Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Boss

I don't envy the nation's sports commentators this week. They have to sum up the legacy of George Steinbrenner.

Nuclear physics is probably easier. Especially for a Red Sox fan, which would be me.

Steinbrenner's exploits have filled a couple of dozen books over the years. He was much more fun in the first dozen or so years of owning the Yankees than he was in the years leading up to his departure from controlling the team a few years ago. You never knew what he was going to do next -- trade someone, fire someone, sign a free agent.

It was never dull, at least. The New York tabloids ought to make a huge donation to charity in his honor.

Steinbrenner, according to all reports, was bound and determined to show his late father that he would do something worthwhile. His methods may have been questionable but there's no doubt he succeeded. He bought a Yankee franchise for $10 million, and improved it to the point where it is now worth $1.5 billion, maybe second only to Manchester United in terms of net worth.

Steinbrenner's aggressive ownership dragged the rest of baseball out of the stone age in terms of marketing, creating a big pot of money for everyone. (The Yankees always did have the biggest pot, of course, especially in the last 10 years.)

He also can be credited with a couple of other points. He didn't sit in his office and put the profits in the bank. Steinbrenner put those profits right back into the ballclub. No matter how many fans didn't like his tactics, there were few that didn't secretly hope that Steinbrenner had bought their favorite team. Particularly in Cleveland; history could have been rewritten if the Ohio native had purchased the Indians.

He also made baseball quite a bit more lively. When he took over the Yankees in the early 1970's, they were pretty boring. Think of the current Knicks, only worse. It took only a few years before the Yankees became everyone's favorite target. He sure did wonders for the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry, which had been quiet for almost 30 years.

The stories about Steinbrenner as a boss are another story. The almost endless dance with Billy Martin were horrific to watch, the belittling of employees left few happy to work for the team at times. Yet, Steinbrenner kept veteran employees on the payroll even if they didn't do anything for the team. He helped many charities, and sent high school kids to college on his dime.

How do you decipher someone like that? Well, you don't. You just say things won't be the same without him.

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