‘I’m obsessed with winning and everything that goes with it — discipline, pride, achievement. Isn’t that the essence of this country? Isn’t that what New York is all about and the Yankees always should be?’
— George Steinbrenner
It seems like so long ago now. But there was a time period when Yankees fans of my generation hated George Steinbrenner.
Absolutely loathed him. Wished he were long gone and never to be heard from again.
It’s easy to forget in July 2010, on the day Steinbrenner died at age 80. In many ways he was a great man, donating money and time to charities, doing a ton of work behind the scenes, nice gestures for people that no one ever knew about. And his voracious desire for winning was always something Yankees fans deep down appreciated; you’d have to say Steinbrenner was one of the biggest winners in all of sports, with seven World Series titles under his 37-year reign.
But man, for a while there in the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s, we hated the Boss. From signing awful free agents like Jack Clark, Steve Kemp and Ed Whitson, to hiring a private investigator named Howie Spira to dig up dirt on our beloved Dave Winfield, Steinbrenner’s reign of error in those years was awful. We knew he meant well, but he just had no idea what he was doing.
This is forgotten now in history, but the real reason for the Yankees’ resurgence in the mid-1990s was because Steinbrenner was suspended from baseball, and people like Gene Michael and others got to rebuild the farm system without fear that a young Derek Jeter would be traded for some crappy free agent outfielder. If Steinbrenner had been around and involved day to day, I’m not sure the Yankees dynasty ever gets built.
But as cold-hearted as he could be to managers and employees, he was a wonderful man in many other ways. He gave so much to so many; heck, just working on a story about him Tuesday for my newspaper, I learned that he loaned his private jet to a then-Yankee whose infant son was having serious surgery hundreds of miles away.
He gave a lot to his adopted city of Tampa; Joe Henderson has a beautiful column about him here. He was a complex and complicated man, kind and big-hearted one minute, cold and vicious the next.
He changed the sport of baseball forever, for good and bad, and for that, he belongs in Cooperstown someday.
Godspeed George, there’ll never be another owner like you.
**So I returned to the state of my birth Tuesday night, for a two-week vacation in New York. Lots of fun stuff on the agenda, much of which I’m sure I’ll be writing about. But first, a complaint. On the flight from Orlando I sat next to a seemingly nice blonde woman, who immediately opened Star Magazine when she sat down (I had no idea people actually bought that trash).
Anyway, she starts inquiring about Bernie (our dog who was on his first flight), and asks a ton of questions. I politely answer them. Then she gets off on this whole tangent how we should get Bernie declared a therapy dog, and that way we won’t have to pay to have him travel with us. Fine, she’s making a suggestion, whatever. But she keeps at it. She brings up like 2 or 3 more times on the flight, then actually makes a point to come over to me while we’re standing at baggage claim. I mean, seriously lady, I don’t even KNOW you, leave me the hell alone!
I mean, I always talk to people on planes, but this was ridiculous.