There are a lot of things about the New York Yankees that I understand a lot of people hate. They spend too much money, they win all of the time, they’re fans are obnoxious, so on and so forth. Me being a Yankees fan I’ve had to endure with hate from other fans that has included comments such as “all you guys do is buy championships”, to “the Yankees are the reason baseball is bad” to one of my favorites, “Miguel Tejada is way better than Derek Jeter” (yeah someone actually said that to me one year, no joke).
It sometimes bothers me, other times I just laugh it off and laugh in people’s faces. I sort of embraced the role of being hated just like the team did, and like its owner did. George Steinbrenner couldn’t have care less about what anyone thought of him or his team. He wanted to win, win, win and didn’t care one red cent about how it happened. Nor was he afraid to spend a pretty penny toward making it happen.
When Steinbrenner took over the Yankees in 1973 they were fledgling under the ownership of the CBS company. He bought the team for 8.8 million dollars back then; the team is now the biggest money maker in sports according to Forbes magazine at 1.2 billion dollars. He took a Yankees team that struggled mightily in the late 60’s and re-energized it by retooling the team in his own way.
He lured “Catfish” Hunter away from the Oakland A’s in a move that many believe was the beginning of modern free agency. Then added Reggie Jackson to help lead the Yankees to two titles in the 70’s, their first since 1962 in the glorious Mickey Mantle years. The team was always a riot to be around during those years thanks to the three way media battle between Steinbrenner, Jackson and manager Billy Martin. The years were dubbed as “the Bronx Zoo” due to the actions and reactions of all three men towards each other. Subsequently Steinbrenner fired Martin three times during those years, and five overall. Yet Martin has his number retired by the Yankees.
That was Steinbrenner though ridiculous in some ways but winning was his only goal. He didn’t care what was going on as long as the team won and he got the championships he so desperately coveted. He did pay for lots of players, but if you didn’t perform you would hear about it. He brought in guys like Dave Winfield for exuberant amounts of money and called him “Mr. May” due to his poor performances late in the season. He called Hideki Irabu a fat toad because Irabu was an overhyped Japanese fire-baller that ate his way out of the league. He said Derek Jeter partied too much, always ripped into Brian Cashman and kept Joe Torre on pins and needled even though the man won him four rings during his time in New York.
Think about this however, Cashman is still there, so is Jeter, and Torre stayed for as long as he could winning four titles along the way and assuring himself of having his number six retired. As much as he wanted to win he was still loyal as one can be. Steinbrenner cared about the Yankees as a whole and the people around him. There are still people left from arrival in 1973 that still work for the team, even though he and Jeter griped they shot a commercial together to joke around about the party life of the young shortstop.
Yet the product on the field was his number one concern. Steinbrenner understood what ownership in sports was about more than any other owner from Peter Angelos, to Donald Sterling or Bill Wirtz, keep the fans happy and let them know you are trying to put a winner out there every day. That’s why he apologized after the 1981 ALCS loss to Kansas City because he felt that he let the fans down by not putting the best product out on the field. That’s why in recent years there were high priced free agents brought to help the team win. From Jason Giambi to Johnny Damon and Carl Pavano, Steinbrenner to continuously put a winner on the field for his sake and the fans sake.
That led to the perception that the Yankees tried to buy championships. Additions like Alex Rodriguez, Giambi, and the way that Steinbrenner and company outbid other teams for players like Mark Teixeira and Mike Mussina led people to believe that the Yankees were bad for baseball. That their pool of wealth was greater than any other team, and that it was ruining the game. There was even a point where I sat back and said to myself that maybe we should chill on the spending and bring up players like we did in the early 90’s. However, there is an old saying in business, “you have to spend money to make money.” Did George pay way too much for players this past decade? Yes. Was it a sign of greed that winning championships was all that mattered? Yes. Did he make it back in t-shirt sales, jersey sales and in revenue from the YES network that he started to give the Yankees more media coverage? Yes.
My take on the last ten years of Steinbrenner’s reign is this; sports franchises are owned by billionaires who could afford to buy the team at whatever the price was, if that was the case than they should be able to afford to put the best team on the field and to win. That’s why I hate guys like Angelos. Baltimore was once a great baseball town then Angelos got cheap and now look at Baltimore. Everyone has money; Steinbrenner knew what to do with it and knew the purpose for it. Yankee fans as a result began to mirror Steinbrenner in the sense that we want to win year after year. We were spoiled with titles and wanted more. I looked forward to the “The Boss” ripping players for slow starts and poor performances because in our eyes they were. Steinbrenner was a fan at heart, that’s why he did all of the things he did to make the team and the city and its fans happy because he was looking at the team through his eyes and ours.
That’s I loved the guy so much. If I were an owner I would be like Steinbrenner, there would be one option, win and that’s it. If you won you were rewarded (ask Jeter, Bernie Williams and Roger Clemens about their contracts) if you didn’t… ask Dave Winfield and Pavano how that worked out for them.
George Steinbrenner died this morning at the age of 80. He left the team three years ago as his health started to betray him. You can still see his touch all over the Yankees when you look at the team, the stadium and its day-to-day operations. Winning is still the only thing that matters, the core four of players that were there from his 90’s dynasty of Jeter, Andy Pettite, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada are still there fifteen years later. His sons Hank and Hal run the show now, with Cashman still guiding the ship. The Yankees still sellout crowds still sell the most jerseys and are still the most hated team in America. Not that we care. Friday we missed out on a chance to add pitching ace Cliff Lee to our rotation in a move that would’ve made us roaring favorites if we weren’t already. It was a very “Boss” thing to do.
Steinbrenner is not yet enshrined in the baseball hall of fame, which hopefully will happen soon. He was innovative, controversial, passionate and caring towards the people who paid those lofty prices to watch this team play baseball. He brought back the mystique that was gone after the Mantle and Maris days and kept it going. He brought about free agency, created network for his own team, and made the Yankees the first billion dollar franchise in American sports. He won seven championships, eleven pennants, five MVP’s, four rookies of the year and three Cy Young’s. He fired seventeen managers (martin five times) was suspended from baseball twice and was parodied in episodes of The Simpsons, and Miller Lite commercials.
He also made me live and die by the Yankees much like he did. Red Auerbach once said that Celtics “were a way of life” the same can be said about the Bronx Bombers. I’m sure in the upcoming days I’ll here fans of other teams make jokes about his death and hope the spending finally ceases. However, I’ll just smile and shake my head, because I know the blueprint he set forth for this team and it aint changing. It’s all about winning love us or hate us and you can thank “The Boss” for that. R.I.P. George Steinbrenner. July 4, 1930- July 13, 2010.