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George Steinbrenner’s Evil Empire

Posted on Aug 4, 2010
AP / Frank Franklin II

A photograph of New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner is displayed on a giant TV screen during a tribute to him in the billion-dollar Yankee Stadium.

By Mark Heisler

World without George, amen ...

Death properly recalls the best in a man, even George Steinbrenner, who had Napoleonic ambition, a keen mind and a warm heart—especially with those he had just run over—to go with his free-range temper and ceaseless bluster.

Steinbrenner wasn’t merely an ogre, he was a one-man raison d’étre, like Dustin Hoffman as the arch-villain in “Hook” begging Peter Pan, whose blade is at his throat:

“What would the world be like without Captain Hook?”

Recognizing how dull it would be, Peter lowers his blade. Hook, of course, whips out a concealed dagger, obliging Peter to terminate him in the usual ambiguous way, in case of a sequel.

What will the world, to say nothing of the New York tabloids, be without The Boss?

Happily, the royal line continues.

Steinbrenner didn’t leave his heirs a baseball team but a financial empire that can never be rivaled, unless the game gets up the cojones to buck its players and put in a salary cap.

Until that day, the Yankees will be villains you can depend on (even if they dropped to No. 2 in the AL East last week).

That’s how the game works now. On one hand, you have the Yankees. On the other, you have the rest of the 30 teams.

That’s parity, as Steinbrenner left it. 

At 80, the, quote, Boss, had been in failing health for years. With son-in-law/heir apparent Steve Swindal falling out of the line of succession—Jennifer Steinbrenner divorced him—George’s youngest son, Hal, took over.

Upon arrival, Hal presided over the ouster of Manager Joe Torre, the Yankees’ human face, who had won their only four titles in 20 years, if none since 2000.

When Torre resigned, calling the pay cut he was offered “an insult,” the heretofore press-shy Hal sneered, in a familiar style, on the back page of the New York Post, a familiar platform:

“Where was Joe’s career in ’95 when my dad hired him?”

Torre had been nowhere. So had the Yankees, who didn’t even make the playoffs from 1982 to 1994 while The Boss did his vaudeville act with his managers—Billy Martin came and went four times, with he and Steinbrenner doing a skit about it in Billy’s last introduction—and anyone else in his path.

When Steinbrenner was suspended from baseball in 1990—for the second time—for hiring a private detective to dig up dirt on Dave Winfield, the announcement drew a standing ovation at Yankee Stadium.

Not that Steinbrenner liked to flaunt his power, but he said “you’re fired” the way other people said “see you later.”

Yankee publicists, who were supposed to make sure the press took the line George wanted when hiring/firing Billy et al., were in special peril, disappearing almost as fast as managers. When their numbers went solidly into double figures, they threw a one-of-a-kind banquet for themselves.

Who had stories like theirs, as recounted by Sports Illustrated’s Franz Lidz?

[Bob Fishel, the longtime publicist Steinbrenner inherited, who fled after one season] was replaced by Marty Appel, whose chores, in the era before cable and satellite dishes, included doing play-by-play of entire games for Steinbrenner over the phone. (“George would demand to know why his reliever had thrown a curve with an 0-2 count,” Appel recalls. “I’d say, ‘George, I have no idea.’ ”) Appel was replaced by Mickey Morabito, who spent much of his three years in Steinbrenner’s employ pleading with sportswriters not to print anything Yankees manager Billy Martin said while drunk. Morabito was replaced by Larry Wahl, who had to recall 12,000 copies of the ’80 team yearbook because the lips on the full-color photo of Steinbrenner were “too red,” as Wahl was told by another Steinbrenner underling. Wahl was replaced by Dave Szen, the oft-used interim who is to the club’s p.r. office what Bob Lemon used to be to the dugout. Szen was replaced by Irv Kaze, who issued an apology to the city of New York on behalf of Steinbrenner after the Yanks lost the ’81 World Series. Kaze was replaced by Ken Nigro, who incurred George’s wrath for handing out I SURVIVED THE PINE TAR GAME T-shirts in the press box. Nigro was replaced by Joe Safety, who kept the Great Yankee Pee-Pee Scandal out of the papers for three days. On two nights in the same week, Kansas City police had charged two Yankees—Don Mattingly and Dale Berra—with public urination. “Same time, same security guard, same dumpster,” says Safety. When the story inevitably broke, the headline in a New York tabloid read, WHIZ KIDS.

