A few years ago, for no reason at all, I sent George Steinbrenner a birthday card.
I wanted to thank him for giving Yankees fans a winning baseball team. At a time when most owners seemingly tool their profits and ran from their teams, Steinbrenner reinvested his earnings (and more), ensuring that the Yankees would always remain in contention.
I sent the card off adressed to George Steinbrenner, Yankee Stadium, The Bronx New York 10451. I was surprised a few weeks later when I got an envelope from Legends Field in Tampa Florida. It contained a thank you note signed by the Boss himself.
Earlier today, George Steinbrenner died of a heart attack (twenty-something years after declaring that he doesnt have heart attacks, he gives them). More than any other owner, he left his mark on his team. When Ihe purchased the Yankees in ’73, the team had not been to a World Series in nine years, played in a dilapitated building and lacked any real stars. Within five years the Yankees would host three straight World Series at a refurbished Yankee Stadium (although Mike Burke who ran the team for CBS did most of the work on that) and had a number of free agent and home grown superstars.
Yes, early on in his ownership and up to his second suspension in ’90 he was impatient and short-sighted. Upon his return in ’93, his demeanor was different, but he had the same goal- to put on the field a team Yankees fans could be proud of.
Some claimed that through his ways, Steinbrenner ruined baseball. In my view, the other owners who chose not to put money into their ballclubs ruined baseball. By not fielding competitive teams, the other owners hurt the game and their fans. Meanwhile, Steinbrenner’s drive to win led him to bankroll several winning teams for his fans (to say nothing of the millions he paid in luxury taxes to bankroll those teams whose owners spent little.
Regardless of his methods, Yankees fans always knew Steinbrenner demanded excellence. But more importantly, around the time of his second suspension he gained another trait that would endear him to Yankees fans when he returned: a sense of humor. This could be seen as early as the fall of 1990, when he hosted Saturday Night Live. In one skit, he played a Carl, a convenience store manager who had personnel issues:
Carl: It’s just I can’t.. I can’t fire people, it’s not in my nature.
Pete: You can’t keep saying that. If an employee isn’t delivering what you expect of them, you have to fire them!
Carl: Why? Where is it written if you don’t get results right away, you fire people? What kind of asinine policy is that?
Pete: Carl! It’s just good business!
Carl: That’s where you’re wrong! It’s not good business! You can’t have people worried all the time that they’ll be fired if they make one mistake. That’s lunacy! Only a jackasswould run his business that way!
Pete: Carl, this is the way it works: an unsatisfied owner fires people!
Carl: A stupid owner! A stupid, arrogant, shortsighted owner. The kind of guy who blames everybody but himself! How would you like it everytime something went wrong, I just blamed you, the supervisor, huh? Let’s just fire the supervisor! Then I’ll hire some other guy, and something would go wrong and I’d fire him, and I’d probably rehire you!Then fire you again, bring in someone else, then fire him and rehire you again! Then fire and hire, back and forth until the whole thing’s just a big joke! Is that the kind of owner you want? Some yammering nincompoop in a fancy suit? No way you take that road, ’cause before you know it, you’ll probably be banned from running the entire company.
Through things like his SNL stint, the infamous Sports Illustrated cover (above) and other appearances in movies and television, George showed he had loosened up. And even if he still had some issues with his managers in the ’90s, by now he was an owner that fans could embrace. I mean how could you hate a guy who would do this for a Yankees commercial:
And if nothing else, George Steinbrenner kept George Costanza employed for more than four years.
Thanks again George.