Flaws aside, Steinbrenner was owner every sports fan wants

George Steinbrenner will be remembered for a lot of things but ultimately he was a winner.

George Steinbrenner will be remembered for a lot of things but ultimately he was a winner.

George Steinbrenner died this morning. It’s safe to assume that if he is floating north in the afterlife, there will be a bit of a waiting period.

He was a convicted felon (pleading guilty to making illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon’s campaign and obstruction of justice). He twice was suspended from baseball (once for the aforementioned, the other for paying $40,000 to a convicted gambler for damaging information on player Dave Winfield).

He did more than any sports owner in history to drive up player salaries to mind-dizzying levels.

He was, at times, a slapstick comedy act, changing managers 20 times in his first 23 seasons as New York Yankees owner (Billy Martin passing through that door five times). He once promised Yogi Berra he would keep him as manager the entire season. Turns out that promise had an expiration date: 16 games.

But George Steinbrenner was something else. He was what every sports fan wants. What every player wants. Not the corporate owner who hides behind a desk, sweating over the stock price. Not the private owner, preoccupied with his own personal profit margin. Certainly not the part-owner being sued by a partner.

Steinbrenner had control, wanted control and used that control to achieve his only objective: to win. He would do anything and spend anything. We can debate whether at times he strayed into the area of raving lunatic, but there was no questioning his passion or commitment. His team was his life.

How many owners can we say that about today?

“Winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing,” Steinbrenner once said. “Breathing first, winning next.”

Steinbrenner typically low-keyed it in his return in 1993 (not) following his second suspension from baseball.

Steinbrenner typically low-keyed it in his return to baseball in 1993 (not) following his second suspension.

Steinbrenner died this morning at the age of 80 following a heart attack. The Yankees won seven World Series and 11 American League pennants during his ownership. Objective achieved.

Depending on your perspective, maybe the ends don’t justify the means. Steinbrenner wasn’t angelic. Neither was he evil incarnate. He floated somewhere in-between. He was baseball’s Gordon Gekko before Gordon Gekko was cool. He was Darth Vader in the executive suite. Would he obliterate Alderaan, a planet of peaceful people with no weapons, if it meant furthering the Empire’s mission? Damn straight.

All he wanted was total domination.

“You can say what you want about George,” said Stan Kasten, the former Atlanta Braves and current Washington Nationals president. “Whether you agree or disagree with what he did, he helped baseball by elevating the attention paid to it and he did it in the center of the biggest market. He was locked in a battle for the back page [of New York tabloids] and it was a battle he always won.”

Alluding to his controversial past, Kasten added: “You can have your opinions on that. But one thing that’s inarguable is the attention he brought to the game. He did an immense service for baseball.”

Story No. 1: When Steinbrenner, who made his fortune as head of an Ohio shipbuilding company, paid only $8.7 million in 1973 to purchase the Yankees with a group, he said he wouldn’t be active in day-to-day operations of the team: “I’ll stick to building ships.” (Today, the Yankees are valued at $1.6 billion.)

Story No. 2: In 1983, the Braves and their own maverick owner, Ted Turner, pursued New York reliever Goose Gossage in free agency, offering a then-unheard of five year, $6.5 million contract. Steinbrenner responded, “This offer can destroy the whole salary structure of the game. It’s shocking.”

Story No. 3, from Kasten: “I think it was in the mid-1990s, we were sitting together in spring training and George said, ‘Stan, how do you manage to rein in your general manager? I’m having trouble keeping expenses down.’ I got quite a chuckle over that.” (The Yankees’ payroll since 2004 totals $1.39 billion; the Braves less than half that, $636 million.)

He once called Winfield, “Mr. May.” He once called pitcher Hideki Irabu a “fat toad.” He once fired manager Dick Howser by announcing Howser was leaving to “pursue an outstanding offer in real estate.”

Berra gets high marks: He actually managed to squeeze an apology out of Steinbrenner 14 years after his firing.

