Wednesday, July 14, 2010

George Steinbrenner's Unappreciated, Underreported Attributes

  • There was a heart in there....somewhere:

Because he acquired such a reputation as a raving lunatic capable of coming unhinged at any moment; a micro-manager interfering in every aspect of the running of his club, many times to its detriment; an abusive and bullying force never hesitating to humiliate underlings for no reason whatsoever; twice suspended from baseball; and a reviled character in many circles for his self-serving behaviors, it's easily glossed over what a kind and generous person George Steinbrenner could be; how his sense of humor was nuanced and that he was willing to laugh at himself in a self-deprecating way----within reason.

Of course he was a capricious and behaved haphazardly; yes, the staunch military conservative Steinbrenner often did the quintessential "liberal" thing by helping players like Steve Howe, Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden and his perpetual quick-fix manager, Billy Martin----even when they repeatedly screwed up and the argument could be made that they didn't deserve any more chances; but there was a kindness underneath the bluster and abuse that should be more prominently displayed in his epitaph.

Some have taken the death of George Steinbrenner as a means of bashing the Yankees, which is ludicrous. Regardless of which team you root for, it's impossible to deny Steinbrenner's impact on the game of baseball. It wasn't his business savvy that was the main factor in the Yankees success on and off the field during his tenure, but that he wanted to win.

That was the only end in which he had interest.


If that meant overpaying for a player in terms of trade chips or money? So be it. Naturally that led to the rampant stupidity that continually ravaged the Yankees farm system of players----Fred McGriff, Jay Buhner, Doug Drabek, Willie McGee (these are off the top of my head)-----who he traded in fits of pique or for players whose names he knew. It led to paying the likes of Ed Whitson, Dave LaPoint and Pascual Perez loads of money and getting almost nothing in return.

But it wasn't done in the interest of anything aside from trying to win. Desperation leads to mistakes and oftentimes that's what happened with the moves Steinbrenner forced his baseball people to make.

There was a method to the madness. There are intelligent people who don't believe that power should be concentrated and emanate from one source. Because no one ever knew who was making the decisions for the Yankees, in a strange way, they always knew who was making the decisions for the Yankees-----George Steinbrenner. Since there was a factional separation between the people with Steinbrenner in his home base of Tampa and those around the team in New York, it was a survival of the fittest contest to see who was going to end up winning the battles.

It always appeared that Steinbrenner was enamored with the last person he'd spoken to. Whether it was any of the GMs, managers, coaches, players or fans that he came across, hired, fired, hired, fired, hired and fired again; or if it was talk radio, a newspaper or some fan suggestion he came across, he'd implement what seemed clever at the time with no foresight to consider whether or not it would work in the short or long-term.

The Yankees of the 80s were an annual underachiever due to the revolving door of personnel. Had Steinbrenner not been suspended in the early 90s, the Yankees might not have become the dynasty that they did.

Or they might've.

While it's obvious that the club was poorly run and shambolic in the 80s; and the 90s Yankees teams won the AL East every year that they won the World Series, who's to say how much influence the Wild Card would've had on those 80s Yankees teams, which were, by and large, always in or around 2nd place in their division until they collapsed totally in 1989-1990?

Much like the star-studded and young Mets teams of the 80s missed the playoffs every year but two, and would've won at least 2 more championships had there been a Wild Card, the Yankees would also have made the post-season with the extra spot available. Despite the Scotch-taped together nature of the club construction and that they never made the playoffs, they were good enough and would absolutely have made the playoffs in at least three of the years from 1983-1988.

The one thing that could never be said about Steinbrenner was that he didn't care; and many owners don't care enough to do what Steinberenner did to help his team win. Their interests begin and end with the bottom line, but for Steinbrenner, profit came after winning. The two went hand-in-hand. If the team wins, the money will be there. It's a simplistic way of management, but it's difficult to argue with its accuracy.

Everyone wants to be part of a recognizable winner. That's why there are so many Yankees fans around the world; that's why people support the Notre Dame football team; the Dallas Cowboys and the Los Angeles Lakers----they're famous and they've won.

