Yankees owner George Steinbrenner dies

George Steinbrenner, the controversial owner who resurrected the New York Yankees and turned the baseball team into a billion-dollar business, has died at age 80.

George Steinbrenner, the controversial owner who resurrected the New York Yankees and turned the baseball team into a billion-dollar business, has died.

Several U.S. media outlets reported that Steinbrenner suffered a heart attack and was taken to hospital near his home in Tampa, Fla., where he died around 6:30 a.m. ET.

Steinbrenner's passing came just nine days after his 80th birthday, and hours before the major league baseball all-star game was to be played in Southern California.

It's the second time in three days that the Yankees have lost an iconic figure. Beloved public-address announcer Bob Sheppard died Sunday at age 99.

Steinbrenner became a Yankees owner in 1973, during a lean period for the fabled team. Under his brash leadership over the next 37-plus seasons, the Bronx Bombers won 11 American League pennants and seven World Series championships.

The health of the once-outspoken figure nicknamed The Boss had declined in recent years, and he had largely been kept out of the public eye. Steinbrenner officially turned over day-to-day operations of the Yankees in November 2008 to his sons, Hank and Hal.

"He was an incredible and charitable man," Steinbrenner's family said in a statement, which did not contain details on the cause of death. "He was a visionary and a giant in the world of sports. He took a great but struggling franchise and turned it into a champion again."

Controversial start

Steinbrenner overcame a rocky start to become the pre-eminent sports franchise owner of his time.

Steinbrenner on screen

George Steinbrenner's enormous personality provided ample fodder for entertainment over the years.

The Boss poked fun of his frequent firings and rehirings of Billy Martin in a 1970s beer commercial alongside the manager, and in a 1980 appearance as guest host on Saturday Night Live, he lambasted the show's writing staff in one sketch.

Steinbrenner appeared in more TV commercials in recent years, lampooning a brief feud with star shortstop Derek Jeter in a Visa ad, and doing another spot for the credit-card company in which Yankees trainers worked on a sore arm caused by writing too many free-agent cheques.

Perhaps the best-loved Steinbrenner appearance on the small screen didn't actually involve the owner. Seinfeld co-creator Larry David, a lifelong Yankees fan, supplied the voice for a faceless Steinbrenner character whose comically eccentric ramblings — not to mention his affection for Paisano's calzones — often drew the ire of mid-level executive George Costanza. —JC

Born in Cleveland to a father who made a fortune in the ship-building business, Steinbrenner failed in an attempt to buy the Indians in the early 1970s. He turned his attention to the Yankees, and in 1973 was part of a group that bought the team for $10 million US (it's now estimated to be worth about $1.6 billion).

After initially promising he wouldn't get involved in the daily operations of the club, Steinbrenner quickly developed a reputation as a magnet for controversy. In 1974 he pleaded guilty to making illegal contributions to Richard Nixon's presidential campaign, and was suspended by then baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn for two years, though the ban was later reduced to nine months.

That hardly seemed to deter Steinbrenner upon his return for the 1976 season. Sometimes referring to himself as Big Stein, he ruled the Yankees with an outsized personality and an iron fist, and frequently butted heads with employees. He famously fired manager Billy Martin multiple times, and more than 20 managerial changes were made by the Yankees during the first 23 years of Steinbrenner's tenure, until Joe Torre brought stability to the position in 1996. Torre was eventually let go after the 2007 season and replaced by current manager Joe Girardi.

Steinbrenner had a reputation for cantankerousness among Yankees employees, and he also wasn't afraid to openly criticize star players, starting with the likes of future Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson in the 1970s and Dave Winfield in the 1980s. He even clashed briefly with clean-cut fan favourite Derek Jeter in 2003, suggesting the shortstop had partied too long one night during the previous season.

Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra said he and Steinbrenner were able to get past their own run-ins.

"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," Berra said.

The Steinbrenner-Winfield feud reached bizarre proportions when allegations surfaced that Steinbrenner had paid a small-time Bronx gambler named Howie Spira $40,000 to dig up dirt on the outfielder amid a 1989 contract dispute.

In July 1990, then baseball commissioner Fay Vincent banned Steinbrenner for life from running the Yankees, though he was later allowed to return starting in the 1993 season.

Revered by fans

Despite his indiscretions, Steinbrenner was revered by Yankees fans for restoring the team to glory following a moribund period that preceded his takeover.

Steinbrenner won his first World Series titles in 1977 and '78, and his willingness to reinvest the club's massive revenues into acquiring high-priced players has made the Yankees a perennial contender under major league baseball's salary-cap-free system.

That's been especially true in recent years as Steinbrenner oversaw the creation of the team's own cable television channel — an enormous success — and the construction of the billion-dollar new Yankee Stadium, which opened last year. Both properties added to the already formidable cash flow of baseball's richest club.

"The passing of George Steinbrenner marks the end of an era in New York City baseball history," rival Mets owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon and Saul Katz said. "George was a larger than life figure and a force in the industry. The rise and success of his teams on the field and in the business marketplace under his leadership are a testament to his skill, drive, and determination."

Over the last decade and a half, Steinbrenner used the team's resources to keep largely intact a core group of homegrown players, led by Jeter, that delivered five championships. With Steinbrenner seemingly always keen to add a big-name player to boost the roster, the Yankees won four of the five World Series played between 1996 and 2000.

New York's final World Series championship of the Steinbrenner era came last season, when pricey new free-agent acquisitions Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia joined forces with the likes of Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mariano Rivera to end a nine-year title drought by beating the Philadelphia Phillies.

"He was a champion who made New York a better place, and who always gave back to the city he loved," said New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who added that the flags in City Hall Plaza would be lowered Tuesday.

"He has left an indelible legacy on the Yankees, on baseball, and on our city, and he leaves us in the only way that would be appropriate: as a reigning world champion."

With files from The Associated Press