Steinbrenner passes; his legacy endures.

“It was a beautiful thing to observe, all 36 oars working in unison.’’ – late Cardinals announcer Jack Buck quipping he had seen George Steinbrenner’s yacht.

It is a timeless quote about a timeless subject, George M. Steinbrenner, the demonstrative, cantankerous and blustery owner of the New York Yankees, who died today of a heart attack at age 80.

STEINBRENNER: Always King George

Buck’s comment has long been the perception of Steinbrenner by the public through screaming headlines and video and audio sound bites. The man was positively driven to win and it didn’t matter the cost in dollars or whom he stepped on. The Yankees would throw millions at players, and if they didn’t win Steinbrenner was ruthless in his handling of his managers and front office staff.

It was that way from the day he purchased the Yankees in 1973 for less than $10 million from CBS and said: “I won’t be active in the day-to-day operation of the Yankees. I’ll stick to building ships.’’

What he did was rebuilt the dynasty – twice.

By the time I started covering the Yankees in 1998, Steinbrenner’s legacy was well cemented in that he revived a struggling team and turned professional sports’ most revered franchise to a billion dollar empire.

The Yankees Brand is world-renowned and that is Steinbrenner’s legacy on the grand scale, but for me I’ll remember him like most beat reporters for the exhilarating paces he put us through.

Whenever the Yankees faltered the calls went into Steinbrenner’ office. It was maddening on the days he released a statement condemning the team’s play.

There is no more haunting words than these on a reporter’s voice mail: “John, George Steinbrenner returning your call.’’

You knew you wouldn’t get another chance.

You had to put the call in early in the hope he’d return it before you went to the park, and rare were the times he did.

He did several times for me, one in particular I’ll always remember. It was at the trade deadline in 1999 and Andy Pettitte was the focal point. All the other beat guys had Pettitte being dealt, but I was steadfast in he wouldn’t be traded.

The day before the deadline the Yankees were in Boston and my cell rang around 7 p.m., just before first pitch.

It was Steinbrenner and he told me on the record Pettitte wasn’t going anywhere.

Five hours later it was my editor with questions about a New York Times story that ran on the wire that had him being traded to Philadelphia for four prospects, and what I wanted to do about it.

“Nothing,’’ I said. “I have the owner on the record and that beats any unnamed source the Times can come up with.’’

Then there was the spring when Steinbrenner railed at Hideki Irabu, calling him a “fat, @#$%^& toad,’’ as he stormed about Legends Field with a pack of reporters following him like he was the pied piper.

I had never seen anything like it, before or since.

Steinbrenner’s presence loomed over the Yankees-Mets rivalry in that it cast a shadow upon the Mets. There was always this sense of entitlement from Yankees fans about winning, as if it was a birthright.

Mets fans hated the Yankees for their swagger, but there was always a grudgingly admiration for Steinbrenner in that they knew he would do everything in his power to improve the Yankees.

Mets fans hadn’t always seen that with their management.

The last time I saw Steinbrenner was during the 2007 playoffs, frail he was walking out of Yankee Stadium holding onto his daughter’s arm. Far from the Napoleonic image of him on a horse for a Sports Illustrated cover shoot.

The phone rang several times today from radio stations wanting me to reflect on my time coving the Yankees and Steinbrenner, and there was the question: Is he a Hall of Famer?

Unquestionably, yes. He should have been in there years ago. Like the Yankees or hate them, like Steinbrenner or hate him, the man kept us interested in baseball year round.

He made the Yankees great again, and a healthy Yankee team makes the sport better. It’s just the way it is.

17 thoughts on “Steinbrenner passes; his legacy endures.

  1. yep the Bought team called the Yankees. All due to the “Steingrabber”
    it was late 70’s or early 80’s? when a reporter/or someone artist? coined that name and it stuck with me ever since.

  2. A very sad day for baseball and the country in general. George was known for the Yankees and Kinsman Stud, but he also was one of the most philanthropic men in the country.
    I met him for the first time at the Belmont Ball where both he and I had horses running the next day in the Belmont. He was utterly charming and I will never forget him.
    The country has lost a special man.

