George Steinbrenner Dies at 80
NEW YORK (AP) - George Steinbrenner, who rebuilt the New York
Yankees into a sports empire with a mix of bluster and big bucks
that polarized fans all across America, died Tuesday. He had just
celebrated his 80th birthday July 4.
Steinbrenner had a heart attack, was taken to St. Joseph's
Hospital in Tampa, Fla., and died at about 6:30 a.m, a person close
to the owner told The Associated Press. The person spoke on
condition of anonymity because the team had not disclosed those
His death on the day of the All-Star game was the second in
three days to rock the Yankees. Bob Sheppard, the team's revered
public address announcer from 1951-07, died Sunday at 99.
For more than 30 years and through seven World Series
championships, Steinbrenner lived up to his billing as "the
Boss," a nickname he earned and clearly enjoyed as he ruled with
an iron fist. While he lived in Tampa he was a staple on the front
pages of New York newspapers.
"He was an incredible and charitable man," his family said in
a statement. "He was a visionary and a giant in the world of
sports. He took a great but struggling franchise and turned it into
a champion again."
Steinbrenner's mansion, on a leafy street in an older
neighborhood of south Tampa, was quiet Tuesday morning. Private
security guards milled around on the empty circular driveway inside
the iron gates. A police officer took up a position outside the
gates to turn away reporters and keep traffic moving along the
narrow street. News vehicles lined the other side of the street.
"The passing of George Steinbrenner marks the end of an era in
New York City baseball history," rival Mets owners Fred and Jeff
Wilpon and Saul Katz said. "George was a larger than life figure
and a force in the industry. The rise and success of his teams on
the field and in the business marketplace under his leadership are
a testament to his skill, drive, and determination."
Steinbrenner was known for feuds, clashing with Yankees great
Yogi Berra and hiring manager Billy Martin five times while
repeatedly fighting with him. But as his health declined,
Steinbrenner let sons Hal and Hank run more of the family business.
Steinbrenner was in fragile health for years, resulting in fewer
public appearances and pronouncements. Yet dressed in his trademark
navy blue blazer and white turtleneck, he was the model of success:
In addition to the World Series titles, the Yankees won 11 American
League pennants and 16 AL East titles after his reign began in
"Few people have had a bigger impact on New York over the past
four decades than George Steinbrenner," Mayor Michael Bloomberg
said in a statement. "George had a deep love for New York, and his
steely determination to succeed combined with his deep respect and
appreciation for talent and hard work made him a quintessential New
He appeared at the new Yankee Stadium just four times: for the
2009 opener, the first two games of last year's World Series and
this year's homer opener, when captain Derek Jeter and manager Joe
Girardi went to his suite and personally delivered his seventh
World Series ring.
"He was very emotional," said Hal Steinbrenner, his father's
successor as managing general partner.
Till the end, Steinbrenner demanded championships. He barbed Joe
Torre during the 2007 AL playoffs, then let the popular manager
leave after another loss in the opening round. The team responded
last year by winning another title.
Steinbrenner had fainted at a memorial service for NFL star Otto
Graham in 2003, appeared weak in 2006 at the groundbreaking for the
new Yankee Stadium and later became ill while watching his
granddaughter in a college play.
In recent times, Steinbrenner let sons Hal and Hank run more of
the family business. Still, the former Big Ten football coach took
umbrage when others questioned his fitness.
"No, I did not have a stroke. I am not ill. I work out daily,"
Steinbrenner said in 2006. "I'd like to see people who are saying
that to come down here and do the workout that I do."
When Steinbrenner headed a group that bought the team on Jan. 3,
1973, he promised absentee ownership. But it didn't turn out that
Steinbrenner not only clashed with Berra for more than a decade
but paid to dig up dirt on Dave Winfield, deriding the future Hall
of Famer as "Mr. May" in 1985 after poor performances. Berra's
wife, Carmen, said Tuesday her husband was at a golf event in
Pennsylvania and was expected to comment later in the day.
While he liked to appear stern, Steinbrenner could poke fun at
himself. He hosted "Saturday Night Live," clowned with Martin in
a commercial and chuckled at his impersonation on "Seinfeld."
He gave millions to charity, often with one stipulation, that no
one be told who made the donation.
