Steinbrenner Dies, Legend Lives On
I was not the biggest baseball fan growing up. I spent my formative sports years in Texas, where football was king and baseball, while relevant, always took a backseat. Back then, I couldn’t have told who last year’s MVP was, what OPS was or how many years it had been since the Boston Red Sox had last won a World Series. But despite not knowing any of that, if you had asked me who the owner of the New York Yankees was, I would have answered George Steinbrenner’s name faster than he fired Billy Martin.
Which is why it was so sad to hear that Steinbrenner passed away at the age of 80 yesterday after suffering a heart attack down in his Florida home. That marked a sad day for baseball, as it had to mourn the death of its most powerful, lucrative, bombastic and entertaining owner ever.
I first became aware of Steinbrenner by watching Seinfeld on NBC. Those episodes in which George would get a “talking to” from this pompous, loud-mouth boss of his were some of the funniest episodes of that series. And once I found out that George’s boss was a satirical depiction of a real life person, obviously I had to find out just who this guy was.
So I started paying attention to the New York Yankees. Which was easy at the time given it was the mid to late 90’s and the Yankees were winning every World Series in sight. But truth be told, I was still a novice baseball fan and was more interested in stories about Steinbrenner than I was interested in Derek Jeter, David Wells or Bernie Williams.
You can only imagine how stunned I was to learn how Steinbrenner when through managers. When I learned that Steinbrenner had hired Martin during the 1982 season and then fired him during the 1982 season, I couldn’t believe it. When I read about his confrontations with the manager and how he called him in the dugout, I thought this guy was ridiculous. And when somebody told me that he had actually been suspended from Major League Baseball, I had no idea that could ever happen to an owner.
However, as much as the caricature of Steinbrenner’s legend and persona on Seinfeld impressed me, it was his willingness to spend that amazed me the most. It was always hard for me to come to terms with the fact that some owners weren’t as willing to spend money on their teams as Steinbrenner. How could people not want to win? How could somebody sacrifice victory for profits? Why would anyone ever choose to own a baseball team only to pocket the income and cheat the fans?
And as those questions were answered for me, as I grew out of my pubescent state and into a baseball fan, the more and more I realized how special Steinbrenner was. Here he was, owner of the most successful and profitable team in baseball, and if anyone in the Majors could have gotten away with skimming a few extra dollars off the top, it was Steinbrenner; yet he never dared to do such a thing.
When I finally came to the realization that Steinbrenner was one of a kind, it was hard to do anything but idolize him. I don’t know if I will ever become an owner of a professional sports team, or if I will even be a part of any pro sports team in general. But if I am, there’s no doubt that I want to take that same hunger to win to work with me everyday, because anyone involved in running a sports franchise owes that to the fans. That’s what Steinbrenner believed, and that’s what he preached, and that’s the legacy he will leave with me and the millions of others who witnessed Steinbrenner’s will to win for so many years.