Saturday, June 15, 2024

George Steinbrenner Dead at Age 80


It’s hard to believe, because he was such an omnipotent figure in Yankee life, but George Steinbrenner is dead at age 80.

The obits and comments today will be something to read, and lengthy at that. No baseball owner was ever this controversial, whether he was hiring people to spy on his players or having public fights with popular managers. In his heyday he was loud, nasty, and frustrating.

But in a way what would we have done without him? When Steinbrenner bought the Yankees, they were dead. CBS and Mike Burke had killer them. It was the era of mediocre players with few exceptions: Mel Stottlemeyer, Bobby Murcer, a just arrived Thurman Munson, and dependable Roy White. Ralph Houk was the staid manager.

Steinbrenner changed all that. He ushered in Billy Martin, Dave Winfield, and Reggie Jackson, and a determination to win at all costs. Literally, all costs. But let’s not forget: before Steinbrenner came in and really got going, the Yankees were better known for Fritz Petersen and Mike Kekick swapping wives than the team winning pennants.

Most of the stories about Steinbrenner are well known–hiring and firing 20 managers, etc. He certainly made the blood pressure of Yankee fans rise and rise and rise. A terrible fight with Yogi Berra that went on for two decades will not be forgotten.The constant war with Billy Martin. And we can’t forget his two suspensions from baseball–in 1974, over campaign contributions to Richard Nixon, and in 1990, for hiring Howie Spira to get dirt–not ballfield dust–on Winfield.

You can’t sugar coat it: that’s the real George in the accompanying picture, making a point with Joe Torre.

But there was also the George Steinbrenner who was a regular at Elaine’s, and loved Elaine Kaufman like she was family. When Steinbrenner appeared at Elaine’s it was like the King of a country appeared. But he was always friendly to fans, and never failed to win over his critics once they met him in person.

It’s the end of an era, for the Yankees, and for New York.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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