Remembering ‘The Boss’
Normally, I’m not one to speak ill of the dead but I’m compelled to say that I’m amused at the image transformation undergone by New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner on the occasion of his passing. I understand that it’s customary to accentuate the best when referring to the dearly departed and some of it is simply part and parcel of being a celebrated figure in the Big Apple. I just found some of the tributes to be a bit over the top and wonder if he would have been so well regarded had he been an owner in his hometown of Cleveland or say, Kansas City.
Steinbrenner went through 20 managers in his first 23 years and 11 general managers overall in his tenure and was suspended not once, but twice by the commissioner’s office as punishment for his actions as owner of the Yankees. “The Boss” was frequently bombastic and overbearing in his dealings with his players and the press and, as such, was probably the perfect owner for the New York market. Now he’s being proclaimed in some quarters as ‘the greatest owner in the history of sports’, which is something akin to saying that Ted Bundy was the nicest serial killer. It also ignores the fact that the Yankees enjoyed much of their greatest success only after Steinbrenner removed himself at least publicly from the forefront of the Yankees’ operations.
There is no disputing that Steinbrenner restored the Yankee franchise to prominence and many are now lauding him as being good for the game overall, presumably under the premise that a rising tide lifts all ships. It’s true that the Yankees now provide the bulk of revenue sharing in major league baseball but it’s also true that the need for such was largely spurred by Steinbrenner’s profligate spending. The success of any professional sports league is largely dependent on competitive balance (see Football League, National), yet the Yankees remain in the stratosphere of baseball revenues in relation to the rest of the major league baseball giving them a decided, if not unfair, advantage.
Good or bad, Steinbrenner had a huge impact on modern major league baseball. Naturally, Yankee fans benefitted from having an owner who was so committed to winning, even when his efforts were less than effective. It’s open to debate whether those efforts came at the expense of the greater good. More than once during his “prime” Steinbrenner was the butt of jokes and accused of ruining major league baseball. I just find it curious that the exploits of such a figure can be remembered so unequivocally in the positive.