As Harvey Greene, who went a heretofore unheard of four seasons in the ’80s, told Lidz, “The first time George fires you, it’s very traumatic.

“The three or four times after that, it’s like, ‘Great! I’ve got the rest of the day off.’ ”

If Steinbrenner was really close to New York Daily News cartoonist Bill Gallo’s depiction of him as a puffed-up Prussian general, complete with spiked helmet, spitting orders in a German accent, management took a new rational turn in the ’90s with The Boss serving his suspension and unable to stick his nose into every decision.


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By roadrider, August 5, 2010 at 4:34 pm Link to this comment
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“The Red Sox, the closest thing to a peer, lose free agents (Boggs, Damon, Roger Clemens, Manny Ramirez)”

Get real. The Red Sox essentially fired Clemens, Boggs and Damon by making at best only token offers to retain their services. It wasn’t a question of not having the money to sign them - the Red Sox are a rich organization who can sign anyone they want. Furthermore, Clemens signed with the Blue Jays not the Yankees.

Ramirez wasn’t a free agent at all he was traded to the Dodgers after a series of incidents that revealed his lack of interest in remaining with the Red Sox and alienated him from his employers. What the fuck did the Yankees or Steinbrenner have to do with that?

The Red Sox have tried to acquire just about every major free agent or salary-dumped superstar the Yankees have. Have you forgotten that they traded for Alex Rodriguez before the Yankees did only to have the trade rejected by the players’ association? They were major players for Mark Teixeira and who can forget the temper tantrum Theo Epstein and Larry Lucchino threw over losing out on Jose Contreras. In those two cases it was the players’ preference to play for the Yankees, not money that was the deciding factor.

Finally, the Red Sox made every effort to sign both Bernie Williams and Andy Pettitte when they became free agents. Again, those players chose to stay Yankees rather than accept more money from Boston.

Yeah, Steinbrenner was an overbearing egomaniac, a jerk as a boss and a greedy businessman who received more in public money than he has given back in the affordability of seeing his team play to the average taxpayer in but he cared about winning which is more than can be said for many owners of sports teams.

You should really get your facts straight.

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By Hammond Eggs, August 5, 2010 at 10:17 am Link to this comment

The New York Junkies, like the American Empire, roll on.  Out there, however, is the baseball version of Afghanistan.  It will begin when Cliff Lee, a native of Arkansas, tells Stoneburner next year, thanks but no thanks, I’ll stay with the Texas Rangers.

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By mitchum22, August 5, 2010 at 9:37 am Link to this comment


The felony conviction in ‘74 and the attempted hit (physical or otherwise) he tried to arrange on his own player Dave Winfield, for starters.

His baseball crimes could fill ten encyclopedias. Shoving Bud Selig down our throats is maybe the worst. Collusion against free agents and the PU. Collusion to allow the offensive explosions beginning in ‘97/98, and the follow-up collusion with the lynching of Barry Bonds as the “nigger example” beginning in ‘04.

He was a characteristically American pig, who allowed the sport he made his trillions from to be turned into just another cell-phone playground for the Mutant Elite. (And like all corporate pigs do, he did it on the backs of the American taxpayers.)

