My stories pale in comparison to those of the people who covered the New York Yankees on a daily basis, but two small memories of longtime owner George Steinbrenner:
I was lucky enough to cover two World Series. Both involved the Yankees — the 2000 Subway Series against the New York Mets, and the following season versus Arizona, which remains one of the greatest sporting events I've witnessed.
In Game 7, we were watching from the right-field media seats when Alfonso Soriano homered off Curt Schilling in the top of the eighth inning. As we moved down to the dugout area, Major League Baseball officials were massing outside the Yankees clubhouse with the championship champagne.
When Arizona failed to score in the bottom of the inning, they moved in and began the setup. Moments later, they were charging back out, red-faced.
Steinbrenner kicked them out. He was furious they'd even go in there before the game was over. Considering the result (Arizona scored twice in the ninth to win), it was a good thing.
He intimidated people. The year before, a few of us from The Score were taping a hit at Yankee Stadium the evening prior to Game 1. Martine Gaillard wasn't wearing her credential, and an usher came to ask her about it. He was nervous, insistent. She tried to explain that someone was grabbing it for her, and I showed him mine. It really wasn't working, so we decided to move off the field, out of sight.
That's when we realized why the usher was being unusually forceful. Standing right there, glaring at us, was The Boss. You didn't have to be Billy Martin, Reggie Jackson or Dave Winfield to face his wrath.
Provided tabloid fodder
When Steinbrenner bought the Yankees in 1973 for the now-ridiculous price of $10 million, he said, "I won't be active in the day-to-day operations of the club at all. I've spread myself too thin. I’ve got enough headaches with my shipbuilding company."
Riiiiiight. For almost 40 years, he kept everyone — employees, players, front office personnel, opposing teams, commissioners — on edge, wondering what was next. Reporters were particularly scared that Steinbrenner would say something crazy to a competitor. There were seven World Series titles, two suspensions, multiple managerial firings and thousands of back-page tabloid covers.
(If you're looking for more, read Bill Madden's Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball as recommended by John Shannon, or Damn Yankees by Madden and Moss Klein. That's one of my favourite books).
But, first and foremost was an owner who cared about winning above all else. What really is forgotten about Steinbrenner is that he wasn't as wealthy as most of the other owners. However, he made his team into a financial powerhouse and reinvested the profits into the roster.
While other teams with incredibly wealthy owners (cough, Kansas City, cough, Florida, cough, Minnesota) were happy to cash their revenue-sharing cheques and keep payrolls low, Steinbrenner kept pushing his advantage.
That's why so many other owners didn't like him. He embarrassed them. They claimed he had a competitive advantage being in New York, but they had more money than he did. There aren't many like him anymore.
And there probably won't be any like him ever again.