George Steinbrenner (1930-2010)
George Michael Steinbrenner III was the owner and primary executive of the New York Yankees from 1973 until his death in 2010. Soon after Steinbrenner took over ownership of the Yankees in 1973, he became one of the most iconic and flammable owners in sports history.
Steinbrenner and a group of investors bought the club for $10 million in 1973. In 2009, Forbes estimated that the Yankees were worth $1.5 billion.In his first few years with the team, Steinbrenner shook up Major League Baseball by showering high-priced contracts on free agents such as Catfish Hunter and Reggie Jackson -- ultimately producing back-to-back World Series championships in 1977 and 1978 and effectively skyrocketing player salaries. Steinbrenner's impulsive and controlling nature created caustic relationships with his employees and managers. From 1973 to 1990, the position of Yankees manager changed 19 times. The 1980s also was the first decade without a Yankees championship since the 1910s. But after returning from a reduced lifetime ban from Yankees day-to-day operations in 1993, Steinbrenner's willingness to open his wallet and assure his team every competitive advantage brought the Yankees 13 straight playoff appearances and five World Series championships.
George Michael Steinbrenner III was born July 4, 1930, in Rocky River, Ohio. His father, Henry, was a successful owner of Kinsman Marine, a shipping company. Steinbrenner grew up in wealthy Bay Village near Cleveland. He played football and ran track at Culver Military Academy in Indiana before further pursuing his track career at Williams College in Massachusetts, which he graduated in 1952.
After college, Steinbrenner spent two years in the Air Force, a good part of which was spent as the coordinator of athletics at Lockbourne Air Force Base in Ohio. After his service, he coached basketball and football at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Columbus, Ohio, then became an assistant football coach at Northwestern University before being hired as running backs coach at Purdue University. Because he didn't find happiness in coaching, Steinbrenner returned to the struggling family shipping business in 1957 and revitalized it.
In 1960, Steinbrenner bought the Cleveland Pipers of the National Industrial Basketball League with a group of investors. The next season, the Pipers joined the newly formed American Basketball League and won the championship. Then, the team shocked the basketball world by signing Ohio State All-American Jerry Lucas, who described his initial meeting with Steinbrenner in a Sports Illustrated story:"Mr. Steinbrenner arrived carrying briefcases filled with reasons why I should sign with Cleveland. There was a maroon folder with page after page analyzing my future there. There was a chart showing what Piper attendance was expected to be if I played, what that made me worth and, therefore, how much I might logically be offered. There was a report that regional television was a certainty and an ABL national TV package an excellent possibility if I signed. There was also a Piper balance sheet. 'You should have the facts,' Mr. Steinbrenner said. The facts showed the Pipers lost $170,000 last season."
Signing Lucas was part of the team's attempt to merge with the NBA, although when it couldn't produce enough money to finance the expansion fee, it was forced into bankruptcy. The ABL folded before the end of the 1962-63 season. Steinbrenner's initial foray into professional sports was a financial disaster, though he refused to file for bankruptcy.
Return to business
With other investors, Steinbrenner purchased the American Ship Building Co. and became its CEO in 1967. By 1972, the company was producing revenues of more than $100 million a year.
Steinbrenner tried his hand in an array of ventures during that six-year period. He co-produced Broadway shows, including "Seesaw" and the 1970 Tony Award winner for best musical, "Applause." He purchased a horse stable to get a solid footing in horse racing. In 1972, Steinbrenner bought a 10 percent interest in the Chicago Bulls. He also immersed himself in civic and charitable projects.
New York Yankees
In 1971, Steinbrenner attempted to purchase the Cleveland Indians, but owner Vernon Stouffer ended up not selling to him. In November 1972, Steinbrenner turned his attention to the New York Yankees. He met with Yankees president Mike Burke to negotiate a sale of the team. CBS, which then owned the Yankees, was running a loss of $11 million. On Jan. 3, 1973, Steinbrenner and a group of investors purchased the Yankees for $10 million -- $3 million less than what CBS had paid for the team in 1964. Steinbrenner and Burke became the general partners of the team. "I won't be active in the day-to-day operations of the club at all," Steinbrenner had said. "I can't spread myself so thin. I've got enough headaches with my shipping company."
Those words soon became hollow. "I walked in and saw flowers on every desk. Freshly cut flowers," Steinbrenner had said. "I said, 'What the hell is this? Is it Flowers Day? Is it Secretary's Day?' Somebody said, 'Isn't that wonderful? Mr. Burke does this every day for us.' Mike Burke is a guy who I admired tremendously. He was a real heartthrob type of guy. Everybody liked him. I loved him, but for what I wanted, he didn't fit with me. When I saw the flowers, that was the trigger. I got involved."
