Legendary Yankees owner George Steinbrenner passed away today from a massive heart attack in Tampa, Fl at the age of 80, likely leading to a poignant moment of silence at tonight's Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
"The Boss" took over the team in 1973 as part of a group of owners that bought the famed franchise for $8.7 million and in the nearly 35 years that he ran the squad, no owner did more to help his team win. During his tenure the Yankees won 7 World Series and 11 American League pennants on the backs of some of the biggest and brightest names to ever touch a baseball.
While fans outside of New York, particularly in the smaller markets, may despise Steinbrenner for his often-times wild spending on big name free agents, the fans of his team could not possibly have asked for anything more from their owner. He was firm and often times ruled with an iron fist, so frequently clashing with under-performing (which in his eyes meant simply not winning a championship) managers and players that he became a glamorized character on Seinfeld and even got a gig hosting Saturday Night Live.
Critics will point to some of his pricier mistakes, such as paying big bucks for over-the-hill pitchers like Randy Johnson and Kevin Brown, and say that he wasn't really a baseball expert, just a guy with a big checkbook. Still others will claim that his wild spending on free agents like Alex Rodriguez and Roger Clemens, and the hundreds of millions he shelled out to lock-up Yankees stars like Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada, ruined the sport for small-market teams that couldn't compete with the Pinstripes' payroll. While most baseball experts would disagree with the latter (in fact, most believe that his luxury tax spending more than made up for it), it really doesn't matter.
As the owner of a single professional sports franchise, you are solely responsible to the people of your city and your fans - and no one treated their residents and their fans better than The Boss. He was squarely focused on winning, recognizing that is what the people wanted - and if you give the people what they want, it will end up being good business all around. Because of that the Yankees are now arguably the most valuable franchise in sports, worth an estimated $1.5 billion, the reigning World Series champs and currently first in the AL East.
George Steinbrenner was as great an American sportsman as there ever was - he was born on the 4th of July, died during the All-Star break, and in the middle spent 80 years coaching football (at Northwestern & Purdue), owning a basketball team (the Cleveland Pipers of the American Basketball League), serving as a VP of the US Olympic Committee, entering horses in 6 different Kentucky Derby's, and, of course, as the man in charge of the New York Yankees - plus the guy is literally named "George"!
As we move into the owners box of our own franchise in the near future, we can only hope our fans love us 1% as much as the Yankees fans have been devoted to The Boss.