The Yankees paid off for him, too, with their value increasing
more than 100-fold from the $8.7 million net price his group paid
in January 1973. He freely spent his money, shelling out huge
amounts for Jeter, Reggie Jackson, Alex Rodriguez, Torre and others
in hopes of yet another title.
"Winning is the most important thing in my life, after
breathing," Steinbrenner was fond of saying. "Breathing first,
All along, he envisioned himself as a true Yankee Doodle Dandy.
It was fitting: George Michael Steinbrenner III was born on the
Fourth of July, in 1930.
Added up, he joined the likes of Al Davis, Charlie O. Finley,
Bill Veeck, George Halas, Jack Kent Cooke and Jerry Jones as the
most recognized team owners in history.
Steinbrenner's sporting interests extended beyond baseball.
He was an assistant football coach at Northwestern and Purdue in
the 1950s and was part of the group that bought the Cleveland
Pipers of the American Basketball League in the 1960s.
"A lot of people didn't like him, but I liked him," former
Yankee Tim Raines said. "He respected me as a player and I
respected him for being the Boss. He always talked to me about his
football days because he knew I played football."
He was a vice president of the U.S. Olympic Committee from
1989-96 and entered six horses in the Kentucky Derby, failing to
win with Steve's Friend (1977), Eternal Prince (1985), Diligence
(1996), Concerto (1997), Blue Burner (2002) and the 2005 favorite,
To many, though, the Yankees and Steinbrenner were synonymous.
His fans applauded his win-at-all-costs style. His detractors
blamed him for spiraling salaries and wrecking baseball's
Steinbrenner never managed a game, as Ted Turner once did when
he owned the Atlanta Braves, but he controlled everything else.
When he thought the club's parking lot was too crowded,
Steinbrenner stood on the pavement - albeit behind a van, out of
sight - and had a guard personally check every driver's credential.
Steinbrenner made no apologies for bombast and behavior, even
when it cost him dearly.
He served two long suspensions: He was banned for 2½ years for
paying self-described gambler Howie Spira to dig up negative
information about Winfield, and for 15 months following a guilty
plea in federal court for conspiring to make illegal campaign
contributions during the Watergate era.
"I haven't always done a good job, and I haven't always been
successful," Steinbrenner said in 2005. "But I know that I have
Steinbrenner negotiated a landmark $486 million, 12-year cable
television contract with the Madison Square Garden Network in 1988
and launched the Yankees' own YES Network for the 2002 season.
All that cash, the Yankees later became the first team with a
$200 million payroll, provoked anger and envy among other owners.
After the 1982 season, Baltimore owner Edward Bennett Williams said
Steinbrenner hoarded outfielders "like nuclear weapons."
When Steinbrenner bought the Yankees, he insisted he was too
busy with his family's shipbuilding business to take an active role
in running the club. As his partners soon found out, that wasn't
quite the case.
"There is nothing quite so limited as being a limited partner
of George Steinbrenner's," one of them, John McMullen, said later.
Overall, he changed managers nearly two dozen times and got rid
of more than a dozen general managers. When a Yankees' public
relations man went home to Ohio for the Christmas holiday, then
returned in a hurry for a news conference to announce David Cone's
re-signing, Steinbrenner fired him.
After Steinbrenner fired Berra as manager 16 games into the 1985
season, the Hall of Famer vowed he wouldn't go to back to Yankee
Stadium for a game until Steinbrenner apologized 14 years later.
On one pressure-filled night in 1982, reliever Goose Gossage let
loose and called Steinbrenner "the fat man." And in 1978, Martin
said of Jackson and Steinbrenner: "The two of them deserve each
other - one's a born liar, the other's convicted."
There was no denying the results, however.
When Steinbrenner bought the Yankees, they had gone eight
seasons without finishing in first place, their longest drought
since Babe Ruth & Co. won the team's first pennant in 1921.
Under Steinbrenner, the Yankees reached the World Series on 10
occasions and won three straight championships from 1998-2000.
Those titles started a run in which the Yankees won the AL East
crown every season through 2006.
"We've disagreed on more things than we agreed upon, but it
never affected our personal relationship," commissioner Bud Selig
said in 2005. "George has been a very charismatic, controversial
owner. But look, he did what he set out to do - he restored the New
York Yankees franchise."
