trade unproven rookies like Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte for “big names”, but thankfully he was stopped.
In the 2000′s things started to change. Four World Championships will do that to public perception and an organization. The Yankees were cool again since 1996. They were winners. The 1980′s never happened. The Bronx Zoo was seen as more fiction than fact, as Billy Martin and Thurman Munson were long dead. With DiMaggio and Mantle dying, the links to the older teams before Steinbrenner were getting phased out. The Boss’s version of history was the new continuity. The Yankees topped off the 20th century by destroying the Mets in the 2000 Subway Series. And, as long as Joe Torre countered The Boss and protected his players, the MEDIA and fans were divided about which authority figure to blame in 2001 and beyond when it came to the lack of championships.
You see, history books, the YESNetwork, and the New York newspapers like to paint rosy pictures, but Buck Showalter, Joe Torre, and their coaches were getting attacked by The Boss during the 1990′s, and boneheaded free agent signings still happened (like Gary Sheffield over Vladmir Guerrero). The Boss never liked Andy Pettitte and he was allowed to walk in 2003, and was almost traded in the late 1990′s (Joe Torre put his own job on the line and begged for The Boss to keep Andy).
In the post-9/11 world, The Boss was given the ultimate Free Pass by the MEDIA. He was seen as a fierce competitor and a symbol of the modern New York Yankees, more so than any player or manager. They forget that the Yankees had won numerous championships before the 1970′s, with players such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, and Mickey Mantle. We are not supposed to counter the revisionist history. The Steinbrenner clan has duped the world into believing George Steinbrenner was always the owner, and he was the man behind all the 27 championships. Yes, The Boss sparked a failing team in 1970′s, and spearheaded a billion-dollar franchise with some cable deals, but let’s not get out of hand here, folks. In the 2000′s, The Boss’s place in the public’s minds had become a personality cult. If The Boss wasn’t into sports, he’d be running Cuba.
My grandmother became a fan of George Steinbrenner as soon as he started to get sick, which proves “out of sight, out of mind”. Of course, my grandmother has compassion for Boss-types, and excuses their behavior because…well, they’re BOSSES, that’s their right! George Steinbrenner is not a hero, unless you happen to be wanna-be cutthroat millionaire media mogul or something like that, you know if you want to be the next Donald Trump. I am glad things worked out for the New York Yankees franchise even with The Boss at the helm.
I do feel bad for Steinbrenner’s family: the people “in real life” that saw him as a nice elderly and generous grandad or uncle. I know The Boss wasn’t the best dad, but I know his two sons loved him, even though they may have had daddy issues. I know if hurts them. I know Cashman is hurt now, too.
For anyone who is hurt by The Boss’s passing, I do extend my sympathy to them. And I apologize if some aspects about The Boss’s legacy hurts, or if this is the wrong time to write this. For those of you who never knew the Boss personally, and hated him in the 1980′s but for some reason changed your mind recently, I think you should reexamine his life before you shed your tears.
- It’s Official: The Boss is Gone
- Bud Selig’s Conspiracy to Beat the Yankees
- Torre Forced to Apologize for not Defending A-Rod (HA!)
- Billy Crystal Yankees Spring Training
- Hal Steinbrenner is the New Boss- no more George
- George Steinbrenner Tribute Had Class
- "Great to see ya, Tommy"
- Proof: The Boss is (Thankfully) a Zombie
- Joe Torre Larry King Interview
- David Wells vs Joe Torre
- Is Joe Girardi too smart, positive, and mentally healthy?
- Joe Torre’s book
- Thoughts on Lou Piniella Retiring
- It’s Official: Joe Torre is Gone
- Yankees GM Brian Cashman: Three More Years
- The Boss* Answers Questions via E-mail
- Steinbrenner Speaks
- 10 Reasons to Admire Derek Jeter
- Review: The Yankee Years by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci
- John Wetteland hospitalized