Farewell to “The Boss”
George Steinbrenner, perhaps the most successful professional sports team owner of all time, died Tuesday at a hospital in Tampa, Florida. The official cause of death was a heart attack, but Steinbrenner’s health had been failing for the last few years.
The outspoken owner of the New York Yankees had just celebrated his 80th birthday on July 4th. His career included 11 American league pennants and World Series titles in 1977-78, 1996, 1998-2000 and 2009.
Steinbrenner rebuilt the Yankees from the ground up during his 37 year tenure as their owner. He purchased the lackluster team that hadn’t won a championship in 11 years for about $8.7 million in 1973.
Today the team’s estimated value is over $1.6 billion. He spared nothing to create this ratings juggernaut. The sports franchise trails only Manchester United ($1.8 billion) and the Dallas Cowboys ($1.65 billion).
He also negotiated a landmark $486 million, 12-year cable TV contract with the Madison Square Garden Network in 1988, launching the Yankees’ own YES Network during the 2002 season.
Steinbrenner made no apologies for his outspoken and often bombastic behavior. His goal of creating the ultimate winning team was never in doubt. He made no secret by saying things like, “Winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing—breathing first, winning next.”
Steinbrenner was known for his deep pockets in the free agent market. Some of his expensive and high-profile acquisitions included Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter, Mike Mussina, Jason Giambi—and the most expensive of all, Alex Rodriguez.
The Yankees were the first team in MLB history to have a $200 million payroll, provoking anger and envy among other owners. He was often accused of buying the series, but to “The Boss,” as he was dubbed by Mike Lupica of the Daily News, that was just playing the game.
Steinbrenner was known for tumultuous relationships with his coaching staff, firing and rehiring manager Billy Martin five times. He fired Yogi Berra after just 16 games in the 1985 season, leaving Berra vowing never to return to Yankee stadium “as long as [Steinbrenner’s] there.” Their infamous feud ended in 1999.
Berra was quoted as saying, “George was ‘The Boss,’ make no mistake. He built the Yankees into champions, and that’s something nobody can ever deny. He was a very generous, caring, passionate man. George and I had our differences, but who didn’t? We became great friends over the last decade and I will miss him very much.”
In October of 1995, Steinbrenner hired Joe Torre to coach his team. Torre would lead the Yankees to 10 American League Division titles, six American League pennants and four World Series titles. This relationship, too, ended badly in 2007 with Torre rejecting Steinbrenner’s offer to continue to coach the team, calling it “insulting.”
Despite the sour ending of their partnership, Steinbrenner would later admit that he never had a better relationship with another coach and it appears that respect was mutual with Torre’s comments on Steinbrenner’s passing:
“I will always remember George Steinbrenner as a passionate man, a tough boss, a true visionary, a great humanitarian, and a dear friend. I will be forever grateful that he trusted me with his Yankees for 12 years. My heart goes out to his entire family. He will be deeply missed in New York, Tampa and throughout the world of baseball. It’s only fitting that he went out as a world champ.”
“The Boss’s” reign was not without its share of drama. He received a 15-month suspension in 1974 after he plead guilty to conspiring to make illegal contributions to Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign. He later received a pardon by President Ronald Reagan.
In 1990, he was banned from day-to-day operations by commissioner Fay Vincent when he paid gambler Howie Spira $40,000 in an attempt to get “dirt” on Dave Winfield.
Despite his external brash, Steinbrenner also knew how to poke fun at himself. He gave permission for his impersonation on Seinfeld, where the sitcom featured George Costanza as an assistant to “The Boss”—often seeing fetching calzones for the big guy. He also hosted Saturday Night Live and appeared along side Derek Jeter in a Visa commercial.
Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was quoted as saying, “He was truly the most influential and innovative owner in all of sports. He made the Yankees a source of great pride in being a New Yorker.”
Steinbrenner knew he wasn’t perfect. “I haven’t always done a good job, and I haven’t always been successful,” Steinbrenner said in 2005. “But I know that I have tried.” Love him or hate him—and there were plenty of people who did both—“The Boss” changed baseball forever.