Former AL president Gene Budig sometimes was on the wrong end of
Steinbrenner's barbs. After he left office, Budig maintained a
friendship with him and even advocated Steinbrenner getting into
the Hall of Fame.
Steinbrenner liked to quote military figures and saw games as an
extension of war. No surprise that in the tunnel leading from the
Yankees' clubhouse to the field, he had a sign posted with a saying
from Gen. Douglas MacArthur: "There is no substitute for
Steinbrenner also had a soft side.
He sometimes read about high school athletes who had been
injured and sent them money to go to college. He paid for the
medical school expenses of Ron Karnaugh after the swimmer's father
died during the opening ceremony at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
Steinbrenner kept older friends from his football days on the
payroll, had a way of rehiring those he had once fired and liked to
give second chances to people who had fallen from favor, such as
Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden.
"I'm really 95 percent Mr. Rogers," Steinbrenner said as he
approached his 75th birthday, "and only 5 percent Oscar the
Steinbrenner's beneficence extended beyond sports.
He pledged $1 million to a Florida orchestra in 1995 and
mandated that $265,000 go to a pops series.
"I like Tchaikovsky as much as the next guy," he said, "but
in this area I think people would rather hear pops concerts, and
While Steinbrenner grew up in the Cleveland area as a Yankees
fan, his first passion was football. He fondly recalled watching
the Browns on cold winter days and many believe the NFL's
must-win-today mentality shaped how he approached all sports.
Steinbrenner was raised in a strict, no-nonsense household
headed by his father, Henry.
The youngest of three children, Steinbrenner attended Culver
Military Academy in Indiana. At Williams College, he was a track
man and specialized in hurdles.
After that, he enlisted in the Air Force. Steinbrenner always
was partial to the military and at Yankee Stadium, men and women in
uniform were admitted free.
Following his discharge, he enrolled at Ohio State, pursuing a
master's degree in physical education. It was his intention to go
into coaching, but after working at a high school in Columbus and
at Purdue and Northwestern, he turned to the business world.
Steinbrenner married Elizabeth Zieg in 1956 and they had four
In 1963, Steinbrenner purchased Kinsman Transit Co., a fleet of
lake ore carriers, from his family and built a thriving company.
Four years later, Steinbrenner and associates took over American
Shipbuilding and revitalized the company, helping annual revenues
It was in Cleveland that Steinbrenner met veteran baseball
executive Gabe Paul and became involved with the group that bought
the Yankees. With 13 partners, Steinbrenner purchased the team from
He clearly liked the status it gave him.
"When you're a shipbuilder, nobody pays any attention to you,"
he said. "But when you own the New York Yankees ... they do, and I
Steinbrenner quickly worked to reshape the team he loved as a
boy. With that, the Bronx Zoo days began.
It was while he was under suspension that the Yankees ushered in
baseball's new free-agent era by signing Catfish Hunter to a $3.75
million contract. Even though he was officially barred from
participating in the daily operation of the team, no one believed
that Steinbrenner was not involved in that deal.
Hunter was the first player to cash in on baseball's new
economic structure and no owner plunged into the marketplace more
than Steinbrenner. He saw it as an opportunity to assemble quality
players and was one of the biggest buyers.
For the first five years of the free agency, Steinbrenner signed
10 players at an approximate cost of $38 million. Steinbrenner's
$18.2 million, 10-year deal with Winfield was the richest free
agent contract in history.
During those days, Yankee Stadium underwent a $100 million
facelift and reopened in 1976. That year, the Yankees won the AL
pennant, but got swept in the World Series by Cincinnati's Big Red
The Yankees surged back to win the World Series championship in
1977 and 1978 and the AL pennant in 1981.
While the Yankees' roster continually changed, so did the team's
front office. Managers were hired and fired at a dizzying pace,
with Martin often in the middle.
The one constant, for most of Steinbrenner's time, was winning.
Steinbrenner once was asked his formula for success. He said:
"Work as hard as you ask others to. Strive for what you believe is
right, no matter the odds. Learn that mistakes can be the best
In addition to his sons, Steinbrenner is survived by his wife,
Joan, daughters Jennifer and Jessica and 13 grandchildren.
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