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.