When Yankees owner George Steinbrenner passed away early Tuesday morning, the sports world came to a halt. All regularly scheduled programming on ESPN was discarded in favor of tributes, commentary and highlights of Steinbrenner’s life and legacy.
His passing dominated the MLB All-Star game played that night, with FOX dedicating their broadcast of the game to Steinbrenner. People recalled the cartoonish Steinbrenner character on Seinfeld, YouTube videos of clips from the series were traded and posted around the internet.
The media lionized Steinbrenner, mentioning usually only in passing his not-insignificant faults, which included two suspensions from baseball by two different commissioners, and a felony conviction for illegal campaign contributions and obstruction of justice. The other suspension was for paying a gambler to dig up dirt on one of his own players.
Many of Steinbrenner’s employees had issues with him as a boss. This includes players, managers, general managers, even the training staff. He was accused of meddling, bullying and worse.
These tactics are being held up as examples that Steinbrenner cared. He cared as much, if not more, about winning than his players and coaches did. So that validates his behaviour over the years?
His donations to various charities (including Boston’s own Jimmy Fund) were tremendous, and there doesn’t seem to be much doubt, that away from his business, Steinbrenner was an extremely generous man. He could be gracious as well. I have a book on my shelf about Bevo Francis, who set the college basketball world on fire in the early 1950’s while playing for tiny Rio Grande College in Ohio. The forward of the book is written by none other than Steinbrenner, who was a basketball coach for the Air Force and whose team competed against Francis. The words written could not be more gracious.
He did have a huge impact on the game of baseball, becoming one of the first owners to really run his team like a business, rather than a country club. (See Yawkey, Tom) and when the doors to free agency were opened in the mid-1970s, Steinbrenner led the way in pursuing the best talent his money could buy.
But does he deserve unfettered praise for that? His willingness to spend to extremes ... even to the detriment of the game, is cause for celebration? MLB had to institute revenue sharing because Steinbrenner’s spending was so far above and beyond that of other teams that there was a competitive divide that needed to be addressed. His spending resulted in out-of-control player salaries, which has cause resentment among much of the American public, sports fans and non-sports fans alike.
This isn’t meant to speak ill of the dead. My heart goes out to any family who loses a loved one.
Steinbrenner had a rough last few years to his life, public appearances becoming fewer and fewer along the way. It had to be painful for him and his family to see this proud, strong, charismatic man reduced in such a manner.
His passing however, was met with the type of media reaction usually reserved only for Presidents. Heck, I don’t think the passing of Gerald Ford got this much attention. Sadly, it is typical of the hyper-intensive news media cycle that sweeps across events these days. George Steinbrenner should be remembered, but not deified.