Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Let's not canonize Steinbrenner

You're never supposed to speak ill of the dead because, well, they're dead. What's the point? What's done is done. No one hears many eulogies of those who are called scoundrels and jerks.

Take George Steinbrenner. The iconic New York Yankee owner, the most famous owner in professional sports in four decades, died early this morning from a heart attack at age 80. He and I shared the same birthday, July 4. He had been in failing health for many years leaving the daily duties to his son, Hal.

Based on the quotes today from those who knew Steinbrenner, I didn't know if Mr. Rogers had passed away or one of the most ruthless win-at-all-costs bullies had. He was cited for his philanthropic generosity, his business acumen, his passion to win. All of them are true.

Under his guidance, when he headed a group that bought the lackluster Yankees in 1973 for $10 million, New York would go on to win seven World Series, 11 American League pennants, and the franchise is now valued at $1.6 billion, third-richest in sports, thanks to his lucrative cable television package in the country's largest market.

His payrolls were the highest in baseball. Few free agents were off limits. He wanted the best and had the deep pockets to go get them.

Put it this way. I would love to have someone like Steinbrenner own the team of which I was a big fan. And most New Yorkers felt that way. But I would hate working for him.

Steinbrenner had another side, a bigger darker side. He had a mean dictorial tyrannical side that is as much a part of his legacy as any other. He ruled with an iron fist.

He fired 21 managers -- including Billy Martin five times -- a dozen general managers, and untold number of other front-office personnel. He once fired his public relations director who had hurried home to Ohio for Christmas Day only to get back late the next day for the contract extension press conference for pitcher David Cone.

He was suspended twice, once for illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon and the other for hiring a self-described gambler to dig up dirt of Yankee outfielder Dave Winfield, whom he publicly feuded with.

"Winning is the most important thing in my life after breathing," he said. "Winning, then breathing."

Give "Big Stein" -- as he was parodied on "Seinfeld" -- credit for many things. But the number of people he carelessly tossed aside and treated like dirt should be part of the picture as well. He should be remembered for both.

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