The Martin sagas were great theater.  After one firing in 1978, Martin, referring to Steinbrenner and his other personal thorn, Reggie Jackson, said: “The two of them deserve each other. One’s a born liar; the other’s convicted.”

But how much was Steinbrenner’s opinion valued? Even the USOC reached out for help. Steinbrenner was a quiet member until an embarrassing, eight-medal performance by the U.S. in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. “I’m here to find out what’s right and what’s wrong,” he said.

The U.S. winter medal counts since: 11, 13, 13, 34, 25, 37.

“George was a true winner,” said Bobby Cox, who coached for Steinbrenner.

“Ultimately, fans wants success,” Kasten said. “There are different ways to achieve that. Maybe some didn’t like his methods. But at the end of the day, he had an awful lot of success.”

A loss for baseball. A loss for sports. A loss for fans.

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC and Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

Earlier post

Countdown: Stern’s blindness, Canseco’s collapse, Richt’s whiffs

125 comments Add your comment


July 13th, 2010
10:40 am

End of an era for sure.


July 13th, 2010
10:43 am

Didn’t the US Olympic Committee go to George in 1988 for advice on why our teams weren’t winning as much as expected after the first week?

the real Old Gold

July 13th, 2010
10:47 am

His checkbook will live on…


July 13th, 2010
10:49 am

good article jeff still hate the way steinbriener jerked billy martin around


July 13th, 2010
10:54 am

Yeah, he was a swell guy. He used KGB tactics on one of his players, but that’s no big deal, because he really, really, really wanted to win.

Jeff Schultz

July 13th, 2010
10:56 am

Jarvis — Sort of. Steinbrenner had been a “quiet” member of USOC until that time but after embarrassing Olympic results and took a more active role.


July 13th, 2010
10:58 am

Guess he and the “ol Coach”, DF, are
together plotting some new deal.


July 13th, 2010
10:58 am

Steinbrenner was an interesting character. There were times when his ego and micromanaging leadership style were detrimental to him and the Yankees . With that being said, his ego when it was channeled correctly fueled him and the Yankees to greatness. Love or hate the guy, his greatness can’t be denied.

P.S. Maybe he can fire Billy Martin again for old times sake in the next life.


July 13th, 2010
11:05 am

Jeff, I understand your point, but I still disliked Steinbrenner. I think the way he treated Joe Torre was awful. Yes, a “pay cut” to a 5 million dollar salary from 7 million seems ridiculous,. but, the bottom line is, Torre was in the playoffs every year he managed. Joe is one of the all time legendary managers in baseball, along with our Bobby Cox, Casey Stengel, Walt Alston, and a few others. Can anyone imagine what would have happened if Ted Turner still owned the Braves during the 14 straight division titles years, and he constantly villified Bobby for the team screwing it up in the World Series every year? The fans would have ended up disliking him just as much as they did Steinbrenner.

I feel badly for Mr Steinbrenner’s family, but, beyond that, it is difficult for me to mourn his passing. I think he was largely responsible for baseball’s currently outrageous salaries, and I still say there should have been a salary cap set, so he wouldn’t be able to outspend every other team in the game, and tip the scales in the Yankees favor, just because he had more money then every other owner or team.

Drexel Gal

July 13th, 2010
11:08 am

George Steinbrenner, like Ty Cobb before him, was driven by an intense need to please his father. Cobb’s father never saw him play in the majors, having been killed (by Cobb’s MOTHER) before Ty made it to The Show. He once said, “My father was the only man who could make me do his bidding.” In Steinbrenner’s case, he could never please his father. When George-III graduated from presitgious Williams College, the elder Steinbrenner remarked, “It isn’t M.I.T.! [the father's alma mater]“. Likewise, when son George financed an auditorium at M.I.T. and named it in honor of his father, Dad retorted, “That’s the only way you’ll ever get into THIS school.” Driven to succeed. Even after his shipbuilding company went bankrupt, his investment in the Yankees skyrocketed.

