Before George Steinbrenner bought the New York Yankees for roughly $9 million from CBS in 1973, baseball’s flagship franchise was barely on the map.
Attendance at the aging stadium was sagging so badly you couldn’t give away tickets, as the once-mighty club had fallen in the American League standings. The team clearly needed a rudder.
It was so bad it had been nearly a decade since the Yankees made it to the World Series, and 1962 was the last time the Bronx Bombers actually won the big prize.
What transpired over the next four years under Steinbrenner’s leadership was something out of a fairy tale.
Through brilliant trades that brought the club third baseman Graig Nettles, shortstop Bucky Dent, center fielder Mickey Rivers, and first baseman Chris Chambliss, and then the inking of high-priced free agents like outfielder Reggie Jackson, starting pitcher Jim “Catfish” Hunter, and closer Rich “Goose’’ Gossage, and later outfielder Dave Winfield, the Yankees were back in the World Series, losing four straight to the Cincinnati Reds, but this spawned a string of titles in 1977 and 1978 over the Dodgers.
The glory days were back and suddenly it was cool to be a Yankees fan.
Called “The Boss,’’ Steinbrenner, a true visionary, passed away nine days after his 80th birthday, and only hours before the National League’s 3-1 win over the American League in the All-Star Game.
The question is whether Steinbrenner was good for baseball? There is no doubt but that he was good for the Yankees, and their legion of fans.
Few owners wanted to win as badly as Steinbrenner. It was an obsession. He couldn’t tolerate losing, which isn’t a bad thing. His goal every season was to put the best product money could buy onto the field, and he expected them to perform at the highest level, which in most cases they did.
“I’m obsessed with winning and everything that goes with it – discipline, pride, achievement,’’ he once said. “Isn’t that the essence of this country? Isn’t that what New York is all about and the Yankees always should be?”
Steinbrenner was also impulsive and dictatorial, and he rubbed some people the wrong way. That was his style.
Steinbrenner hired and fired Manager Billy Martin five times. Now that takes the cake, but he was willing to give Martin multiple opportunites. What owner would do that?
And Steinbrenner was charitable beyond the baseball field, donating millions of dollars, but never sought the publicity.
Twice Steinbrenner was suspended from baseball, but bounced back stronger than ever, and he oversaw the hiring of Manager Joe Torre. It was under the present Dodgers’ skipper that the Yankees fully blossomed, winning four titles in five years, including three in a row beginning in 1998.
“He expected a lot. He demanded a lot,’’ said star left-handed pitcher Andy Pettitte, who has been part of five championships. “He raised, I believe, the level of not only the Yankees organization and what they want to do as far as winning and winning championships, but I feel like he’s raised the bar around baseball for other teams to try to compete with what he was trying to put on this field every year.”
This and the New Yankee Stadium will be Steinbrenner’s lasting legagy, and looking at it objectively, isn’t a bad way to exit this world.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.