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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

(Page 2)

A new heyday followed with the team of Brian Cashman, a young self-effacing GM, and Torre, who won four titles in his first five seasons from 1996 to 2000. By then, Torre, a gracious New York native, was more popular than the clumsy Steinbrenner, which wasn’t a good idea.

If the leadership was Steinbrennerian, the uniformed personnel, exemplified by the poised, classy Derek Jeter, were hard to dislike.

In a typical organizational divide, Yankee players, in Boston for the 2005 opener—where they had begun blowing a 3-0 series lead the previous fall—went to the top step of their dugout to applaud the Red Sox players who had just gotten their World Championship rings.

The YES [Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network] broadcast didn’t show the ceremony. Instead, correspondent Kimberly Jones described it, briefly.

Nevertheless, Steinbrenner’s contribution was undeniable, like Sherman’s to Georgia.

If the Yankees had long been the game’s mightiest franchise, it was Steinbrenner, not Jacob Ruppert, who stole Babe Ruth and built Yankee Stadium, who institutionalized their advantage in his last decade, until their rift with the rest of the game yawned like the Grand Canyon.

In the ’90s, the Yankees were only among the leaders in payroll, ranking No. 5-7-6-3-2-2-2-1-2-1.

As recently as 1992, the Oakland A’s, who would inspire the book “Moneyball,” a guide for teams that had little, outspent the Yankees.

As recently as 1998, someone else—the Baltimore Orioles—was No. 1.

In the next 10 years, according to a study by Biz of Baseball’s Maury Brown, the Yankees would spend $1.65 billion.

The No. 2 Red Sox were almost $500 million behind at $1.16 billion.

The Yankees started this season at $206 million—$44 million ahead of No. 2 Boston at $162 million. No one else was within $50 million.

The No. 4 Phillies, who won in 2008 and lost to the Yankees in 2009, were $65 million back at $141 million. As opposed to entertaining illusions about being a peer, they had just dumped Cliff Lee to afford Roy Halladay.

Only three others—the No. 3 Cubs, No. 5 Mets and No. 6 Tigers—were within $100 million of the Yankees.

As Colorado owner Jerry McMorris, whose Rockies averaged 3.7 million fans in their first nine seasons, once noted, they were all the Washington Generals to the Yankees’ Harlem Globetrotters.

With a deft political touch, Steinbrenner forged tacit alliances with the Players Assn., which shared his desire for an astronomical pay scale, and Commissioner Bud Selig, whose good intentions of leveling the playing field were offset by a mild-mannered, consensus-seeking nature that made him a protector of the status quo ... and Yankee domination.

Happily or not for the game, it looks fair, at least in November (that’s how long the World Series runs now), with nine teams winning the last 10 World Championships.

Of course, the Yankees played in four of those and won two, even if that represented an underachievement.

The rest of the season, however, you see a game divided into sellers who hold fire sales for stars approaching free agency, and buyers, led by you know whom.

Noted the passionate but clear-eyed Peter Gammons on the MLB website before this season:

The three American League Cy Young Award winners prior to 2009—Johan Santana, CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee—were all traded for financial reasons, and that doesn’t touch the six-month soap opera of another Cy Young winner, Roy Halladay, Toronto. And don’t forget that 2007 NL Cy Young recipient Jake Peavy was expressed to the White Sox last summer.

Two seasons after being one win away from the World Series, the Indians had to deal their leader, Victor Martinez, for two young, albeit talented, pitchers. The year after their dramatic run to the World Series, the Rays moved Scott Kazmir.

The Yankees don’t get everyone they want, just most of them, like Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Mike Mussina, Wade Boggs, Tino Martinez, Johnny Damon, Paul O’Neill, A.J. Burnett and Jason Giambi—to name some more recent ones, not to mention busts like Kenny Rogers, Chuck Knoblauch and Carl Pavano.

The Red Sox, the closest thing to a peer, lose free agents (Boggs, Damon, Roger Clemens, Manny Ramirez). The Derek Jeters, Mariano Riveras and Bernie Williamses remain Yankees as long as the Yankees want them.

The empire is worth billions—plural.

The new stadium was built at a cost of $1.2 billion.

Forbes projects the team’s value at $1 billion.

Yankees Entertainment & Sports is TV’s highest-rated regional sports network. At a projected value of $3 billion-plus, Fortune Magazine suggests it’s “the true gem” of the empire.

YES, privately held by the team with smaller stakes held by Goldman Sachs and former Nets owner Ray Chambers, was discreetly and briefly shopped in 2007, when Steinbrenner’s illness raised succession issues.

With $340 million in revenue the previous year, Fortune suggested its value at $3 billion, based on normal growth and an industry standard of 19 times cash flow ($140 million in 2006.)

YES doesn’t provide financial information, but by 2009, revenue had increased almost 20 percent to $419 million.

The team, itself, is run near the break-even point, with revenue going largely for payroll, luxury tax and the assessment that goes to small-market teams in revenue sharing.


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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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