Tuesday, July 13, 2010

RIP George Steinbrenner

To those who knew him personally, he was generous and kind. To those who enjoyed the spoils of his leadership, his desire to win and rebuild a once-great institution negated his questionable methods. To his opponents, the era of greed, excess and egomaniacal tyranny he ushered in can never be forgiven.

But enough about the Emperor Nero. I’m here to discuss George Steinbrenner.

The Boss passed away today at the age of 80. He suffered a heart attack after years of declining health. In the 37 years he owned the Yankees they won 7 championships, went to the World Series 11 times, and broke the hearts of approximately 250 million baseball fans, either by beating their teams on the field or reaching deeper into their pockets for a free agent.

When I heard the news this morning, I must admit my first instinct as a Red Sox fan was to burst into a chorus of, “Ding dong, the witch is dead.” I held back out of respect for the dead, and because I was alone in my car and that would have been weird. But death has a way of forcing you to take a step back and reflect on a person from new and different perspectives. Sure, for fans of every team other than the Yankees, it was easy to see Steinbrenner as an evil emperor, lording over the league and screaming, “Cower before the glory that wears pinstripes!” But you can argue that a lot of that sentiment came from jealousy. We all wish our teams’ owners were more like that. We all wish the guys in charge cared as much about winning as we did, and you can’t argue that Steinbrenner didn’t care about winning.

For all his faults, Steinbre …. Gahhh! Sorry, I just can’t do it. Yeah, Steinbrenner cared about winning. So did the guys at Countrywide Financial and Lehman Bros. His creation of cable television and marketing deals exacerbated the difference between small and large market teams like never before. His insatiable desire for free agents drove up the price of contracts to the point where only a handful of teams are ever really in the hunt. As much as Red Sox fans like to deride Steinbrenner, it’s teams like the Padres who have suffered the most from the tactics he introduced. At least the Red Sox can try to compete.

There’s been a lot of talk about how Steinbrenner “rebuilt the Yankees.” I won’t even get into the thousands of reasons why I don’t see rebuilding the Yankees as such a wonderful thing, but I must point out that they were a powerhouse team in a giant market that had simply had a few off years. He didn’t turn a Chevette into a Mercedes. He turned an old, slightly beat up Mercedes into a Mercedes. And don’t get me started on how a guy who inherited his father’s ship building business is being portrayed as “self made” in some corners.

Shoot, I really was trying to keep my New Englandness in check here. OK, I will say this for The Boss: He made things interesting. Over the last few years, as he’s more or less retired from public life, there were moments when something would happen in baseball and you would just wait for the inevitable scathing, over-the-top pronouncement from Steinbrenner, and all you’d get was silence. Something felt missing. His was the Big Brother-like face that you could rail against as a symbol of all that is wrong with sports. Who do we have now, Al Davis? Not as effective since Raiders suck. LeBron James? You racist.

So yes, in some ways I’ll miss George Steinbrenner, the same way you miss the bitchy queen bee character in soapy teen dramas when she gets drunk and drowns, or goes to study acting in London. And in about ten years, when we’re spending $60 a month to watch players earning $4 million a swing play in the Pfizer World Series at Mutual Life Field at Yankee Stadium on the MLB Network, I’ll picture George up on a cloud, playing a fiddle and trying to fire God.


Joe said...

Did you see "Spaceman" Lee's comments about him? Unreal.

Liz said...

Yeah the Spaceman doesn't pull punches. A little harsh, if you ask me. "Trust me, if hell freezes over, he'll be skating." Yikes!