Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Bill Madden recently published a large biography of Steinbrenner, which I'll read at some point when it becomes available at the library.By Bill MaddenDAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER
George Steinbrenner, a towering and intimidating figure who dominated the New York sports scene for 35 years, winning 11 American League pennants and seven world championships as owner of the Yankees, died Tuesday morning in Tampa after suffering a massive heart attack. He was 80.
"The Boss" - as he was so aptly named by his longtime antagonist, Daily News columnist Mike Lupica - died at around 6:30 a.m., barely a week after his Fourth of July birthday.
I wasn't much of baseball fan growing up. We were a Yankee family insofar as we had the religion. Went to some Yankees games. I became a fan in the Seventies after Steinbrenner bought the Yanks in one of the great business bargains of all time & began rebuilding the team to win. But by the end of the decade I was sick of him, Billy Martin, the firings, the feuds, the crazy clubhouse, turned my coat & switched to the Mets. I still listen to Yankees games on the radio. No hard feelings.
The Yankees we see now, the billion dollar brand that makes the playoffs year after year, known for clubhouse stability & a fairly dignified image on the field, is the result of the time Steinbrenner was suspended from baseball in 1990. His management team rebuilt the Yankee farm system that produced Jeter, Rivera, Pettitte. & Posada. He lucked out with Joe Torre, a manager of no great success up to then who turned out to be great at getting between George & the players, running a sane clubhouse, & dealing with New York media. Then there was the astute & far-farsighted decision to form The Yankees Entertainment and Sports (YES) Network in 2002. Although the Yankees are not majority owners, it is highly profitable. Steinbrenner was hardly beloved by Yankee fans in 1990. Essentially, the Yankees became the organization they are today when The Boss was forced to loosen the reins & let his competent baseball & entertainment industry employees do their jobs with a minimum of the capricious meddling that nearly destroyed the team in the '80s. How far had the Yanks fallen by 1990? New York was mainly a Mets city back then, & Yogi Berra wouldn't go near Yankee Stadium.
Among major business /media / sports giants, Steinbrenner is the last person I would've figured to receive such effusively positive eulogizing, Except, of course, from some sports writers old enough to have covered the Yankees in the '70s & '80s. They might admit liking George, in large part because he was a guaranteed story. Now we hear about all of Steinbrenner's generous "private acts of charity." The excuse being that they were "private" because A. Steinbrenner had to maintain a tough business image. B. He didn't want to use those acts for publicity. But, like with Sinatra, we heard about those personal acts of charity anyway. They were just revealed by people other than the benefactor. When Steinbrenner visited Yogi Berra Museum in 1999 to reconcile with the Yankee great after a 14 year estrangement that was entirely George's fault, sports announcer Susan Waldman hosted a radio show of the event with George & Yogi featuring plenty of references to Steinbrenner's charitable contributions, giving George a chance to "aw shucks, it was nothing."
The point I'm trying to make is that public acts of charity by wealthy people can be made with some modesty mixed with the self-promotion in order to encourage a charitable public spirit. The singular, impulsive acts toward individuals - & there have been many of these by George - are characterized by their impulsiveness & irregularity. They were like Elvis handing out Cadillacs. These acts are simply forms of The Golden Rule, sometimes oddly expressed, & the great religions tell us to live our lives according to the rule, & they don't compartmentalize those acts or provide a business exemption. There are always a few wealthy celebrities around with deserved reputations for being kind & generous, although these kinds of persons are more common among common folk. They aren't necessarily "great" people accomplishing "great" things, but rather are great souls, & we are always privileged to encounter them.