Growing up a Yankees fan in the ’80s, I can argue that I was no front-runner. This wasn’t your modern day A-Rod / Derek Jeter Yankees. Sure, we had Donnie “Baseball” Mattingly, Dave Winfield and Rickey Henderson, but the team basically sucked. It didn’t matter to me. My father like the Yankees, so I liked the Yankees.
One thing the team always had was controversy. A lot of this centered around the owner, George Steinbrenner. Known as “The Boss” as well as “The Most Hated Man in Baseball”, he was a vocal owner who said what he wanted and did what he wanted. He ran his team like no other. Steinbrenner was famous for his pursuit of high-priced free agent players and (in some cases) infamous for feuding with them. In his first 23 seasons, he changed managers 20 times (including dismissing Billy Martin on five separate occasions) and general managers 11 times in 30 years.
Steinbrenner will go down as arguably one of the most famous owners in sports history. He is actually a cultural sports icon. In 1990, he hosted Saturday Night Live, he has been parodied on The Simpsons, and they actually created a phony “Steinbrenner” character on Seinfeld, that George Costanza worked for.
George Steinbrenner worked for Kinsman Marine Transit Company, his father’s Great Lakes shipping company, and worked hard to successfully revitalize the business. He returned the company to profitability. Steinbrenner made his money as chairman of the Cleveland-based firm known as the American Shipbuilding Company.
In 1960, against his father’s wishes, Steinbrenner entered the sports franchise business for the first time with basketball’s Cleveland Pipers of the ABL. The ABL folded in December 1962 just months into its second season. Steinbrenner and his partners lost significant amounts of capital on the venture, but Steinbrenner paid off all of his creditors and partners over the next few years.
In 1973, Steinbrenner led a group of investors in purchasing the Yankees from a struggling CBS corp. For years, the selling price was reported to be $10 million. However, Steinbrenner later revealed that the deal included two parking garages that CBS had bought from the city, and soon after the deal closed, CBS bought back the garages for $1.2 million. The net cost to the group for the Yankees was therefore $8.8 million. George turned the Yankees into what would now be termed “The Evil Empire.” He revolutionized the “business” of baseball by being the first owner to sell TV cable rights, those going to MSG Network.
In 1997, the Yankees signed a 10-year, $97 MILLION deal with Adidas. A dispute with MSG over the cable rights fee ended with the creation of the Yankees’ own YES Network. George Steinbrenner has been able to grow the Yankees from a $10 million franchise to a $1.2 billion heavyweight!!! In 2005, the Yankees became the first professional sports franchise to be conservatively estimated as being worth over one billion dollars.
Recently, as Steinbrenner’s health diminished he turned the reigns of the Yankees over to his sons Hank and Hal. They have continued the excellence, and will make their father proud. With all of the teams in baseball that cry that they are small market, spending no money to bring in good players, or keep their own good players, Steinbrenner and the Yankees defied the others and created the greatest baseball product on the field today.