- With coach Yogi Berra and manager Billy Martin in 1976, celebrating the first Yankee pennant of Steinbrenner’s tenure.
Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough—so too did George Steinbrenner, the Cleveland shipbuilder who, before he became a lovable irascible caricature on Seinfeld, bought the fallow New York Yankees and returned the dominant team of the 20s, 30s and 50s (“like rooting for US Steel”) to dominance, through employee intimidation (from the managers he harangued in the press and fired on whims, to the players he straight up tried to blackmail, to the abuse all the way down the org chart), an inflated sense of ego and grandiosity (the facial hair rule; the seeming permanence of “God Bless America”), and lots and lots of money.
Steinbrenner came into baseball with free agency, and you wonder how much of what we take for granted about baseball now—the cynical free agent market, skyrocketing player salaries and the costs passed on the average fan in ticket and concession pricing—has to do with Steinbrenner’s role in starting the free agency arms race in the early to mid 70s, splurging money on most of the top players on the market in a desperate desire to win, win now, win always.
But this is all a little unfair, really. Yankee fans will mourn the man who gave their team, and them, their self-image—but no other baseball fan (especially a Red Sox fan) can deny, either, that the sport felt like a bigger deal, painted on a more epic canvas, when The Boss was steering the Yankee empire in his larger-than-life sort of way.