George Steinbrenner sitting in the house the Ruth built sometime in the 70's.
You can love or hate George Steinbrenner, and it's easy to do both, but at the very least, you have to respect the man. It seems fitting that Steinbrenner passed away during the All-Star break, with his Yankees having the best record in baseball, and also the defending World Series Champions. I don't think he'd have it any other way then to go out on top.
As I stated to WCVB earlier this week, I have no doubt in my mind that if, for whatever reason, we were thrust into a bizarro world where George Steinbrenner bought the Red Sox and not the Yankees in the winter of '73, that Boston would have won a Championship well before the holy year of 2004. This is really the only reason why I "like" Steinbrenner. Simply put, he wanted to win each and every year just as bad, if not more, than his fans wanted. And this showed very plainly in his actions, and most visibly with his aggressive pursuit of Free Agents.
It's hard not to talk about George without mentioning money - and the way he went after free agents absolutely revolutionized the business of not just baseball, but sports in general. I've been frustrated numerous times over the recent years when the Sox have been outbid by the Yankees for a player (See: Mike Mussina, Jose Contreras, Alex Rodriguez, Johhny Damon, & Mark Texiera -- just to name a few), but everything George was doing was within the rules - so the complaints could only go so far. It's really more frustrating than anything. Shit, George is the one who said:
"I am dead set against free agency. It can ruin baseball."
And in a lot of ways, I think the old crank was right - it did ruin baseball and sports in a numerous amount of ways. From small market teams having a constant uphill battle and less room for error, to the fallacy of Lebron's "decision" - free agency seems to have made the business of sport a lot more cold, leaving the players rich, and the fans bitter & jaded.
But like I said, most everything he did was legal, and in the end he reinvested the money he was earning off of the Yankees and placing it back into the team - all while competing virtually every year. Hard to hate him for that, and I can see why Yankee fans love him. But I'm not going to wear rose colored glasses here either, the guy still was an A-Number-One-Asshole, and just because he's dead it doesn't erase that fact.
He famously fired people so often that recently terminated employees were encouraged to show up the next day because he'd likely forget he'd fired them. He was suspended from baseball for two years in 1974 for giving illegal contributions to Richard Nixon's re-election campaign, who in my not humble opinion, is in the top three of evil presidents along with Andrew Jackson (See: Trail of Tears) and good ol' Dubbya (See: His entire 8 years as President). Ronald Reagan (yet another one of my "favorites") then pardoned Steinbrenner in January 1989 as one of the final acts of his presidency. Seriously?!? Pretty unbelievable, and with him being entrenched with high-powered rats like Nixon and Reagan, you can easily see the scary power he held.
Dan Shaughnessy had a great article the other day in the Globe on Steinbrenner, and my favorite quote from George in the piece was the following:
“My first time at Fenway was the first time I had the Yankees, back in 1973. The Boston fans were throwing nuts and bolts at our players in the outfield. I sat right by the dugout when we came here for the playoff game. I wanted to be with my players.’’
This quote tells me a few things:
- The 70's were freaking awesome.
- I now better understand why they don't have beer vendor's in the bleachers anymore.
- George Steinbrenner completely LOVED his Yankees.
And this is where he was fun for us Red Sox fans. I feel like after awhile he became a characture of himself, and he became so easy and fun to hate. You're nothing without a good nemesis in sports, and while the Yankee players and faces have changed a lot over the past 40 years, George and Yankee Stadium were always the two constants, and unfortunately for me as a Sox fan, both of them are gone today. I just hope, for George's sake he didn't see Nixon after he passed away, because that'd mean he's in the wrong place.