July 13, 2010
ANAHEIM, Calif. — It will be written countless times Tuesday, so let's get it out of the way: George Steinbrenner always had an uncanny ability to find his way into a spotlight that needed filling.
And as the sun rises here on the West Coast on the day that baseball's best players will play the 81st All-Star game, it only makes sense that we hear the sad news that Steinbrenner has died at age 80 after suffering a heart attack at his home in Tampa, Fla.
Simply put, Steinbrenner was the biggest All-Star that sports ownership has ever seen — or ever will see, considering he built the template for any owner that will ever rule his organization with an iron fist while placing winning above all else. He was a true iconoclast, leading with a controversial style that will never truly be duplicated.
A shipbuilder from Cleveland, the brash Steinbrenner purchased the New York Yankees in 1973 for the now-laughable sum of $10 million. Over the next 30 years, he'd take that beloved franchise in the Bronx and turn it into a worldwide brand that made him billions and — more importantly to him — put seven World Series rings on his fingers.
But while that success might suggest a clinical approach, we all know that The Boss was as unorthodox as they came. He warred with underlings like Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson, held press conferences designed to boost his star and became an even bigger cultural icon with his character on "Seinfeld." He was Donald Trump in a baseball boardroom before Donald Trump was ever a regular presence on the front page of the New York Post.
In the legacies and obituaries ahead, much will be written about all the money that Steinbrenner pumped into the game and how he turned the sport on its ear by using his television millions to create the inequity between large and small markets. He'll be described as egotistical, self-centered and greedy, concerned with only George Steinbrenner.
Some of those criticisms will be valid, but they'll also come with the ultimate qualifier from almost everyone who doesn't wear pinstripe pajamas: If they would have had the chance to welcome Steinbrenner, his easily opened wallet and his "win first, breathe second" attitude to their team, they all would have done it in a New York minute.
George Steinbrenner was a true American original, and baseball will be a much less interesting place without one of its most original characters pounding that press conference podium on his way into headlines across the country. He'll be the main focus at Angel Stadium on Tuesday night and it seems appropriate that he'll be remembered in such grand style.