Steinbrenner’s legacy: Being the best at what he did

ANAHEIM, Calif. — For all he did as a baseball owner, George Steinbrenner’s greatest legacy was leaving the Yankees in far better shape than when he bought them.

He wouldn’t want it any other way.

George Steinbrenner's $8.7 million investment in the 1970s paid off well.
George Steinbrenner’s $8.7 million investment in the 1970s paid off well.

Steinbrenner died early Tuesday at the age of 80 as the most famous owner in American sports history. He was famous for his firings. His willingness to pay top dollar has made mega-millionaires of countless players. He also was known for his charity donations.

But most of all, he did his job better than the rest. He bought the Yankees for $8.7 million in 1973, according to a Yankees release. When Forbes again ranked the Yankees the No. 1 baseball franchise earlier this year, their value was estimated at $1.6 billion (the Dallas Cowboys are No. 1 at $1.65 billion). Under Steinbrenner, the Yankees won seven World Series and 11 pennants, moved into a new palace of a ballpark and launched their own television network.

Steinbrenner created his share of adversaries along the way because of his my-way-or-the-highway methods. Those who remembered him Tuesday — and reactions came from across the land — did so with respect and considerable admiration.

Said White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf in his statement: "George Steinbrenner was too complex a person to adequately describe in a short statement, but he was a great friend of mine and he will be missed. His impact on the game cannot be denied."

The key to Steinbrenner’s success was simple: Get the best players.

"He was the first owner who paid huge sums of money to players and he was very successful at it," says Tommy John, who signed a four-year, $1.4 million deal before the 1979 season. "He paid very, very well and expected you to play very, very well. He was very, very tough to work for but he was very fair. He expected a hard day’s work for a good dollar."

The Yankees made headlines in 1975 when they signed Catfish Hunter for $3.35 million over five years, and they won the World Series in 1977 and 1978. Before the 2008 season, they signed CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett for more than $420 million, and they won the World Series in 2009.

"All the guys in baseball making any money should go to the funeral because George is directly responsible for their salaries," John said.

Steinbrenner’s death on the morning of the All-Star Game allowed the baseball world an All-Star send-off of sorts for the Yankees owner. Two press conferences were held before the game — one for Joe Girardi, Andy Pettitte and Alex Rodriguez, and another for one of the greatest Yankees, Derek Jeter. All have been made rich by Steinbrenner, and all have helped deliver the Yankees at least one World Series ring.

"He’s more than just an owner to me. He’s a friend of mine," said Jeter, who like Steinbrenner, has a home in Tampa, Fla., and talked about visiting his boss during the offseason.

Rodriguez talked about his first meeting with The Boss and how, "Within the first two minutes he said the words, ‘We have to win a world championship’ about three or four times, so really quickly I got a good idea of what his front and center thoughts were."

Pettitte remembered being a young minor leaguer who would be in awe — and a little scared — whenever Steinbrenner showed up at Yankees’ rookie-league games. "He was always down there and I was a 19-year-old kid at the time, and it was looking at him like, That’s The Boss walking by."

In a radio interview, Dwight Gooden talked about his first meeting with Steinbrenner in 1996. The Yankees were interested in giving Gooden a comeback opportunity so Steinbrenner met Gooden for lunch and for two hours, Gooden said, never talked about baseball. After Gooden signed and started 0-3, however, he and his wife at the time were passing Steinbrenner after a game. Gooden introduced his wife to the owner, who replied, "When are you going to win a (bleeping) game?"

That was the Steinbrenner that made headlines for changing managers 21 times and general managers more than a dozen times. Girardi went out of his way to talk about another side of Steinbrenner — the one that John said regularly and without fanfare paid for children’s surgeries in New York.

"One of the things that is not talked enough about Mr. Steinbrenner is how giving of a man he is," Girardi said. "A man that really cared about people and tried to change people’s lives; whether it was a first chance, a second chance or a third chance. That’s who he really was."

Yankees critics, of course, tend to remember Steinbrenner as the man who bought championships and, as a result, is partly responsible for sports becoming a mega-business. His critics still howl over the unfairness of it all. Often you loved him or you hated him, depending on how you thought about the Yankees.