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By Blackspeare, August 5, 2010 at 9:31 am Link to this comment

born_2b_different——-you asked what crimes did Steinbrenner commit?  The crimes he committed were crimes against the better interests of society.  Steinbrenner in cahoots with Bloomberg and their financial staffs worked out a sweet deal on the new stadium that had NYC taxpayers footing a good portion of the costs unbeknown to them.  When, in fact, Steinbrenner Enterprises had more than enough money to build the stadium on their own.  But what is more interesting is that cost of attending a game is the same as if Steinbrenner had built the stadium on his own——a win win situation——you get almost half the money free to build the facility and then you charge like you spent all your own money——only in America!

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By Inherit The Wind, August 5, 2010 at 9:05 am Link to this comment

As long-time fan of the Yankees in the AL, and a TOTAL hater of GS from the beginning, I have to ask the question: What did Steinbrenner do that was so terribly immoral or illegal in building the current Yankee empire? He WAS suspended but those were for being a $#!t about relatively small stuff (he deserved those suspensions).

Meanwhile, as a team builder he positively SUCKED!  The Yankees had the two purchased WS titles in 1977 and 1978, following their longest spell without a title, and followed THAT up with an even LONGER spell without a title.  The 1980’s, the HEART of the GS years, is the ONLY decade since the teens that the Yankees have not won a WS.

During GS’s 2nd suspension, 5 rookies came up that he would have traded as he traded ALL rookies, not trusting them: Bernie William, Jorge Posada, Andy Petite, Mariano Rivera, and Derek Jeter.  Without them, who GS would have traded, there would have been no 4 straight titles and the ability to build the money empire.

But, really?  What is different than the 20’s through the 60’s? One thing and one thing only: Instead of the other teams getting the money the players now get it.

That’s it!

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By born_2b_different, August 5, 2010 at 8:58 am Link to this comment

What crimes did he commit?

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By mitchum22, August 5, 2010 at 8:42 am Link to this comment


Don’t you think Seinfeld was the biggest contributor to this guy’s canonization? After all, in the show (which I love) he was. . .well, adorable. grin

Instead of the criminal cut-throat he really was.

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By Blackspeare, August 5, 2010 at 8:24 am Link to this comment

WOW——all the hoopla over the death of this man is unbelievable.  Steinbrenner was vile contemptible individual——not a nice guy as his being portrayed in death.  His rape of the NYC taxpayers to build the new stadium apparently has been relegated to the trash heap——can somebody please expose this!  His famous quote is “Bankruptcy is a way for the big guys to take advantage of the little guys” and that about says it all!

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By Chuck 23, August 5, 2010 at 8:19 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I was never a fan of Steinbrenner’s arrogance and bombast, but this article makes it seem that the Yankees win only because of their financial advantage.  It ignores the fact that they have done an excellent job of developing young talent, and that this year’s team is getting valuable contributions from young players like Phil Hughes, Brett Gardner, Francisco Cervelli, and David Robertson.  Regardless of their financial advantage, they are a well-run organization.  The team of the 90’s developed into a championship juggernaut not because of free agency but due to homegrown talent like Derek Jeter, Andy Petitte, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and astute trades like the one that brought in Paul O’Neil.  The Yankees are always bashed because of their wealth, but there is more to this organization than a fat checkbook.  If money was all that mattered, how come they don’t win every year?

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By Doctor Love, August 5, 2010 at 6:49 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Well done.  I’ll give Steinbrenner slight credit for putting the needs of the team
first and not the bottom line.  However that does not excuse his near wrecking of
the franchise during the 80’s.

I’ve sent one telegram in my life (remember those) and it was to Fay Vincent
congratulating him on banning George.  And lo! and behold, with Stick allowed to
run things without interference we developed some nice players that made the
90’s so special. 

Great, great article.

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By kerryrose, August 5, 2010 at 4:56 am Link to this comment

Gooooooo Yankees!!!!!!!!!!!

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By CJ, August 5, 2010 at 3:23 am Link to this comment

Nice to find some reality re Steinbrenner, after apotheosis in big media—of the sports kind in particular. Did he ever really get Seinfeld? Not if he thought it was funny.

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