Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Boss

(Photo courtesy of the NY Daily News)

I had intended to put this up last night, but a failing wireless router and a more-entertaining-than-I-expected All Star Game got the better of my evening.

It's hardly news at this point that George M. Steinbrenner III passed away on Tuesday after suffering a massive heart attack. It was widely reported over the last few years that his health was slipping, but this was a bit of a shock just the same. To paraphrase Derek Jeter at the All Star Game -- you just always thought the Boss would be there.

Many tributes have already been written, and will be far more eloquent than anything I could come up with, so I won't waste much space actually eulogizing the man. I will say that the news hit me a bit harder than I really suspected. Growing up in the 80's, I'd have probably been counted among those that didn't like the guy -- although I wasn't old enough to really understand much about him. Most of my opinions at that time were formed by what I'd heard my Dad say, and he thought he was a jerk. I believe most Yankees fans -- I guess I should say most baseball fans -- thought he was just this side of the devil, if not Satan himself. He was loud, boisterous, intolerant, quick tempered, and he pushed baseball into an age where most consider players to be overpaid jerks who are out of touch with reality. And, in truth, the 80's were years where I was a much bigger Cardinals fan than I was a Yankees fan (though I did always claim both teams). I should also point out that during this time, I fancied myself as a future NBA star -- a thought that is so far beyond laughable if you know me that I have to laugh as I type that -- and was far more invested in the Boston Celtics and the NBA at the time than I was in baseball.

As the 90's opened, I did start to follow the game a bit more closely, and was among those that wasn't all too upset when George was banned from the game. Of course, this also coincided with Buck Showalter and Gene Michael gaining control of baseball operations and starting to turn the franchise around. When Steinbrenner did come back, he balanced the larger than life personna that many saw with a guy who would let his baseball people do their jobs, and we all know how that turned out. He somewhat reclaimed his free spending ways after losing the World Series in 2001, and I've always maintained that is why the team didn't win it all again until 2009. By this time, Hank and Hal had taken over things, so while "Big Stein" was still in the picture, he wasn't the force he'd been in the past.

Over the last two days, we've been flooded with story after story about what a giving man he was, how nice he could be -- if you didn't work for him -- and how he was great for baseball. The most descriptive word that keeps popping up to describe him is "complex"....which is completely appropriate, because you also heard reminders that he was twice suspended from baseball -- once for illegal campaign donations and then again when he'd paid a gambler to dig up dirt on Dave Winfield. And no mention of Steinbrenner would be complete without talking about how he fired manager after manager after manager.

When someone passes away, we have a tendency to focus on the positives of the person. It is hard to do that with a guy like the Boss. When he was banned from baseball the second time, Yankees fans at the old stadium stood and applauded for 90 seconds. Yet, if you polled most Yankees fans today, I think the majority (myself included) would say they liked the Boss and will genuinely miss him. And I think most honest baseball fans would admit that among the reasons they hated the guy was the fact that didn't own their favorite team. He was a flawed man, and you couldn't always understand why he did things he did. But, you hear a story of how he interacted with kids, made an employee's mom feel like she was the most important person at a game or picked up a the tuition for the child of one of his fired office employees and you realize that for all of the negatives you could throw out he really was a decent person. Even a Boston sports writer wrote a touching tribute to the Boss. My favorite part of the article is when he points out that the Red Sox were better for having Steinbrenner's Yankees to keep up with -- a point that is true of many teams in baseball. Some of us loved him, many of us hated him, and often times we did both. He helped change baseball from the game that our fathers grew up with into the game that we know and love today.

R.I.P. Big Stein. We'll miss you.

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