Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Boss, has left the office!

Larger than life, perhaps is an overused cliche, but when it comes to George Steinbrenner, who passed away Tuesday at age 80 the term certainly fits the man.

Steinbrenner, who had a life of some repute as a Tampa based shipping magnate, is of course more famously known as the face, voice and ethos of the New York Yankees, was acknowledged as the driving force behind a baseball renaissance in America's largest city yesterday.

For most Yankee fans he is the man who in 1973 parlayed a ten million dollar investment into a billion dollar economic engine which reaches far beyond a game on a field, rebuilding the Yankee brand into a perennial championship team in the late seventies, while at the same time becoming the lightning rod for angst in all other member cities of the baseball collective.

His spending and bombast made for a rather uncomfortable time for the other staid more traditional of baseball owners who were rather used to their more familiar normal routines.  If you were however to survey their heirs and those that purchased their teams as years would move forward, Steinbrenner despite the brash most New York of styles probably dragged baseball into a new century and returned it to the top ranks of sports in America, a place from where the game was slipping before Steinbrenner took over the Bronx Bombers.

The fact that one of today's most cherished franchises in America's past time could have been had for that ten million dollars in the centre of America's wealthiest city tells you more than enough about the state of the game and the Yankees in the early seventies.

For devotees of the American League East, it was his Yankees that were the standard to beat and the main cause of the escalation of salaries in the league, for the likes of the Red Sox, Blue Jays and others any road out of the division led through New York, usually at an increase to the payroll.

While Yankee fans ( or a good number of them) may have had a patron saint in the form of a guy that seemed to personify all that is good and bad about the city, for some who worked for "The Boss" the workday probably wasn't such an enjoyable experience.

Beyond the legendary fights and firings with his managers and players, even everyday worker bees in the Empire's machinery faced his wrath, the dismissals were of epic proportions at times, such were the legends of Yankee Stadium that the office machinations made for some clever satirie on the television show Seinfeld.

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In most of the baseball world the Yankees were the Evil Empire, a moniker first given in the seventies more for their constant winning and the brash, swaggering style of the owner and his collection of free agents and homegrown farmhands turned stars.

The empire wasn't always mighty over the years of Steinbrenner's stewardship, but they were entertaining and as they say always, always made for good copy. They became the symbol of New York from the sports world, replica jerseys and caps the fashion statement for many a resident or wanna be from afar.

And in a sports world that is measured by winning, the Yankees did their share of that under Steinbrenner as well, World Series champions in 76, 78, 96, 98, 99, 2000 and 2009. American League champions in 76, 77, 78, 81, 96, 98, 99, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2009.

 Bill Madden recently completed and published his complete examination of the life of George, called The Last Lion of Baseball, a most thorough review of the owner's life, unvarnished as it were, as good a preamble to the obituary page offerings of this week as there will be found on a bookshelf.

It offers the highlights and the low lights of a man who was considered equally a business man of his word and a bully or tyrant, everyone it seems that met the man had an opinion.

The exit is as important as the entrance in life, Steinbrenner was born on the 4th of July and the day of his passing came on the occasion of the sports 2010 all star game, in death as in life, Steinbrenner knew how to find his way to page one and overshadow the sport he dominated.

For a large portion of the world of baseball fans they'll always been known as those Damn Yankees, and their owner as that Damn Steinbrenner, but even to those that often found success slip through their hands (or on occasion through their legs) there is no doubt that Steinbrenner's impact on the sport has been large and will remain one of the building blocks of this ear of New York's gold standard for sport.

The New York papers and even a few beyond, as could be imagined have been offering up their thoughts and remembrances of a life larger than large.

New York Post
New York Daily News
New York Times
Globe and Mail
Sports Illustrated

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