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NC Braves Fan

July 13th, 2010
11:10 am

I think he actually grew into the role very nicely. He began as a micromanager and then later became more hands off – although he was not shy about being publicly critical of a player or of the team if they were underachieving. Personally, I have no problem with that at all.

gs ain't dead

July 13th, 2010
11:13 am

How ironic that he dies on the day of the All Star Game….he’s still working his magic.

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July 13th, 2010
11:21 am

George Steinbrenner in his grave, is still a better Owner than that of the Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta Braves.


July 13th, 2010
11:21 am

Good Riddance! The world is now a better place.


July 13th, 2010
11:22 am

Sorry he died. I also believe he did more to bring baseball to near ruin as far as parity because of no salary cap. He used the system to his advantage which I can’t fault. Maybe someday baseball will institute a salary under over cap with $50 million required and $100 million limit and bring parity so low salaried teams have a chance to win the WS more than once in a blue moon.

Washington Street Walter

July 13th, 2010
11:25 am

…..or Ted Turner. Teddy Baseball was great for the ATL!!! Sorry about Steinbrenner though.

Baseball fan

July 13th, 2010
11:25 am

“What every sports fan wants. What every player wants.”

Seriously? oh please, the guy was a bloated old criminal known to be a tyrant and a jerk. What fun is winning when you get little respect for how you treat other people in the process? Sure he could laugh the whole way to the bank, but also you can’t buy things like respect and dignity. I think he was a poor example of a leader and don’t think the world lost much today but a giant egomaniac.

steve brown

July 13th, 2010
11:28 am

Not every sports fan thinks winning is everything ask Cub fans. If the way you win is without integrity or the game itself lacks basic fairness you can count me out. The Yankees represent a lot of what is wrong with major league baseball, from juicers like A-Rod to payrolls out of balance with competitors.


July 13th, 2010
11:30 am

Steinbrenner totally remade the Yankees after he bought them. Without question, he was good for baseball.

Whopper Dawg

July 13th, 2010
11:30 am

I hear he left the Yankees to charity, true?

St. Clarkston

July 13th, 2010
11:30 am

Didn’t wish him dead of course, but he almost single handedly ruined baseball. He was almost solely responsible for salary hyperinflation. Plus he turned a blind to steroid use on his own team.


July 13th, 2010
11:31 am

I credit Steinbrenner for helping football replace baseball as the national pastime.

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July 13th, 2010
11:39 am

I think DeLoss Dodds wants to be the Steinbrenner of college football. He’s already made his own league less relevant. The SEC thanks you!


July 13th, 2010
11:42 am

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

July 13th, 2010
11:43 am

got to love his charachter in Seinfeld!!! that being said, he would be considered the Darth Vader and creating the Evil Empire that is the NY Yankees

David Granger

July 13th, 2010
11:44 am

Up to a point, Jeff…
Most real, true baseball fans do not like the fact that baseball has become a “tiered” sport, in many ways similar to college football. By and large, year-in and year-out, only a few teams really have the chance to win…and that’s largely in direct proportion to how much they have available to spend. Once in a while a small-market team will have a good year…but then young players become eligible for free agency, and it’s see you later! And there’s nothing worse for any team’s fans to see young players develop and then leave as soon as possible because the home team just cannot afford the going rate. And that’s baseball’s fault for not addressing that issue.
George Steinbrenner simply took advantage of that weakness. And since the Yankees (because of the enormous population in their market are) have more resources than just about any other team…and because their owner was willing to spend and spend to make the team a winner, with no real regard to whether it was profitable or not…Steinbrenner caught a lot of criticism and even hatred simply for doing what many people wished THEIR team could do.
Steinbrenner was an embarrassment to himself, his team, and to baseball at times…but there’s no doubt he was willing to do whatever it took to try and make the Yankees a winner.


