Baseball bids farewell to 'The Boss'

Dave Gross
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Showmanship, shrewd decisions made Steinbrenner a success

There wasn't any doubt where you stood with George Steinbrenner.

A determined winner, and you could take a seat. Ineffective, and you could take a hike.

The vilified, out-spoken, but in the final analysis, hugely successful New York Yankees owner died Tuesday morning of a massive heart attack in Tampa, Fla.

Steinbrenner was recognized as the face of Yankees' baseball since buying the team in January 1973.

George Steinbrenner

There wasn't any doubt where you stood with George Steinbrenner.

A determined winner, and you could take a seat. Ineffective, and you could take a hike.

The vilified, out-spoken, but in the final analysis, hugely successful New York Yankees owner died Tuesday morning of a massive heart attack in Tampa, Fla.

Steinbrenner was recognized as the face of Yankees' baseball since buying the team in January 1973.

The 80-year-old had suffered through failing health in the last few years, and the team and family kept him sheltered from the media. During his rare public appearances, he appeared to be confined to a wheelchair.

The Yankees were a moribund bunch when Steinbrenner, a shipbuilder by trade, purchased the club from CBS 37 years ago for just $10 million US.

The native of Rocky River, Ohio didn't wait around for things to happen. Just a few months after taking over the team, Steinbrenner watched as Ralph Houk - who'd managed the Yankees since 1966 - walked away. Word was that Steinbrenner's pestering daily phone calls inquiring about his new team inspired Houk's decision.

His choice of replacement, Bill Virdon, lasted just a year and a half before the love-hate-and-headlines teaming of Steinbrenner and firecracker Billy Martin unveiled itself.

"The Boss" - as Steinbrenner was nicknamed by New York Daily News scribe Mike Lupica - and Martin engaged in very public battles that saw Martin hired and fired five times.

In fact, in his first 20 years with the Yankees, Steinbrenner hired and fired 21 managers.

There was no denying George and Billy's early success, though. In 1976, Martin led the Yankees to the World Series, losing to Sparky Anderson's Cincinnati Reds in four straight.

Steinbrenner made news the following off-season signing his second big-name free agent in two years - Catfish Hunter came aboard in 1974 - when Reggie Jackson signed for the then-ridiculously high price of $3 million (spread over five years).

A return trip to the Fall Classic, coupled with the famous curtain raising on Mr. October, saw the Yankees win their first title since 1962.

"George was 'The Boss,' make no mistake," Hall of Famer Yogi Berra said to ESPN. "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."

That passion came to a head in 1978 when Martin and Jackson nearly engaged in a dugout brawl on national television after the manager yanked Jackson out of the game for a lack of hustle. A few days later, Martin was reportedly forced to resign by The Boss.

The bombastic early years became a Steinbrenner signature.

And he loved it.

"In New York," Steinbrenner once told the New York Times, "athletics is more than a game. You're in the Big Apple. The game is important, but so is the showmanship involved with the game important. You have to have a blend of capable, proficient players, but you have to have another ingredient in New York and that's colour."

New Yorkers either loved him or despised him, but there was never questioning how much he cared for the celebrated Yankee uniform.

"When you put the pinstripes on, you're not just putting a baseball uniform on, you're wearing tradition and you're wearing pride, and you're going to wear it the right way," Steinbrenner said, addressing the players in his early years.

Away from the ballpark, the controversy followed. In 1974 after a guilty plea for illegal contributions to former president Richard Nixon's campaign, Steinbrenner was suspended for 15 months by MLB.

In 1990, commissioner Fay Vincent banned Steinbrenner for life after he hired a notorious gambler to dig up dirt on star outfielder Dave Winfield (the two had a fractious relationship after Winfield 'disappointed' The Boss with a poor post-season performance). That ban was lifted - with rather convoluted reasonings - by MLB in 1993.

In spite of the turmoil, The Boss was a perpetual success. During his tenure, the Yankees captured seven World Series championships, 11 American League pennants and 16 AL East titles.

Former Yankees manager Joe Torre - who won four World Series titles under Steinbrenner - told ESPN that New York's triumph as World Series champions last season was splendid timing.

"I will always remember George Steinbrenner as a passionate man, a tough boss, a true visionary, a great humanitarian, and a dear friend," Torre said. "It's only fitting that he went out as a world champ."

In addition to his on-field triumphs, Steinbrenner turn the Yankees into an unparalleled baseball money-maker.

According to Forbes magazine, the team's value is listed at $1.6 billion. That's about double the value of the cross-town Mets or Boston Red Sox.

Steinbrenner's net worth alone was more than $1 billion at the time of his death.

"They always say, what would you like to be on your tombstone, what would you like people to say?" Steinbrenner said back in 1998. "I'd just like them to say: 'He never stopped trying.' That would be good enough for me."

Organizations: Yankees, New York Yankees, ESPN New York Daily News Cincinnati Reds New York Times Big Apple American League Forbes magazine Boston Red Sox

Geographic location: Tampa, Fla., New York, US Rocky River, Ohio

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