Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Boss Is Dead

I know Frankie’s Chairman of the Board.

But who was the Boss?

I didn’t want to look this up until today.

Who was first, Bruce or George? Hugo was in Europe, that’s for sure.

America’s “B”osses started an incredible run from the 1970s, lasting till today, to earn their title. They gave it their all. And there was nothing less.

“Winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing,” George Steinbrenner once said.“Breathing first, winning next.”

The email that arrived today:

Yankees Principal Owner/ Chairperson George M. Steinbrenner Passes Away

Today, one Boss died.

I've only known one Boss for the New York Yankees. He took over dark Yankee days to win 11 pennants and 7 World Series.

* * *

Sure, they say, the Boss spent more money than anyone else for his team. But this man bought the Yankees for a mere $8.7 million from CBS in 1973, and only after an offer for his hometown Cleveland Indians failed.

This man from Ohio would soon define New York. Often we didn’t know if his team was the Yankees or New York City.

He owned the Bronx Bombers for a record 37 years. He bought/sold many players. But he’d * never * sell the team.

"George Steinbrenner’s Yankees represent the will to overcome all odds which is precisely the will New Yorkers display when meeting every challenge they face."
~ former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani

Today that team he bought for a player’s salary is worth $1.6 billion.

Any owner could have done so—even for fans who complain the Yankees buy championships. But what they don’t say: it takes courage to do this. You’re not guaranteed to win. It still takes perfect alchemy and flow.

* * *

The Boss built the Yankees from nothing.

Soon, he faced, and later became part of, internal fights. The Bronx was a passionate shindig then. If you ever get to see Billy Martin vs Reggie Jackson vs the Boss, you’ll know why the Bronx was burning. He fired/hired Billy Martin five times.


Reggie vs Billy

Billy vs Reggie
(punches were thrown - literally)

Sometimes I wondered what if there was a fight between God, the Holy Spirit & Jesus. On earth, I saw George, Billy & Reggie.

If you were to pick a fight not to stand in between, this would be it.

* * *

Originally intended as a joke, then Yankees coach Buck Showalter is fired in this Seinfeld sketch.


Weeks later, Buck Showalter was fired in real life and replaced by Joe Torre.

The Boss was far from sweet at times. Success requires business. Business requires success. It goes both ways. Yankee lore, Yankee capability. Yankee capability, Yankee lore. The Boss still gave many people with whom he fought second and third chances. He even gave faith back to New York castaways like Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden. Respect.

* * *

George wore his passion on his sleeves. They were rolled up.

He didn’t care what ego said. If you didn’t win, nothing else mattered. Well, except maybe how you played the game. The Boss was loyal to people on payroll who really played the game.

Bob Sheppard who passed away Sunday announced Yankees for 50+ years. Gene Monahan only missed his first spring training in 48 years to battle cancer. President Randy Levine worked 20 years for him. And let’s not forget, Donnie Baseball. We know the Mattingly Curse. Captain Mattingly was among most beloved Yankees ever – but also one never to win the World Series. The Yankees played the World Series in 1981. They never made it again while Mattingly played (1982-1995). They became World Series champs in 1996.

* * *

We endured…without winning…to find character.

So did the Boss. At some point, New York was no longer a turnstile for egos.

“I am tough. Sometimes I’m unreasonable...I have to catch myself every once in a while.”
~George Steinbrenner

He enjoyed being lampooned on Seinfeld and in TV commercials. All par for the course.

* * *
There were times for years, I disliked the Boss. That’s how real bosses make you feel. He kept it very real. Even causing unjustified displeasure: Just ask Dave Winfield. Yogi Berra (who said "it ain't over until it's over") vowed he'd never return to Yankee Stadium in 1985. He kept that vow longer than most people stay married - returning only in 1999 for Yogi Berra Day (George apologized to him). Some days, I thought I’d never forgive him. He was actually banned from baseball twice! But miracles erased all of this.

Miracles caused by people he brought in. A love for New York prevailed. Even Dave Winfield forgave the Boss. This was bigger than big.

Buck O'Neil - Charlie Biot - Armando Vasquez
(1998 - Negro League greats pay a visit)

Few people knew he gave back - more than most bosses. Quietly so to people in need. He was notoriously vocal about business, but never vocalized his charity.

* * *

“Steinbrenner himself was 50% owner, 50% fan & 100% businessman...that totals 200%... both shaky mathematics & perhaps another indication that George is larger than life.”

~Robert Kahn

The Boss was inextricably part of New York's revival and optimism.

And sure, there were also players who fooled us. Big time. They only played money-ball. That’s why we’re grateful when it comes true. When a player is true.

George was true.

* * *
George might not have a monument in Monument Park but he paid for a few of them there. He was born on July 4. The Yankees won on his 80th birthday. He died today, just before baseball’s all-star game. The world works in mysterious ways.

George at high school named after him in August, 2009.

Just two days ago, George gave condolences to Bob Sheppard, the “Voice of God,” who announced great Yankees for nearly 60 years at Yankee Stadium.

Yankee heaven is full now. There’s no more room.

The Boss and the Voice of God are in the field of dreams. Capacity is full. And if you play for George, you can’t wear a beard, sorry Jesus.

Patches to be be worn in memoriam.
One on the heart, one on the sleeve.

PS Springsteen got called Boss in the late 1960s, collecting / dispersing money in New Jersey clubs for his band Earth. Bruce doesn’t like the moniker due to his dislike of bosses.

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