George Steinbrenner: An American Legend (Validation #5)

July 13, 2010…

Sadly, this morning, controversial, yet colorful Yankees owner George Steinbrenner died at the age of 80 from a massive heart attack, and only mere days after beloved, longtime Yankees announcer Bob Sheppard passed away at the age of 99.

What do we say about a man that we sometimes admired, frequently hated and constantly were bewildered by? He was certainly one of a kind, in good ways and bad. He frequently made rash decisions, especially back in the late 1970s and throughout the ‘80s, concerning managers (Billy Martin, most {in}famously of all), as well as players and general managers. He was once derisively referred to as “Manager George” by Dallas Green because of his constant meddling in on-the-field managerial decisions. Many people, especially Yankee haters, and Red Sox fans, most of all, hated him and felt he ruined baseball and simply “bought” championships by spending ungodly amounts of money, and being more responsible than anyone for the rise in free agency. Even Yankee fans felt that way from time to time. Through it all, though, he forced people to begrudgingly respect him by the results he achieved. He was, simply, “the man you love to hate.” The constant criticisms didn’t seem to faze him though. He even appeared to relish in them, and frequently poked fun at his media image on TV – most famously in commercials with Billy Martin and Derek Jeter.

We’re not sure what to feel at this moment, but we are saddened. The Boss may have drove us insane during the 1980s with his constant managerial changes and pursuit of aging prima donna players, which caused us, as well as millions of others, to curse his name on a frequent basis. There are times when we felt he “ruined” our beloved Yankees. Yet, despite all of that, we were constantly fascinated by him, and always trusted that his heart was in the right place. He simply wanted the Yankees to be the greatest team in all of sports. He achieved that goal in 1977, 1978, 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000. Last year’s championship might have been more the result of his sons, Hank and Hal, running the day-to-day operations of the ballclub for the past few years, but we’re sure Old George still had his say and influence in matters, so you can probably throw 2009 onto the list as well. The Yanks also made the World Series in 1976, 1981, 2001 and 2003. That’s eleven World Series appearances and seven championships since he took over the team in 1973. Even allowing for the fact that the Yankees didn’t win at all in the 1980s, and had other long stretches without winning the World Series, that’s still an impressive feat.

Hate him if you will, but George Steinbrenner certainly put his money where his mouth was. He didn’t always spend that money wisely but he was always in there fighting to make the Yankees the best team in baseball. He proved on many occasions that his instincts were correct. Plus, he simply always made things interesting, at the very least, and he demanded that Yankee players carry themselves with dignity, class and be well groomed at all times.

It seems fitting that Mr. Steinbrenner, a former shipping magnate, was born on the Fourth of July (1930), for he was a true American original, and a symbol of everything that is good and bad with our capitalistic society. It also seems fitting that he died with the Yankees the defending world champions and in first place this season, with the best record in the league. He wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

We may have hated him from time to time, but we are geniunely going to miss him. He was truly a baseball legend, and when all is said and done, we would gladly go through the past 37 years with him all over again. The end of an era is upon us.

Goodbye George. Say hello to Billy for us.