July 13th, 2010
11:49 am

My condolences to the Yankees organization and their fans; it’s been one rough week with the loss of both a legendary announcer and now a very personally invested owner without whom they might well have never have enjoyed such recent success. I never have liked how the Yankees ownership contributed to spiraling player salaries and hogged the best free agent talent every offseason over the past decade especially, and that still needs to be fixed and balanced somehow. But Mr. Schultz is correct; all of us would have a Braves ownership as committed to winning in a heartbeat. Best wishes and prayers for the Steinbrenner family.

mike Jay

July 13th, 2010
11:51 am

Do NOT Want!

I would take Ted Turner over him in a heart beat thank you very much. Ted may have been more kookey but he was much better man. I do not n=know single brave fan who would take George over Ted. You should reall ychcange the phrase to “Every fan would like an owner who spends like George”


July 13th, 2010
11:53 am

Not the owner I’d want. Winning is more important than family, friends, ethics, honesty? Combine an obsession with winning with no ethics and you end up with obstruction of justice, bribes, paying somebody to dig up dirt on an employee, etc. Jeff, you’re saying that winning a lot justifies all that? If so, is your problem with Mark Richt that there are too many arrests or that he isn’t winning enough?

The University of Miami won a lot during the Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson eras and I’d rather lost honorably than win the way they did.

I think a big reason the country is in the mess it’s in is because so many leaders in business and government have Steinbrenner’s mentality and as a society we’ve accepted it if not embraced it.

Gen Neyland

July 13th, 2010
12:00 pm

Steinbrenner built things. Built things to succeed and flourish. Second place was not an option in his world of sports and business. Don’t know anything about his personal life but I gotta believe him and Donald Trump shared a daddy. As you say, JS, flaws aside, that’s about all I can say for him…May he RIP.

Michael Scharff

July 13th, 2010
12:01 pm

For better or worse, he and Teddy Ballgame changed MLB forever.

Casey Stinkle

July 13th, 2010
12:03 pm

If his son Hank takes over, the Yankees will be heading down the toilet in a couple of years.

MS Braves Fan

July 13th, 2010
12:10 pm

YeaMat728 – I agree 100% and I am a Braves FANatic!

DP – So our society should accept and embrace losing?


July 13th, 2010
12:14 pm

doesnt this stuff always happen in 3’s. If im yogi berra i would stay in my house all weekend!!!


July 13th, 2010
12:15 pm

Jeff,you said it just right.
George Steinbrenner was the ” big daddy” to all of us Yankee fans.
We loved him. Warts and all.
The Man Wanted To Win.
And by God he made it happen.

F-105 Thunderchief

July 13th, 2010
12:16 pm

I wish Steinbrenner’s ghost would buy the Hawks. It would do better than the 38 breathing-but-not-thinking ASG partners.


July 13th, 2010
12:16 pm

Dont say that about Yogi! Dont even think it. No No NO.

Reid Adair

July 13th, 2010
12:19 pm

I respectfully disagree, Jeff. Not “every sports fan” wants an owner like George Steinbrenner. Some of us dont’ believe in the “win at all cost” attitude, and especially not the concept for buying, or trying to buy, championships.

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1135203 The Fan

July 13th, 2010
12:38 pm

R.I.P Steinbrenner

The Realist

July 13th, 2010
12:38 pm

“7 World Series in 11 attempts.” Wow!

He and the Yankee Managers clearly understand the meaning of “closing the deal” unlike our Bobby Cox who in 14 out of 15 postseason watched his opponent and their superior manager celebrate on the pitcher’s mound after the last out of the last game.

Were it not for Mr. Glavine’s one hit wonder against the vaunted Cleveland offense in 1995 Mr. Cox could lay claim to a perfect record of 0-15!

1135203 The Fan

July 13th, 2010
12:46 pm

Bob Sheppard, George Steinbrenner — who’s the third?


Matt the Brave

July 13th, 2010
12:52 pm

Wonder how many times he’ll fire Billy in heaven. :D

Ghost of "The Boss"

July 13th, 2010
12:54 pm

Hey Realist, Bobby Cox is a Yankee … lay off, pal.

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David C

July 13th, 2010
1:09 pm

The Calzone episode is one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes, along with the Contest. Heaven better deliver at 1:15 or the Boss is going to fire somebody.