I don’t plan on reading the coverage of the passing of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, most of which I expect will hew to the “he was blustery, but he built champions” line. My defining memory of The Boss — aside from the three decades he spent whining about being forced to play in a renovated Yankee Stadium, ultimately leading to the $2 billion Catastrophe by the Concourse — will forever be the night in the late ’80s when my friend Emi helped hand out placards to fans in the right-field bleachers that, when held aloft mid-game, spelled out “F-I-R-E G-E-O-R-G-E.” (The Daily News ran the photo on its back page.)
When, not long after that, Steinbrenner was suspended by Fay Vincent for hiring a gambler to dig up dirt on one of his own players (Dave Winfield, who was suing Steinbrenner for reneging on contractually promised payments to Winfield’s charitable foundation), it was announced on the Diamondvision at Yankee Stadium, and the crowd let out a huge cheer.
The days of a Steinbrenner-free Bronx were limited — he was reinstated in 1993 — but it’s worth noting that those were extremely productive years for Yankees management, as with the impatient Boss sidelined the team was able to nurture Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and others who formed the core of the team that won four World Series between 1996 and 2000. Steinbrenner will no doubt be remembered as the man who restored the Yankee dynasty, but to a large degree it was the rush of renewed consumer spending (and explosive growth of cable) in the 1980s and ’90s that made the revived dynasty possible. Steinbrenner did at least, unlike some other owners, pour these revenues into his own product, but it was GMs Gene Michael and Brian Cashman who, more in spite of The Boss than thanks to him, turned those riches into championships.
Nobody wants to speak ill of the dead, though, especially when the dead man’s relatives continue to control a powerful local business and political force. So we have Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. issuing this statement today:
“Today I join 1.4 million Bronxites, and Yankee fans across the world, in mourning the passing of a great man, ‘The Boss,’ George Steinbrenner. … While other baseball fans were jealous of this success, Yankee fans, like myself, loved him for it. Both the Bronx and New York City have lost a giant today—in baseball and in charity.”
Given that Steinbrenner’s foundation had a long history of stiffing Bronx community groups, even before his role as the Thief of Parkland, that may sound a bit much. But it’s accurate in one way: Like most giants, his approach to charity was that nobody was going to get their dirty paws on his golden-egg-laying goose.