  3. An overbearing tyrant who tried to make up for it with being generous as a bribe. But I’ll take his kind as Mets owner instead of the ones we have had since 1973 and deal with the scorn.

    The Veteran’s Committee missed out on honoring Steinbrenner when he was alive. Let’s hope they don’t do the same with Marvin Miller.

  4. agreed. Steingrabber new what he wanted and grabbed it. If you fit it he paid you but you earned it. if you didnt you were out good bye. Under his reign Yankees were the best bought team in baseball.
    Thats what always got us Met fans we would see our most solid players practically given away. Omar started out like a real GM then his true colors came out.
    I real GM would know what to do right now.. whether we liked it or not and after it was done we would be happy with the new players as we would be winning..

    oh well. lets see if the team we have can scrape to the top despite M&M

  5. john

    this is your best post this year.

    you should write an article.

    well done.

    Much of what you say is true. i never liked the Yankees in large measure because of George. However, he did keep the papers and the fans entertained. When he bought the team – i didnt pay attention – he bought the players and then the championship because the other owners did not play the same game. he was a first mover.

    the second time they won, he was banned so the core could grow up and not be traded.

    however, although he has had a huge impact on todays game. the yankee name was built on the house that ruth built, and maris and Gehrig, bera, mantle, ford, etc

  6. Dan (3): Agree with you 100 percent on Marvin Miller. These players owe it all to Miller. The veterans committee has to do right by him.-JD

  7. John – here’s the original piece.

    Annie Savoy and Steinbrenner ….
    NOTE: Annie Savoy (not her real name) has been a friend of this blog since I started covering the New York Mets. We have corresponded off-line and I have learned of her fascinating background in the world of horse racing. She emailed me this story this morning with the intent of me sharing it with you.
    George Steinbrenner and me –
    I think this might be the right time to mention one of the times I spoke with George Steinbrenner. It was at the traditional dinner dance held the evening before the 1980 Belmont Stakes, at Belmont Race Track in New York where I was running a horse in the Belmont stakes for the first time.
    The Belmont is the third of thoroughbred horse racing’s Triple Crown Races, the first being the Kentucky Derby and the second being the Preakness. These are the class races open only to three year old horses whose prize money to date has made the top ten list for their class.
    Ever traditional, the dinner dance attracts the owners, trainers and jockeys who will be on the program for the Belmont Stakes as well as various other noted horsemen and women. It’s a very nice, formal event.
    Right before the dancing started, George Steinbrenner who owned Kinsman Stables in Ocala, came over to our table to see me. Always the gentleman, he gave me a hug and said “my wife told me to be sure and wish you luck tomorrow from both of us – she has the same name as you do, so we follow your horses with special interest”. He then took a seat at our table, and talked with everyone there about horses, not baseball.
    I’ve never forgotten that night, nor the George Steinbrenner I knew from the racing business and still saw around the major races and Saratoga in August.
    Nowadays, George is finding success with another sport in another venue, and I want to wish him good luck this week, and hopefully a return to good health.
    He deserves it all.

    Note: George had a wonderful life, full of events of all kinds. Now he is gone.
    May he rest in peace.

  8. (1) Steve C: That’s GENERAL VON STEINGRABBER to you my friend. And as JD said, yes it was Bill Gallo from the Daily News that coined the phrase and the cartoon.

  9. John,

    Do you have an email address or a way we can chat about the two embarrassing grammar mistakes in your tagline? (See the end of the Perez blog)

  10. 11. yeah well i knew it was daily news its all we read in Brooklyn. yes yes I forgot the Von. you are absolutely correct.
    That image with the german Kaiser helmet still lingers in my minds eye. Not many people remember that name.. ;-)
    Funny how probably only met fans remember that monicker.. ;-)

  11. Not a big Steinbrenner fan but I enjoyed reading your article, John. In particular, I liked the opening comment from our beloved Cardinal announcer, Jack Buck!

  12. Leslie (15): No Steinbrenner retrospective would be complete without the Buck comment. I had the opportunity to meet with Buck several times. A true classic.-JD