Tuesday, July 13, 2010

George Steinbrenner III dead at the age of 80

A 2nd death has rocked the New York Yankees in a matter of days. Longtime owner George Steinbrenner passed away this morning after a "massive heart attack" just days after longtime public address announcer Bob Sheppard passed away.

He lived a rather remarkarkable life. Everyone knows that he was part of a group that bought the team for $8.7 million (his initial investment was under $200K) but most baseball and even Yankee fans aren't aware of his ties to other sports. He was a graduate assistant under legendary Ohio State Buckeyes Football coach Woody Hayes in 1954 on a team that was an undefeated National Champion winning the Rose Bowl. He also served as an assistant coach at Northwestern and Purdue University. He entered six horses in the Kentucky Derby, failing to win with Steve's Friend (1977), Eternal Prince (1985), Diligence (1996), Concerto (1997), Blue Burner (2002) and the 2005 favorite, Bellamy Road. In in 1988 he poured his own money to improve training facilities for US Olympians.

The New York Daily News brought back from their archives the article they published when George Steinbrenner bought the Yankees.

The Yankees are currently the 3rd most valuable team in the world of sports (behind Manchester United and the Dallas Cowboys). 

Stenibrenner's tenure as owner was always filled with controversy. He served a 15 month ban in 1974 after pleading guilty to making illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon. He was pardoned by Ronald Reagan 15 years later just before he left office. In July of 1990 he was banned for life by the commissioner at the time Fay Vincent for having paid a gambler to dig into the life of Dave Winfield. He was reinstated in 1993 though and over time rebuilt his relationship with Dave Winfield. That seems to be a common trend. He hired and fired Billy Martin 5 times as manager of the Yankees but mutual respect kept bringing the two back together. Yankee Hall of Famer Yogi Berra stayed away from the team for a long time after he was fired as the manager until yet again George Steinbrenner apologized. When he was banished in 1990 the announcement was greeted with a 90 second standing ovation at Yankee Stadium because that is how much he was hated in New York at the time.

Say what you will about him, his attitude or the way he did business but he took care of his Yankee family. Many like me truly believe that if he was still running things there is no way that Joe Girardi would have become manager instead of Don Mattingly. He looked after the likes of Dwight Gooden and Darrell Strawberry long after the rest of the baseball world had stopped caring about them. Over the years we've heard stories of him providing scholarships to young store clerks he would encounter both in the New York area as well as near his home in Florida. USA Today has a great piece on his "Dueling Legacies." He started a foundation called "Gold Shield" which provides scholarships children of police officers killed in the line of duty. The same article goes on to provide this nugget:
And then there were the things that would go unnoticed.
One day, he walked into his favorite breakfast restaurant and announced that he was going to pay to take all the employees to New York for a weekend to see a Broadway play and Yankees game.

When Red Sox ace Jon Lester was battling cancer he received flowers from two teams. His Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, supposedly at the request of George Steinbrenner. There is also this bit from Forbes today

Steinbrenner also had a soft side. He sometimes read about high school athletes who had been injured and sent them money to go to college. He paid for the medical school expenses of Ron Karnaugh after the swimmer's father died during the opening ceremony at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
Steinbrenner kept older friends from his football days on the payroll, had a way of rehiring those he had once fired and liked to give second chances to those who had fallen from favor, such as Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden.
"I'm really 95 percent Mr. Rogers," Steinbrenner said as he approached his 75th birthday, "and only 5 percent Oscar the Grouch."
As you’ve probably heard, he did in fact fire a lot of people. What you may not have heard is that many times he hired them right back a day or two later. He could be an amazingly cruel man, but deep inside him, there was a big, soft heart.
Many of his employees will dispute this fact, but there are many, many people around America who received college scholarships and random checks from Steinbrenner.
He once fired a summer intern, and to this day, no one is quite sure why. When a Yankee staffer saw the kid packing his things and on the verge of tears, he asked what was up.
``Mr. Steinbrenner fired me,’’ the kid said.
``Just go home for the day and come back tomorrow,’’ the staffer told him. ``It’ll be fine.’’

While watching the news one night he discovered that schools in Florida's Hillsborough County "were riddled with broken fire alarms, faulty fire equipment, escape windows that were screwed shut and other fire-code violations."  The very next day he pledged an undisclosed amount towards the upgrades. The same article from Tom Verducci adds,

People in Tampa are accustomed to this sort of charity from Steinbrenner. He's a pushover when it comes to kids, the military and education. He once met an unusually quiet boy while signing autographs after a Yankees exhibition game and said, "What's the matter? Cat got your tongue?" The boy's brother explained that the boy was deaf and could not speak. Steinbrenner flew the boy to New York to be examined by doctors, and he paid for follow-up sessions with a Tampa speech therapist. The boy learned to speak.
A waitress at Malio's was found to have a thyroid problem. She had no insurance. Steinbrenner sent her to the finest doctors in Tampa and paid for the treatments. She has recovered fully. "I thanked him for what he did for her," said Malio Iavarone, the restaurant owner, "and he said, 'I didn't do anything.' He didn't even admit it."
When Malio's fell on lean times in recent years, Steinbrenner, unbeknownst to Iavarone, picked up the $1.1 million mortgage on the restaurant. He then reduced Iavarone's monthly payment from $9,200 to $3,200.
The stories just continue.
Several years ago, at the Florida State Fair, he had bent over to pick up some trash when a man stopped him.
"Hey, aren't you George Steinbrenner?"
"If I were George Steinbrenner, would I be picking up trash?"
"Oh. Right. Sorry."
Of course, that's exactly what George Steinbrenner would do. 

You can read the entire article filled when more stories like that on Sports Illustrated's website. 

One of the running "jokes" on twitter today has been that Sheppard died a couple of days earlier so he can introduce "The Boss" in heaven but it really is fitting that Steinbrenner is over shadowing Sheppard's death and the MLB All-Star game even in death like he did with the Yankees for most of his tenure as owner. He gets credited for the recent Yankees run but is worth a note that the Yankees of 90s were constructed when Steinbrenner was suspended from baseball and the 2009 Championship team ended a long drought only after Steinbrenner had faded from the spotlight and once again let the baseball people handle the team. In 2003 he ignored his baseball people who advised him to sign Vladimir Guerrero instead he went out and personally recruited Gary Sheffield and signed him to a 3 year deal. Vlad went on to outperform Sheffield over those next 3 years and even won the 2004 American League MVP award. 

Will the Steinbrenner family sell the team now? Take a look at this article from Sports Illustrated in 2006.

He will be honored before the All-Star game tonight. Both him and Bob Sheppard will be remembers by the Yankees this weekend as part of their annual Old Timers Day celebrations. How will the Yankees honor him? Will the stadium be renamed in his memory? If not the stadium will they at least name the field in his honor? How soon does MLB induct him into the Hall of Fame?

The world of sports has lost its biggest villain of all time.
As always you can leave a comment here, reach me by e-mail or Follow sahyder1 on Twitter

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Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of BaseballGeorge: The Poor Little Rich Boy Who Built the Yankee EmpireThe Ballad of Billy and George: The Tempestuous Baseball Marriage of Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner

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