Just a few months after the handover of the team, Burke resigned. Holdover manager Ralph Houk made it through the first season but quit soon after. Bill Virdon became Steinbrenner's first managerial hire.
Before the start of the 1974 regular season, Steinbrenner stole the headlines, as he was embroiled in President Nixon's controversy while the Watergate scandal was gripping the nation. On April 5, 1974 (one day before the Yankees' Opening Day), Steinbrenner was indicted on 14 criminal counts. Four months later, he pleaded guilty to making illegal campaign contributions and obstruction and was fined $15,000 by the U.S. District Court in Cleveland. Steinbrenner later said that his shipping company was being investigated for antitrust violations thanks to his significant Democratic Party fundraising efforts. To placate a vindictive Nixon, he handed out $25,000 bonuses to some employees with the explicit purpose that they be donated to Nixon's campaign committee. Steinbrenner contributed $75,000 himself and then attempted to cover up the bonus contributions.
MLB commissioner Bowie Kuhn responded to the guilty plea by suspending Steinbrenner for two years. "Attempting to influence employees to behave dishonestly is the kind of misconduct which, if ignored by baseball, would undermine the public's confidence in our game," Kuhn said. He later reduced the suspension by nine months.
The second takeover
When Steinbrenner returned to baseball in 1976, he became even more meddlesome in all aspects of Yankees affairs -- instituting a walkie-talkie system for his coaches and assistants, changing his team's socks, even advising on the team's grooming etiquette. "I have nothing against long hair," Steinbrenner said. "But wearing a Yankee uniform represents tradition. I think a Yankee should look well-groomed."
In 1976, the Yankees won the American League pennant for the first time since 1964 with Billy Martin as manager. Against the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series, they were swept in four games.
That offseason, Steinbrenner brought in perennial All-Star Reggie Jackson with a monstrous five-year, $3 million deal. The move turned the Yankees into a circus act, as three incredibly strong-willed personalities clashed in front of the media capital of the world. The sideshow was even more compelling because the Yankees defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers to capture the 1977 World Series. In July 1978, Martin was fired for the first time after saying about Jackson and Steinbrenner, "One's a born liar; the other's convicted." Without Martin, the Yankees still captured the 1978 World Series by again beating the Dodgers. It wasn't the last of Martin, though, as he made four managerial comebacks with the team from 1979 to 1988.
Steinbrenner continued to have run-ins with the commissioner's office, getting fined $5,000 in 1979 for tampering with Angels slugger Brian Downing and receiving a reprimand in 1980 for tampering with amateur free agent Billy Cannon Jr.
In April 1981, Steinbrenner had 50,000 copies of the team yearbook taken off Yankee Stadium concession stands when he disliked his picture in it. In September of that same year, Steinbrenner fired Gene Michael as manager and replaced him with former manager Bob Lemon. The Yankees lost the 1981 World Series to the Dodgers in six games, and after the series, Steinbrenner issued an apology to the team's fans.
Before the 1982 season, Steinbrenner said, "There will be no change this year. I wouldn't care how the team is doing. I'm not going to make a change in 1982 unless it's dictated by something other than how the team is doing." But 14 games into the season, Lemon was fired after a 6-8 start. Michael replaced him.
Michael went 44-42 and was fired after the Yankees lost a doubleheader to the White Sox at Yankee Stadium. When the White Sox scored 10 runs in 1 1/3 innings in the second leg of the doubleheader, Steinbrenner told public address announcer Bob Sheppard to tell the fans that they could exchange that night's tickets for free tickets to another game.
In 1983, Steinbrenner racked up multiple fines, including $50,000 for questioning the integrity of National League umpires and $5,000 for remarks about White Sox co-owner Jerry Reinsdorf. He was also suspended for one week at the end of May for statements made questioning the integrity of umpires Darryl Cousins and John Shulock.
In 1984, Yogi Berra took over for Martin and managed the Yankees to an 87-75 record. The next year during spring training, Steinbrenner said, "Yogi will be the manager this year. A bad start will not affect Yogi's status." But after a 6-10 start, Berra was canned. Steinbrenner opted to tell Berra that he was fired through his general manager, Clyde King. Martin replaced Berra, and it took 14 years for Berra to forgive him.
Lou Piniella replaced Martin after Martin went 91-54 to finish the 1985 season. After managing the club for two seasons, Piniella was replaced by Martin to start the 1988 season. After Martin went 40-28 to the start the year, Piniella replaced him. Dallas Green started the 1989 season, and after he was fired, he called Steinbrenner "Manager George."
