The Boss Has Left the Office

Here is my eulogy to George Steinbrenner

He parlayed a $167,000 investment into a business now worth over $1 billion. That was the business side of George Steinbrenner.

In 1973, when he became Managing General Partner, he vowed to take a once glorious team mired in a long stretch of mediocrity and make it a winner again. He did it his way. His brash personality and come hell or high water will to win soon became more of a distraction than a useful contributor to the plan to re-build the Yankees. His arrogance is legendary as was his impatience with his managers. During his 37 years of ownership, he hired 14 managers and fired 13. Only Joe Torre who resigned escaped George, the Grim Reaper. Who will ever forget his bizarre relationship with Billy Martin whom he hired 4 different times! So infamous was this situation that it became a memorable ad for Miller Lite.

He set the rules when it came to free agency signing what seemed like every useful available player. His willingness to lavish millions on these players earned him the wrath of baseball fans and the envy of other teams. It’s no secret that the deep resources of the Yankees has made them a perennial winner — 11 pennants and 7 world titles since he assumed ownership.

He was at once the most powerful and most despised person in the game.  And he will be remembered as such.

Yet his legacy runs much deeper. He literally forced other teams to spend money to compete with the Yankees and thus elevated not only the level of competition but the visibility of the sport itself in an era when baseball seemed to be irrelevant. This massive spending led to the creation of the luxury tax in which teams with high salaries had to pay into a pool to be distributed to teams with less resources. It can be said that because of George Steinbrenner, teams like the Pirates, Twins, Royals and Marlins have been able to survive. That’s good for the game. Besides which other team wouldn’t have spent the money that he had to sign players? Just ask the Red Sox who have been trying to keep up with them for years.

Are the Yankees the model of modern day baseball? Yes, because he created the model. Like it or not, the game has been forever transformed. And we can either thank or blame George Steinbrenner.

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