Steinbrenner: A career of highs and lows
Longtime owner rebuilt Yankees into winner, rankled others with his aggression
Confrontational. Charitable. Devoted family man. A visionary. Demanding. Powerful. Influential. And a deserved Hall of Famer, some would say.
That, in a nutshell, describes the big man known for many years in New York as the Boss, longtime Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who died Tuesday at age 80, apparently of a heart attack.
From his 1973 purchase of the foundering franchise for $10 million US — now valued at $1.6 billion — to rebuilding the team into a winner, to feuds with players, managers and office staff, to his free-spending ways and troubles with the law, Steinbrenner remained in the spotlight, even when he said he wouldn't.
"He's done the impossible," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told New York reporters earlier this month. "He took an organization with the history of the New York Yankees and improved upon it. He took one of the world's greatest brands and made it better."
With that, here's a list of Steinbrenner accomplishments, successes and other moments during his 37 years as Yankees owner that made him "a giant in the world of sports," in the eyes of his family.
Restoring the pride
In 1973, Steinbrenner, using money from his Ohio shipbuilding business, led a group that bought the struggling Yankees from CBS for $10 million, $3 million less than what the television network paid a decade earlier.
In just four seasons, the Yankees went from 80 wins to the century mark, capturing the first of six titles under Steinbrenner in 1977 against the Los Angeles Dodgers. New York would make the playoffs three of the next four years before enduring a 13-year drought in 1995. Another World Series title followed the next season and the Yankees haven't had a winning percentage below .540 since.
Cut your hair, young man
The Boss demanded perfection, including the way his players wore the team uniform, stirrups and undershirts. Later on, he insisted they keep their hair short and shed any facial hair.
Former Red Sox fan favourite Johnny Damon made headlines in 2005, a year after ending Boston's 86-year World Series drought. He not only signed a free-agent contract with the hated Yankees, but had to cut off what some people called his Jesus hair and shave his Jesus beard to comply with Yankees' policy.
Put up your dukes
Steinbrenner waged a war of words with many, most notably former Yankees manager Billy Martin, who had five stints with the team and twice was fired. In July 1978, Martin quit and five days later was tabbed as the manager for 1980. But he returned in June of '79, replacing the fired Bob Lemon, only to be let go after that season ended.
The franchise quickly became known as the Bronx Zoo as Steinbrenner made 18 managerial changes and hired 13 general managers in one 15-year stretch. Yankees catching great Yogi Berra, former players Dave Winfield and pitcher Hideki Irabu, onetime managers Lou Piniella and Joe Torre along with stadium workers were other targets of the Boss.
In 2007, Steinbrenner threatened to fire Torre if the team failed to advance past the first round of the playoffs. After the Yankees bowed to Cleveland in the American League Championship Series, Torre left after rejecting a one-year contract extension with a cut in his guaranteed salary.
He called Winfield Mr. May, contrasting him with Reggie Jackson, known as Mr. October for his clutch hits in the post-season. The Yankees owner also referred to the portly Irabu as a fat toad.
Trouble off the field
In November 1974, then baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn suspended Steinbrenner for two years, a banishment later reduced to 15 months, after the Yankees owner pleaded guilty to conspiring to make illegal corporate contributions to U.S. President Richard Nixon's 1972 re-election campaign, and trying to "influence and intimidate employees" of his shipbuilding company to lie to a grand jury about the matter. He was fined $15,000 but didn't serve jail time.
Steinbrenner also was barred from operating the Yankees in 1990 when he paid confessed gambler Howard Spira $40,000 in return for possibly derogatory information about Yankees outfielder Winfield. Steinbrenner also totalled $645,000 in disciplinary costs in October 1995 after complaining about umpires in a playoff series.
Considered a pioneer of modern sports ownership, Steinbrenner, with the assistance of some creative marketers, discovered another source of revenue in 1988 by striking a 12-year, $486-million television contract with the Madison Square Garden network.
By 2002, an investment group that included the Yankees had created the YES Network to carry numerous games and broadcast Yankees-related programming. Three years later, YES reportedly had $257 million in revenue and surpassed MSG as the top regional sports network in the U.S. Not to be outdone, the Yankees franchise engaged in lucrative marketing deals, including a 10-year, $95-million apparel partnership with Adidas.
Money to burn
"I hate to lose. Hate, hate, hate to lose," Steinbrenner told the New York Times in 1998. So he did something about it. He spent, spent and spent oodles of money.
Steinbrenner began his first wave of big spending in 1974 in hopes of halting a long pennant drought with the signing of star pitcher Catfish Hunter. He continued to spend despite reported losses from 1974 to 1979, but watched as New York won its first pennant in 12 years in 1976 and captured back-to-back World Series in '77 and '78 following the signings of big-name slugger Reggie Jackson and closer Rich (Goose) Gossage.
Steinbrenner's free-spending ways not only drove up salaries across the major leagues, they were the source of grumbling among rival owners.
But with a team payroll exceeding $205 million in 2010, small-market teams are pocketing as much as $45 million per season from the Yankees in the form of revenue sharing and luxury tax.
New Yankee Stadium
Unsatisfied as the years passed following a major renovation to Yankee Stadium in the mid-1970s, Steinbrenner is said to have started pressing for a new stadium in the early '80s and threatened to move it to New Jersey or Manhattan.
In April 2006, he secured the elusive deal he always wanted and watched as a new $1.5-billion structure was built across the way from Yankee Stadium with several thousand fewer seats, but three times the number of luxury suites (cha-ching!). Yankee Stadium first opened in 1923, and since has been known as the House That Ruth Built after Babe Ruth was the first player to hit a home run there.
The new facility will forever be known as the House That Steinbrenner Built.