Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Lucky

Sad day for baseball today as George Steinbrenner passed away this morning. I've been a baseball fan for less than half of Steinbrenner's ownership tenure, but you don't have to be one for long to know just how much he meant to the Yankees' organization, to the game, and to all of professional sports. He is, without question, one of the greatest owners in sports history.

From a baseball standpoint, my uncle summed it up about as well as you can. He's been a season ticket holder for over 20 years, and a Yankee fan for the entire Steinbrenner era, so he has all the context that you need to fully do so. When the sad news was spreading, he texted me, "we are lucky that he loved the Yankees as much as we do."

That's close to as big of a compliment as you can give an owner of a sports franchise. Related to the team, there is nothing you'd like to see more than an owner who cares about the team's success the way the biggest fans do, who wants them to win as much as the biggest fans do. George Steinbrenner redefined the concept. You felt like he wanted it even more than you did, and that's because he did. As a fan, that is a truly tremendous feeling. Yankees' fans are lucky to have had that feeling for so long.

It is for baseball that he will likely be most remembered. In many ways, rightfully so. His approach to ownership, his personality, the many ways in which he helped to advance baseball into the powerhouse we all enjoy today, and of course the 7 World Series' rings and 11 American League Pennants have made him an icon, a Hall of Famer, someone who will be forever named amongst the games greats, players included. No matter what you thought of the way he ran his team, all baseball fans are lucky for his contributions to the game.

But there are many others, away from the game, who are lucky for George Steinbrenner. He received a lot of criticism for the way he conducted himself in running the Yankees. Outside of his baseball life, though, he was much different. If you've heard any of the stories, you know that. You may not have, however, because if you heard what Bobby Knight has to say today he mentioned how quiet The Boss kept his generosity, inferring that he didn't do it for any other reason that because it's what he thought was right. As an example, I'll share one story that I've heard. There is a burger joint right near the Yankees' Spring Training complex in Tampa that Steinbrenner frequented. One day he found out that one of the waitresses there was battling cancer. He immediately picked up all of her medical bills. That is what being a human being is all about, especially one who had experienced the success and prosperity that he had. Being one way related to something as non-serious as baseball is one thing, but being that kind of person for the things that count is what is most important.

I hope that George Steinbrenner is remembered for all of these things, and that anyone who cares about this game takes a minute to acknowledge how lucky we were that he was a part of this game for so long. I wish his family, friends, and all that knew him the best. May a great baseball man and an even better person rest in peace.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

PF

Everything that you wrote about George Steinbrenner is true. Sure, the guy always caught a lot of heat for owning the Yankees, spending so much money, and being outspoken. But that doesn't make him a bad person and it certainly doesn't make him a bad owner. The fact is that he spent a lot of the money that the Yankees made him on the Yankees. The same cannot be said for many of the other owners in professional sports. He ran the Yankees to win. Not to make money. Oddly enough, by winning, his teams made a lot of money. Funny how that works out.

The one thing I will say is that I don't necessarily know if Steinbrenner loved the Yankees in the same way that lifelong fans such as you and your family do. By that I mean, that I certainly believe he grew to love the Yankees, but that he wasn't a Yankee fan his whole life. In fact, he originally tried to buy the Cleveland Indians (for about $300,000 more than he paid for the Yankees, believe it or not) and was turned down. My thought on Steinbrenner is that the guy loved winning above all else. And as a fan, you'd rather have your owner love winning more than loving the team itself. Loving a team tends to engender sentimental attachment to players, staff, management. Loving winning cuts through those feelings and generally leads to sound business decisions (except for maybe Sheffield over Guerrero in the winter of 2003/04).

With that in mind, I can't imagine a better scenario than the one Yankee fans have been part of since 1973. Whether or not the team won the World Series, the fans knew that Steinbrenner was going to do whatever he could to put the best team out there, money and public perception be damned. As a fan, you can't ask for anything more than that.

--the Gunn

TimC said...

Good owners tend to get taken for granted by those fans who are lucky to have them so it is always a shame when one leaves the game. The professional sports world would be a far more exciting place if every owner possessed Steinbrenner's single-minded commitment to victory but, unfortunately, with the money involved these days we are likely to see things go in the other direction.

Gunn, you should try to keep that information about the Indians close to the vest. Tough times in Cleveland these days. That said, the alternate universe where Pedro Cerrano is trying to behead a live chicken in Central Park before the big playoff game is a movie I would be interested in watching.

PF said...

Gunn -

Good stuff. Your distinction is probably a fair one, and that is exactly how I meant it. When I say he loved the yankees the way we do, I mean that he cared about them winning the way we do, even more. That sort of commitment to the success of the team is what fans want to see owners have, because that is what they have, even if the fans' motive and the owner's motive for that commitment are different.

That said, I think you are right to say that this changed over time, and that steinbrenner eventually loved the yankees the same way that fans do. The above distinction probably applied more, and perhaps only, in his earlier years. I think the yankees, not just the team but the entire organization, is something steinbrenner thought of just the way a fan would. I was listening to some former players reflecting upon their experiences with him on YES, and some of the more universally respected, like david cone, were talking about how you could go to him with anything and he would do whatever he could to help you out. They were saying that you could never do that with most owners. And remember, a lot of these guys played in an era in baseball where the players were making more moderate salaries and the owners made a lot more money, so they were in a position to help and the players were more in a position of need. That type of care for your team was definitely not the norm, and I think it's one example of how steinbrenner grew to love this team on a level far greater than as just a business, like fans do. Heard on the radio this morning that steinbrenner's father used to tell him that if he did something charitable for someone else and more than two people knew about it then it was for the wrong reasons, and that's how steinbrenner lived his life. Many people are confirming that now, as I heard rudy guliani saying that when he was mayor steinbrebber would call him all of the time asking can he help this cause and that cause, and never wanted anybody to know.m. We knew that, but I don't think we knew it was to this extent, as we are finding out as all these sentiments are being shared. Not only did he have an endless thirst to win, but he also had an infinite desire to help people both inside his organization and out. I can't tell you how much respect I have for that in addition to all he did with the yankees and baseball.