On Dec. 15, 1980, the Yankees signed Dave Winfield to a 10-year contract worth $23 million. During his nine years with the team, Winfield hit 205 home runs, had 818 RBIs, batted .290 and was a consistent All-Star selection. However, after losing the World Series in 1981 to the Dodgers, the Yankees missed out on the playoffs for the rest of the decade, and Steinbrenner and Winfield resented each other.
In 1985, after the Yankees lost three games to the Blue Jays during a pennant race, Steinbrenner asked the reporters in the press box, "Where is Reggie Jackson? We need a Mr. October or a Mr. September. Dave Winfield is Mr. May." In response to his comments, Don Mattingly said, "To belittle players like he did, to me he's out of control." As for Winfield, he hit .257 with three home runs and 17 RBIs in May 1985. In September and October, he batted .261 with five home runs and 24 RBIs.
In 1988, Winfield released his autobiography, "Winfield: A Player's Life." In it, he wrote: "The mindset of a team is absolutely crucial to how the players will perform. Professionals or not, there has to be some joy in it, if only to relieve the pressure that builds over a 162-game season. A team doing well can have a lot of fun. You can have a great time. With Steinbrenner, though, it's win or lose, live or die. The man shows up and the fun's gone, the pressure's on.
"I wasn't sure then, and I'm still not, what his gripe is with me. Part of it is, I think, as a frustrated athlete, George wants to 'own' his players, wants them up on their flippers barking for fish like trained seals. And from the beginning, I refused to bark."
In 1989, Winfield sued Steinbrenner for failing to contribute the $300,000 that was guaranteed in his contract to the Winfield Foundation.
In the late '80s, Steinbrenner hired gambler Howard Spira to dig up dirt on Dave Winfield. During the course of his "employment," Spira pocketed $40,000 but never found anything. In 1990, after Steinbrenner sent Dave Winfield to the California Angels for pitcher Mike Witt, commissioner Fay Vincent became aware of Steinbrenner's private investigation. On July 30, 1990, Vincent banned Steinbrenner from day-to-day operations of the Yankees for life.
Acting commissioner Bud Selig reinstated Steinbrenner on March 1, 1993. The removal of the ban was in exchange for the Yankees dropping all their lawsuits against Major League Baseball.
The final takeover
When Steinbrenner returned to baseball, his approach with the Yankees was more subdued. From 1973 to 1990, the team had undergone 19 managerial changes. In Steinbrenner's third tenure with the Yankees, the only managerial change before Joe Torre voluntarily left after the 2007 season was in 1995, when Steinbrenner replaced Buck Showalter.
In 1996, with Torre as manager, the Yankees ended an 18-year championship drought by defeating the Atlanta Braves in six games. From 1995 to 2007, the Yankees made the playoffs every season, won four championships and appeared in six World Series.
On Dec. 27, 2003, Steinbrenner fainted at a memorial service for football great Otto Graham in Sarasota, Fla. He was hospitalized until the next day and sharply reduced his public comments afterward. On Oct. 29, 2006, Steinbrenner fainted while watching a granddaughter perform in a play and was hospitalized in Chapel Hill, N.C., until Oct. 30. He had difficulty walking when seen in public after that. As Steinbrenner's health deteriorated, he relinquished authority of the Yankees to his sons, Hank and Hal Steinbrenner, in 2007. His final appearance at a Yankees game came on April 13, 2010, the Yankees' home opener. Before the game, Derek Jeter and manager Joe Girardi went to his suite and personally delivered his 2009 World Series ring.
In 2008, the Yankees' spring training facility in Tampa, Fla., was renamed Steinbrenner Field from Legends Field. On Aug. 16, 2006, Steinbrenner helped break ground for the new Yankee Stadium on the 58th anniversary of Babe Ruth's death. In 2009, the Yankees played their inaugural season in the new Yankee Stadium. The $1.5 billion stadium hosted a Yankees World Series championship in its first full season.
In 2002, the YES Network was launched as a privately owned cable company to broadcast Yankees games and media. The network is worth billions of dollars and has allowed the Yankees an even greater competitive advantage in payroll and high-priced free-agent acquisitions. In 2009, the Yankees' payroll eclipsed $208 million. The rival Boston Red Sox had the fourth-highest payroll in the league at more than $122 million.
Steinbrenner hosted "Saturday Night Live" and made cameos on "Seinfeld." His caricature and likeness were often lampooned, most notably on "Seinfeld." His likeness appeared on the show many times -- usually with his back turned toward the camera -- with Larry David providing the voice of the Yankees' owner as he made impulsive and foolish decisions.
With his wife, Joan Zieg, Steinbrenner had four children -- Hank, Hal, Jessica and Jennifer. Steinbrenner died on July 13, 2010, shortly after his 80th birthday, after suffering a massive heart attack.
Information from the Associated Press is included in this report
GEORGE STEINBRENNER: 1930-2010
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