(Long Island, N.Y.) Although the past few years have been ones without the same George M. Steinbrenner III that sports fans have come to know, love and sometimes even hate, it was comforting to know that the Yankees principal owner and chairperson was still around and part of the front office, at least in some capacity.
When his sons Hal and Hank rose to the forefront, both gave subtle reminders that they were chips off the old block. Hank is the spittin’ image of George and his brashness is definitely a trait that he inherited. Hal has that ‘win at all costs’ attitude that has been a part of the Yankee organization since 1973.
That just happened to be the same year that an Ohio native who had successfully run the family shipping business bought into the most storied franchise in sports, albeit one that had fallen on hard times.
“He was a visionary and a giant in the world of sports,” the Steinbrenner family said in a statement. “He took a great but struggling franchise and turned it around into a champion again.”
A mere three years after becoming owner, Steinbrenner – who recently turned 80 on the Fourth of July – had the Bronx Bombers back in the World Series. But it was the next two seasons that have become the staple of a team that expects to win a championship every season or consider it a failure. The Yankees beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in both the 1977 and 1978 Fall Classics with teams that were stacked with superstar players, many of them big-ticket free agents that Steinbrenner lured to Gotham with million dollar contracts.
Although he earned the ire of his fellow owners for that, Steinbrenner never apologized for trying to add titles to his collection. “His overriding objective was to win, the sign of a true sportsman,” said Jeff Idelson, the president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and a former Yankees media relations director from 1989 to 1993. “You have to give him credit for always having the best interest of Yankee fans at heart, which was bringing a World Series winner to the Bronx, something he accomplished seven times.
“He bought a wilting franchise in 1973 and turned it into a worldwide brand through his vision, work ethic and overall Yankee ingenuity.”
There is a large contingent that feels Steinbrenner deserves to be in the Hall of Fame and you can certainly make an argument that he belongs there. The Veteran’s Committee has not yet voted him in, but there will probably come a day when Steinbrenner takes his deserved place in Cooperstown amongst the great players, many who he paid very handsomely for a good portion of their careers.
This is a man who wore his heart on his sleeve and said what was on his mind. Steinbrenner made many friends and enemies throughout his tenure in baseball and the outpouring of praise since his death was announced shows that there are more in the former category.
Yankee Stadium will not be the same place without him.