The sense of humor and kindness I alluded to earlier were ancillary aspects of his bigger-than-life personality. There was the credit card commercial in which he wound up nightclubbing with Derek Jeter; there was the hilarious (and Steinbrenner-approved) portrayal on Seinfeld in which he was caricatured as a tyrannical, deranged maniac (as he wanted to be perceived); and there was a hosting gig on Saturday Night Live in which he was: shown napping before the show, dreaming about a Yankee team that consisted of George as GM; George as manager; George as coach; and George as every player on the field. In that same show, he also played a supermarket owner who tried to explain to his employees how ridiculous it was to hire and fire people again-and-again without warning or justification.

The generosity was evident in the charities he supported, the thousands of kids whose college educations were financed by George Steinbrenner (detailed in Bill Madden's book, Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball).

One particular story I remember that I read in Sports Illustrated as a small mention was from around 1990 (I'm paraphrasing the story from memory) and he was in Tampa; he drove by a broken down school bus that had been transporting camp kids. He stopped, bought hamburgers and milk for the children and paid for an air conditioned bus to take them the rest the way.

Much of the insanity was feeding the reputation of the Steinbrenner monster. He was seen as an irrational nutcase capable of doing and saying anything at any moment because it was true; but the reputation and circus-like atmosphere around the Yankees also drew attention to the team and to himself, made him famous and rich beyond all measure. He had to maintain that veneer for it to keep building. It also helps that much of his reputation was based in fact.

In the end, he ceded control of the club to his sons and the Yankees are still a sports/financial powerhouse unlike any other because of George Steinbrenner. That can't be changed regardless of the things he did----awful and humane.

When the debate comes up as to whether Steinbrenner is a Hall of Famer, I don't have the words to express my confusion at the very question. He belongs in the Hall of Fame because of what he built, what he added to the game----positively and negatively----and that the word "Fame" is in the title of the Hall.

Has there ever been an owner more famous than George Steinbrenner?


And there never will be.

  • National League 3-American League 1:

The National League has the home field advantage in the World Series.

And that's all I have to say about the All Star Game.

  • Viewer Mail 7.14.2010:

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE ESPN's "About" from their Rumor Central:

I tried to read that ESPN "About" thing and my eyes just glazed over. What were they even trying to say?

They seem to be trying to say how they formulate the morass that is what they do (whatever that is); and judging from your reaction to the ESPN Rumor Central "About", it looks like they pretty much nailed it. They don't know what they're talking about and we don't know what they're talking about either. When you think about it, it's skilfully written since they got their point across.

Jeff (Acting Boss) at Red State Blue State writes RE ESPN:

ESPN has been Chris-Bermafied; the network sucks now.

Has for a while.

I remember the good old days... with the exception of Bob Ley... the good guys are all gone now, on to better things.

I have the MLB Network now. I have the NFL Network. The NHL Network. WTF do I need ESPN for?

Even when the Berman shtick was at its height, they still did some good work with Ley and Chris Myers. You're bringing me back to the days when even MTV had some decent programming rather than the endless reality shows that make no sense whatsoever. Even in the early days of The Real World when it wasn't just would-be models drinking and screwing, it was compelling.

You would think that with all the various networks under ESPN's control, they'd put one up that has honest work and opinion rather than self-aggrandizing "personality" promotion.

Joe writes RE Ubaldo Jimenez:

Throw Ubaldo on the Pirates then? Will that solve your very flawed logic? Because then he won't win 25 games. And his team won't make the playoffs. And even if he pitches exactly the same, he won't be worthy because the Pirates supporting cast is terrible. PITCHER WINS don't mean (crap)!

First, go cuss somewhere else. I'm being linked by sites that require a little editing for content on my part. You wanna cuss? Start your own site up again and do it there.

As for your "argument" regarding Jimenez, you can do that with any player and achieve the same out-of-context result. Put Kevin Youkilis on the Astros and he'd walk 180 times and drive in 75 runs because they never have anyone on base in front of him.

