It was kind of a rough week for the New York Yankees, as they lost two of their icons while I was on vacation. I’ll have something to say about Bob Sheppard, their legendary and longtime public address announcer, in a subsequent post, but for now let me extend my condolences to the Steinbrenner family and the entire Yankee franchise on the passing of The Boss, George Steinbrenner. I was fortunate enough to pick up a copy of the Daily News special edition with its wall-to-wall coverage. (See also Jay Jaffe‘s writeup and roundup for more.) There are two things that stand out in all of this that I want to highlight. One is that for all of Steinbrenner’s bombast and bullying and attention-grabbing behavior, the words most frequently used to describe him are “kind” and “generous”. I’ve heard stories like this of him stepping in to help people and organizations in need, often in an extremely low-key way, for decades. It’s as much a part of who George Steinbrenner was as all of the things that made him a pop culture villain. (And in typical fashion, Steinbrenner was gracious and a good sport about that.)
The other thing is that Steinbrenner was about one thing, and that was for his organization to be the best, and to be the champions. Everything he did, and that includes a lot of the bad things, was geared towards that. It’s a cliche to hear people gripe about the Yankees spending gobs of money to “buy” championships, and how that’s somehow supposed to represent what’s wrong with professional sports. I say it’s owners who don’t care about winning that are the problem. Steinbrenner wasn’t in it to cash checks, his team wasn’t just another asset in a media/real estate/whatever portfolio, and if every team had an owner with the same desire to bring home a trophy there’d be a lot fewer long-suffering fans out there. He cared about his team’s fans in a way that very few owners do any more, and that will be greatly missed.
I’ve been a Yankees fan for as long as I can remember, and that more or less coincides with his purchase of the team from CBS in 1973. I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around the thought that he won’t be around any more. He’ll never be forgotten, though, that’s for sure. Rest in peace, George Steinbrenner.