Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Rant #298: The Boss Has Left the Building

It is rare when I do two rants in one day, but today is one of those occasions.

George Steinbrenner, the principal owner of the New York Yankees who took over the storied franchise during its dark days and made the team into a worldwide phenomenon, died early today of a massive heart attack. Steinbrenner, 80, had been in ill health for several years.

What can you say about Steinbrenner that hasn't been already said, or will be said, by sports columnists around the world now that he has passed?

He was iconic as well as devious. He was both smart and crude. He was both a bully and a pussycat. He was nasty and he was pleasant. He could joke about himself and take things ultra-personally.

We all are like this at times, but this guy put it all on the front burner as the owner of the most prolific franchise in American sports, and certainly the most recognized franchise around the world.

He completely understood the rules of free agency before anyone else, and used the various nuances that came with this knowledge to his and the Yankees' advantage.

He did what he pleased before anyone else knew the rules.

He demanded perfection from all of his employees, from his best players to the lowest carpet sweeper on the food chain. And when he got perfection, he still wanted more.

He was a man of excess, but he was also a man who helped out former players and others who were indigent, and never craved the publicity that many demand for doing acts of charity.

He took a team that was worth $10 million in 1969, a team that even titanic CBS did not know what to do with, and made it into a multi-billion-dollar franchise.

He was the owner other teams loved to hate, and he had many enemies, so induction into baseball's Hall of Fame isn't a given.

With the All-Star game on tonight, it will be interesting to see what Major League Baseball does to honor the memory of its most famous owner. Remember, this is a guy who rankled lots of people, who paid heavily for illegal campaign contributions, who paid a tramp like Howie Spira to dig up dirt on Dave Winfield, his own player at the time.

He was not well liked by everybody.

But Yankee fans either loved him or had respect for him.

First and foremost, he wanted to win, and believed he could do what he wanted to do to make the Yankees a winner.

And although not all the time, he pretty much succeeded.

In his last years, when he was rarely seen or heard from, he saw his vision--a new Yankee Stadium--come to life and he also witnessed the Yankees winning their 27th championship last year.

Since he has been in ill health, family members have run the team, and will continue to do so probably for many, many years to come.

It will be interesting to see what the Yankees do to honor him this weekend, which, ironically, is when, on Saturday, they will hold their annual Old Timers Day. With both Steinbrenner and Bob Sheppard gone in the same week, there shouldn't be a dry eye in the house.

Whatever you thought of Steinbrenner, and icon has passed from our world, a guy who transcended sports and made "You're fired" a catch phrase way before Donald Trump did.

May he rest in peace.

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