Until you put the game into its proper perspective and lose the adherence to stats above anything else, you're never going to truly be a credible voice.

The influence one player can have on the rest of the team is not to be discounted. When Orel Hershiser went out to the mound during that historic run in 1988, don't you think his Dodgers teammates----on a mediocre team----said to themselves, "we're gonna win today"?

Don't you think there's a different attitude with the Yankees when Mariano Rivera takes the ball in the 9th inning? That the attitude translates into a more relaxed feeling and provides comfort to play at their best knowing that one little mistake won't open the floodgates to a loss?

One of the reasons I picked Brad Lidge as my NL Cy Young Award winner in 2008 wasn't simply because of his dominance all year long, but because the Phillies would not have made the playoffs without him. The stat zombie idea that "anyone" can rack up the saves in the regular season is accurate, but had anyone else been the Phillies' closer in 2008 and they been just a bit worse than Lidge and blown 3-4 games, the Phillies would've been on the outside looking in.

These things cannot be discounted in the grand scheme. Where would the Marlins be without Josh Johnson? They'd be a few games worse than they are right now. Their bullpen has been horrible and they haven't hit in opportune moments.

Where would the Rockies be without Jimenez right now? As Jorge de la Rosa, Jason Hammel and Jeff Francis were all on the disabled list and Aaron Cook was terrible, it was Jimenez who kept the team afloat until they got their people back. Now look where they are.

You ignore these points because they don't pop out of a calculator, but your lack of understanding doesn't make them irrelevant or suggest that they don't exist. Until you sta2010BaseballGuideCover.gifrt to free your mind of these restrictions, I can't help you.

My book is still available on Amazon, I-Universe and Barnes and It's available for download as an E-book here. You can also now get it for less that five bucks on BN via download here.


Joe said...

Lack of understanding? I'd say your logic is flawed, but there isn't any logic in there. In your alternate universe, guys like 2008 Brad Lidge somehow are more worthy than Chase Utley -- as I believe you thought Lidge could win the MVP. But I guess the only way you could ever learn that your thinking is incorrect, is to build a team and then watch it fail. But we know that isn't going to happen. If we didn't have "pitcher wins" as a stat, we would be more knowledgeable baseball fans.

Jeff said...

Free your mind, Joe.

I don't recall Prince making his statement based on "pitcher wins".

It's not about the wins. It's about Ubaldo carrying his team, being the best all around pitcher in the NL right now. In baseball, that sorta thing is REALLY REALLY REALLY important, y'know, carrying a team, igniting a team, leading a team.

Free your mind, man.

Free your mind.

She-Fan said...

When I saw the name Dave LaPoint, I cracked up. Guys like that were part of Steinbrenner's legacy too, along with Whitson, but he did have other attributes, as you point out.

Brooklyn Trolley Blogger said...

George may be many things to me as a Baseball fan and not all of them good. But as a MAN of this city I appreciated every friggin second he walked our city streets. Because! ~ Because the guy had guts and that's what you needed here. Yankee Stadium lay center mass of every blight that comes with urban decay and ruin (in the late 70's). George never blinked. George never flinched. George engaged in a game of chicken, allied with the willing against everything wrong in this city back in the day....fought the long fight....and in the end, won.

That's why I have his back! Because he freakin stayed. The Dodgers thought things got bad in their neighborhood and eloped with the Giants because this town wasn't good enough for them anymore. Times changed right? It wasn't the good old days anymore right? Things got ten times worse for George in his neighborhood than things ever got in theirs. George had the Baseballs to stick it out in this town when so many chose to tuck theirs between their legs and scatter like roaches when the lights go on.

......that was the last two paragraphs of my post today about George. He had every reason to flee this city, and didn't. It's something he never gets credit for. We should know better than to say something like the Yankees moving could never happen. Just ask Dodger/Giant fans. Ponder their fate in the hands of a different owner and a lesser man in the late 70's. George didn't turn his back on this city when it was down when the easy thing to do was flee.