George Michael Steinbrenner III (born July 4, 1930 in Rocky River, Ohio), often known as "The Boss," is the principal owner of the New York Yankees. He used to own an interest in the New Jersey Nets and the New Jersey Devils. His outspokenness and role in driving up player salaries have made him one of baseball's more controversial figures, though his willingness to spend to build the club (and its postseason success since 1976) have earned him grudging respect from some baseball executives.
Steinbrenner grew up in suburban Cleveland, Ohio. He ran track and played football at Culver Military Academy in Indiana and ran track at Williams College in Massachusetts, where he graduated in 1952. After two years in the United States Air Force, Steinbrenner coached high school basketball and football in Columbus, Ohio, before becoming an assistant football coach at Northwestern University and Purdue University. He married Joan Zieg on May 12, 1956, and joined his father's struggling company, the American Shipbuilding Company, in 1957.
In 1960, he bought the Cleveland Pipers of the National Industrial Basketball League. The team joined the American Basketball League the next year and won a championship, but Steinbrenner was unable to raise the necessary funds to join the National Basketball Association. The team went bankrupt, and he returned to the American Shipbuilding Company, eventually buying it.
Steinbrenner offered $9 million to buy the Cleveland Indians but was turned down. Eventually, though, Indians General Manager Gabe Paul would prove pivotal in fulfilling Steinbrenner's dream of owning a baseball club.
Buying the Yankees
The Yankees had been floundering during their years under CBS ownership, a regime that started in 1965. In 1972, CBS Chairman William S. Paley told team president Michael Burke the media company intended to sell the club. As Burke later told writer Roger Kahn, Paley offered to sell the franchise to Burke if he could find financial backing. Burke ran across Steinbrenner's name, and Paley helped bring the two men together.
On January 3, 1973, a group of investors led by Steinbrenner and minority partner Burke bought the Yankees from CBS for $10 million. "We plan absentee ownership as far as running the Yankees is concerned," said Steinbrenner, according to an article in The New York Times reporting on the sale. "We're not going to pretend we're something we aren't. I'll stick to building ships."
The message was that Burke would continue to run the team as club president. But Burke later became angry when he found out that Paley had been brought in as a senior Yankee executive, crowding his authority.
Burke quit the team presidency in April 1973, but remained a minority owner of the club into the following decade. It was a departure repeated by many who crossed paths with "The Boss." The team would face two more departures after the 1973 season -- of field manager Ralph Houk and general manager Lee MacPhail, who became president of the American League. Paul remained with the Yankees (as team president) until 1977.
During Steinbrenner's ownership, the longest in Yankee history, the club has won 10 pennants and 6 World Series titles.
A controversial Boss
Steinbrenner is famous for both his pursuit of high-priced free agents and, in some cases, infamous for feuding with them. He changed managers 20 times in his first 23 seasons (including firing Billy Martin 5 times and re-hiring him 4 times) and general managers 11 times in 30 years. Martin once said of Steinbrenner and his $3 million outfielder Reggie Jackson, "One's a born liar and the other's convicted." The comment resulted in Martin's first firing.
The "convicted" part of Martin's comment referred to Steinbrenner's connection to Richard Nixon: he was indicted on 14 criminal counts on April 5, 1974 and plead guilty to making illegal contributions to Nixon's re-election campaign and obstruction of justice. He was fined $20,000. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn suspended him on November 27, later reduced by 9 months. He returned to the Yankees in 1976. Ronald Reagan pardoned him on January 19, 1989 in what amounted to the final official act of his presidency.
On July 30, 1990, commissioner Fay Vincent banned Steinbrenner from baseball for life after he paid Howie Spira, a small-time gambler, $40,000 for "dirt" on his outfielder Dave Winfield after Winfield sued him for failing to pay his foundation the $300,000 guaranteed in his contract. Steinbrenner was reinstated in 1993.
In addition to being an intense Boss to his on-field employees, Steinbrenner is also known for pressuring and changing off-field employees (including various publicity directors), sometimes chewing them out in public. Former sportscaster Hank Greenwald, who called Yankee games on WABC radio for two years, once said he knew when Steinbrenner was in town by how tense the office staff was.
Ironically, the Yankee owner usually kept his complaints about the team broadcasters he approves (who, except for the YES Network crew have generally not been his direct employees) out of the newspapers. However, he's been known to be upset with the sometimes blunt commentary of current broadcaster Jim Kaat and former analyst (and ex-Yankee) Tony Kubek.
Steinbrenner's one publicly-aired gripe with a team announcer came when he accused respected Yankee broadcaster Bill White of low-keying his WMCA radio call of Chris Chambliss's pennant-winning home run in the 1976 American League Championship Series. The actual aircheck of the live broadcast (on the Major League Baseball website) finds an unusually emotional White calling the homerun and its aftermath -- so excited as the ball was in flight that his voice broke.
The Boss in the media
Despite Steinbrenner's controversial status (or perhaps, because of it) he does appear to poke fun at himself in the media. He hosted Saturday Night Live on October 20, 1990 at the same time his former outfielder and Yankee manager, Lou Piniella, led the Cincinnati Reds to a world championship. In the opening sketch, he dreamt of a Yankees team managed, coached, and entirely played by himself. He appeared as himself in the Albert Brooks comedy The Scout. After a public chastising of Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter for "partying too much," the two appeared in a Visa commercial club-hopping. A 2004 Visa commercial depicted an injured Steinbrenner unable to sign any checks.
Steinbrenner was caricatured in the comedy Seinfeld, when George Costanza worked with the Yankees for several seasons. Larry David voiced the character, who talked nonstop, regardless of whether anyone was listening, and sometimes referred to himself as "Big Stein." His face was never seen. He was always viewed from the back whenever Costanza entered his office at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees logo always appeared in the hall behind the office doorway. The Seinfeld Steinbrenner was known for bad decisions, such as cooking jerseys and trading a certain player (see the quotes about him below). Steinbrenner had filmed a scene for the Seinfeld season 7 finale, "The Invitations", but demanded to be edited out after finding out that George's fiance, Susan, would be killed off during the episode. Nevertheless, he maintains that he is a fan of the show and that "Costanza is always welcome back."
Steinbrenner was named enemy #1 for eight states and he was #1 enemy in the United States by Sports Illustrated.
Quotes by Steinbrenner
- "Owning the Yankees is like owning the Mona Lisa."
- "I will never have a heart attack. I give them."
- "I am dead set against free agency. It can ruin baseball."
- "Winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing. Breathing first, winning next."
- "I won't be active in the day-to-day operations of the club at all. I can't spread myself so thin. I've got enough headaches with my shipping company." -- after becoming principal owner of the Yankees.
Quotes about Steinbrenner
- "There's nothing more limited than a limited partner in the Yankees."
- "George Steinbrenner is the center of evil in the universe."
- "What the hell did you trade Jay Buhner for!?"