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George Steinbrenner’s Evil Empire
Posted on Aug 4, 2010
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?
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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