But even those who didn’t like his ways have to admit Steinbrenner cared about his job. Which is why, as he leaves, the Yankees are the biggest winners in our sports world.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

ANAHEIM, Calif. — For all he did as a baseball owner, George Steinbrenner’s greatest legacy was leaving the Yankees in far better shape than when he bought them.

He wouldn’t want it any other way.

George Steinbrenner's $8.7 million investment in the 1970s paid off well.
George Steinbrenner’s $8.7 million investment in the 1970s paid off well.

Steinbrenner died early Tuesday at the age of 80 as the most famous owner in American sports history. He was famous for his firings. His willingness to pay top dollar has made mega-millionaires of countless players. He also was known for his charity donations.

But most of all, he did his job better than the rest. He bought the Yankees for $8.7 million in 1973, according to a Yankees release. When Forbes again ranked the Yankees the No. 1 baseball franchise earlier this year, their value was estimated at $1.6 billion (the Dallas Cowboys are No. 1 at $1.65 billion). Under Steinbrenner, the Yankees won seven World Series and 11 pennants, moved into a new palace of a ballpark and launched their own television network.

Steinbrenner created his share of adversaries along the way because of his my-way-or-the-highway methods. Those who remembered him Tuesday — and reactions came from across the land — did so with respect and considerable admiration.

Said White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf in his statement: "George Steinbrenner was too complex a person to adequately describe in a short statement, but he was a great friend of mine and he will be missed. His impact on the game cannot be denied."

The key to Steinbrenner’s success was simple: Get the best players.

"He was the first owner who paid huge sums of money to players and he was very successful at it," says Tommy John, who signed a four-year, $1.4 million deal before the 1979 season. "He paid very, very well and expected you to play very, very well. He was very, very tough to work for but he was very fair. He expected a hard day’s work for a good dollar."

The Yankees made headlines in 1975 when they signed Catfish Hunter for $3.35 million over five years, and they won the World Series in 1977 and 1978. Before the 2008 season, they signed CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett for more than $420 million, and they won the World Series in 2009.

"All the guys in baseball making any money should go to the funeral because George is directly responsible for their salaries," John said.

Steinbrenner’s death on the morning of the All-Star Game allowed the baseball world an All-Star send-off of sorts for the Yankees owner. Two press conferences were held before the game — one for Joe Girardi, Andy Pettitte and Alex Rodriguez, and another for one of the greatest Yankees, Derek Jeter. All have been made rich by Steinbrenner, and all have helped deliver the Yankees at least one World Series ring.

"He’s more than just an owner to me. He’s a friend of mine," said Jeter, who like Steinbrenner, has a home in Tampa, Fla., and talked about visiting his boss during the offseason.

Rodriguez talked about his first meeting with The Boss and how, "Within the first two minutes he said the words, ‘We have to win a world championship’ about three or four times, so really quickly I got a good idea of what his front and center thoughts were."

Pettitte remembered being a young minor leaguer who would be in awe — and a little scared — whenever Steinbrenner showed up at Yankees’ rookie-league games. "He was always down there and I was a 19-year-old kid at the time, and it was looking at him like, That’s The Boss walking by."

In a radio interview, Dwight Gooden talked about his first meeting with Steinbrenner in 1996. The Yankees were interested in giving Gooden a comeback opportunity so Steinbrenner met Gooden for lunch and for two hours, Gooden said, never talked about baseball. After Gooden signed and started 0-3, however, he and his wife at the time were passing Steinbrenner after a game. Gooden introduced his wife to the owner, who replied, "When are you going to win a (bleeping) game?"

That was the Steinbrenner that made headlines for changing managers 21 times and general managers more than a dozen times. Girardi went out of his way to talk about another side of Steinbrenner — the one that John said regularly and without fanfare paid for children’s surgeries in New York.

"One of the things that is not talked enough about Mr. Steinbrenner is how giving of a man he is," Girardi said. "A man that really cared about people and tried to change people’s lives; whether it was a first chance, a second chance or a third chance. That’s who he really was."

Yankees critics, of course, tend to remember Steinbrenner as the man who bought championships and, as a result, is partly responsible for sports becoming a mega-business. His critics still howl over the unfairness of it all. Often you loved him or you hated him, depending on how you thought about the Yankees.

But even those who didn’t like his ways have to admit Steinbrenner cared about his job. Which is why, as he leaves, the Yankees are the biggest winners in our sports world.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

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