The Boss was a tyrant, but he made Yankees into winners at all costs
In his heyday he was known as many things -- most notably, as a bad loser -- but there is no denying that he made the Yankees into a winner. He was the shipbuilding magnate who bought the ball club for a relative pittance ($10 million in 1973) from CBS and restored the Yankee brand to its former glory. During his reign as owner, Steinbrenner's Yankees won 11 American League pennants and seven world championships, more than any other team in that span. The franchise's value soared into more than a billion as it became the staple product of its own cable network while still leading the big leagues in attendance year after year.
Along the way he exerted his will in an indomitable fashion, displaying legendary impatience and volatility. He bought out his 13 limited partners by the end of his first decade as owner, prompting
"In every other job I've had with him, he seemed to respect my opinion to some degree," said
Before firing Michael as manager in 1981, Steinbrenner told him, "Why would you want to stay manager and be second-guessed by me when you can come up into the front office and be one of the second-guessers?"
Yet Steinbrenner domineered his general managers equally as hard. In fact, clubhouse attendants, secretaries, p.r. men, players, anyone who was on his payroll, were hired and fired with regularity. In 1982, Steinbrenner had five different pitching coaches. Two years later, the Yankees lost three of their first four games to start the season. Rookie shortstop
"They say I'm tough to work for," Steinbrenner once said, "Well, I am, but I'm not trying to win any popularity contest. I know only one way and that is to work my butt off and demand everybody else do the same."
Steinbrenner had a penchant for calling out rookies -- "He spit the bit," he said of pitcher
One former employee of the Yankees told Steinbrenner biographer
"Sometimes," Steinbrenner once told a reporter, "as much as I don't want to -- I have to inflict pain. But I also inflict some joy."
Steinbrenner would harass an employee to no end, humiliating and abusing them at his whim. Then he'd send their kids through college or hire them back with a bonus.
"George is the most charming guy in the world, a real Mr. Nice," said
Umpires, league officials and rival managers were also favorite targets for Steinbrenner when the Yankees didn't win. In 1983, Steinbrenner was suspended for a week after he repeatedly criticized National League umpires during spring training. By the end of the season, he was fined a then-record sum of $250,000 for his behavior following the infamous "Pine-Tar Game."
The Boss was simply an incorrigibly poor loser who personalized the team's failures. "There is always a feeling that the losses come from a defect in character, or spite," wrote
"You have to understand how I feel," Steinbrenner once said after he was caught cursing by TV cameras during a playoff loss in 1980. "There are 5 million Yankee fans just like me sitting in front of TV sets with beer and hollering the same thing ... I want this team to win. I'm obsessed with winning, with discipline, with achieving. That's what this country's all about, that's what New York's all about -- fighting for everything, a cab in the rain, a table in a restaurant at lunchtime -- and that's what the Yankees are all about."
Steinbrenner's impact was felt immediately after he bought the team, even though he told reporters, "We plan absentee ownership as far as running the Yankees is concerned. We're not going to pretend to be something we aren't. I'll stick to building ships."
The secretaries no longer had flowers delivered daily to their desks. The players were ordered to cut their hair, and manager
The following year -- as the Yankees played the first of two seasons at Shea Stadium in Queens while Yankee Stadium was being remodeled -- Steinbrenner was indicted for making illegal campaign contributions to the committee to re-elect
Few believed that the suspension had any teeth to it, however, especially when the Yankees signed
The Yankees won the American League pennant in 1976 for the first time in 12 years but were swept in the World Series by the Cincinnati Reds. The following year, the first year of free agency, Steinbrenner signed pitcher
When the Yankees won back-to-back championships in '77 and '78, Steinbrenner was at the height of his popularity in New York. He was a darling of the tabloid media, naturally charming, and a master at getting the headlines. Steinbrenner regularly "leaked" stories to the papers. "A high-placed source" was often Steinbrenner himself. It took him just five years to win his first World Series and, suddenly, he was as popular and as visible as any of his players. He was the talk of the town.
"In New York," Steinbrenner once told former
But there was an underside to the success. Steinbrenner would not tolerate failure and he "fooled himself that he could arrange for success," according to the baseball writer
In the '80s, the Yankees imploded. Steinbrenner bought talent -- after the 1980 season, he made
"The problem with the Yankees," wrote
From 1989-1992, the Yankees were 288-359, never placing higher than fourth. In 1990, they bottomed-out, finishing dead last, 21 games out.
"Steinbrenner did something no one thought possible," added
It was the end of the line for Steinbrenner, too. In January 1990, he paid $40,000 to
When Steinbrenner was busted, Commissioner
During Steinbrenner's exile, Michael made sage pickups for veterans such as
Steinbrenner turned to veteran baseball man
Torre, who had been a prominent player representative for the union during his playing days, knew how to handle Steinbrenner. In '96, the Yankees had to play a doubleheader in Cleveland with two untested rookie pitchers. Steinbrenner called a meeting of his top advisors in New York. It was the day before the game, an off-day for the team, and Steinbrenner called Torre.
"Where are you?" Steinbrenner barked.
"I'm playing golf," said Torre through a speaker phone.
"Well, while you're out in the goddam woods having fun, we're trying to figure this damn thing out for tomorrow."
"How the hell did you know my ball was in the woods," said Torre, and cracked up the entire room, including Steinbrenner.
Torre was able to disarm Steinbrenner with great success. As the Yankees continued to win in the late '90s, winning the Series again in 1998, '99 and 2000, Torre's celebrity status grew. Steinbrenner grew increasingly resentful. Torre was getting more credit than Steinbrenner and that made the owner privately furious. But he couldn't do anything about it because Torre continued to win. Torre had an advantage over Steinbrenner that no manager, not even fan-favorite Martin, enjoyed. Torre was an icon; he was the public face of the new Yankee Dynasty. Even George knew that he would look like the old heavy if he sacked Torre.
That didn't prevent Steinbrenner from giving Torre a hard time -- coaches
Steinbrenner's health problems first surfaced when he fainted at the funeral for football great
In his absence, his sons
The mouth that roared was suddenly quieted. During the course of his run as Yankee owner, Steinbrenner was often the most-hated man in sports, a fitting title that he wore well. He was combative, belligerent, charitable and ruthless. Most of all, though, he made the Yankees matter again.