Tuesday, January 03, 2006

January 3rd, 1973

George Steinbrenner Buys Yankees

There is, of course, an almost limitless supply of things one can write about the Boss. He is easily the most controversial owner since Charles Finley and holds the uniquely dubious distinction of having been suspended from baseball twice--once for "life"--only to be restored both times. Above all else, however, Steinbrenner can perhaps be described best by quotes, both his and others. When George bought the Yankees on this day, he announced that "we plan absentee ownership...I'll stick to building ships." He further elaborated that "I won't be active in the day-to-day operations of the club at all."

Of course, things didn't quite work out that way and people soon discovered that, as former partner John McMullen put it, "there's nothing more limited than a limited partner in the Yankees." As it turned out, George didn't just miss the boat (no pun intended) on his involvement with the Yankees; he also declared that he was "dead set against free agency" on the grounds that "it can ruin baseball." That may yet prove true (although I don't see it) but free agency has been nothing but good for George, pairing him as it did with Reggie Jackson. That partnership lasted just five years but the Yankees won two World Series, a pennant and four divisional titles in that time. Despite the success, it was not all good times, as when Reggie observed that George and his sometime manager Billy Martin deserved each other because "one's a born liar [Martin] and the other's convicted." Reggie's comment was in reference to his owner having pleaded guilty to making illegal contributions to Richard Nixon's campaign in 1974. And of course, it was George who famously tagged Dave Winfield as "Mr. May" in light of his struggles in the 1981 post-season.

George has tried--with varying levels of success--to mellow his image since then, even going so far as mocking his image on Saturday Night Live (Steinbrenner performed a sketch as owner of a gas station who was unwilling to fire even his most incompetent employees) and filming scenes for Seinfeld. Ultimately, both the good and bad of George, the part of him that is compelled to go out and get players like Reggie Jackson and Alex Rodriguez but also prompts actions like hiring someone to dig up dirt on Dave Winfield is summed up by his quote that "winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing. Breathing first, then winning."

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