Steinbrenner 'the best thing to happen' to baseball? Not quite

The 80th birthday of George Steinbrenner, the New York Yankees kingpin, is set for this Sunday, July 4.

David Whitley is celebrating by overstating The Boss' contributions to baseball the past four decades.

Here's part of Whitley's argument on Fanhouse:

"He was a tyrant, a bully and a megalomaniacal blight on baseball. That said, Steinbrenner was the best thing to happen to the sport in the past 40 years.

"Imagine if he'd never been born. There would have been no Yankees Dynasty, no Mr. October, no Red Sox Nation, fewer 'Seinfeld' classics and far less reason to pick up the paper, turn on the TV or pay attention to America's pastime."

Whitley then goes on to credit Steinbrenner for 1) turning the Yankees into baseball's version of the federal mint, 2) making baseball a more "interesting" place by resurrecting the Yankees and 3) hoarding talent by taking advantage of the sport's free agent system.

He stops just short of chalking up beer vendors, Cracker Jack and 90 feet between the bases to the genius of Steinbrenner, though I'm not exactly sure why.

Whatever the case, it's all a bunch of nonsense. Steinbrenner as baseball savior? Please.

I understand, of course, that Whitley is trying to attract clicks with his assertion. I'm in the same business and part of the reason I'm doing this post is because I knew it'd attract eyeballs. That theme line certainly succeeded in getting my goat and it probably got yours.

I also understand the grave situation that Mr. Steinbrenner finds himself in. Serious health problems have driven him out of the public eye over the past few years and little has been officially said about his condition. It's been a sad thing to witness, no matter how you feel about his previous life as the bombastic Yankees owner.

That said, you still can't whitewash Steinbrenner's legacy, which — in addition to that admirable desire to win — also includes tearing down old Yankee Stadium, sticking New York taxpayers with the bill for a new one, alienating some of his best employees and owning the largest big market team in an era when small market squads became an endangered species atop the standings.

As for no "Yankee Dynasty" or "Red Sox Nation" without Steinbrenner, I think everyone not associated with either team (or ESPN) would have been just fine without the bloom of either.

Look, there's no arguing that Steinbrenner has been great for the Yankees and their fans. He is the biggest reason they're arguably the most successful sports franchise on the planet.

But you can't argue he's been the best thing for baseball over the past 40 years. Not when that same era saw Roberto Clemente and Buck O'Neil embody everything we asked from our baseball figures. Not when hundreds of foreign players arrived in America and raised the game's level of talent or technology increased the number of ways we consume and enjoy the game. Not when great stars like Ken Griffey Jr. and Cal Ripken built Hall of Fame careers and cities constructed new ballparks that were beautiful places to take your family.

Maybe controversy equals biggest impact in Whitley's world. That's fine. As I said up top, I can respect that view, though Pete Rose and steroids also generated controversial headlines and no one's arguing they were the best thing to happen to baseball in the past decade.

You can't tell the story of baseball's last 40 years without including a lot of George Steinbrenner talk. But you also can't tell baseball's story — at least not in a positive "best" manner — using him as the sole figure. Which is why I think a simple "Happy Birthday, Boss" and a prayer for his health will suffice on his special day come Sunday.

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