A sad day for baseball. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner died today after suffering a massive heart attack. If you build a Mount Rushmore of baseball owners, Steinbrenner would have to be there. He bought the Yankees in 1973 for $10 million from CBS. At the time, the Yankees were run into the ground and a laughingstock. Their championship days were behind them.
He infused cash, started to bring in free agents in a new era of player freedom in MLB. His ways won championships in 1977 and 1978. While he hired and fired managers as frequently as people changed shirts, there was no questioning his will to win. In the 1980′s, the Yankees did not win championships, but there was no doubt who was The Boss. He became a laughingstock himself and his treatment of Dave Winfield got him suspended from the game in the early 1990′s.
When he returned, the Yankees started winning championships again, four out of five between 1996 and 2000. It took nine long years to win again in 2009, but he dies going out on top and you know he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Steinbrenner’s business acumen also transcended to the sports media. In 1988, the Yankees signed at that time what was the richest local TV rights deal in the history of sports, a 12 year, $486 million contract with MSG Network. It gave the Yankees plenty of revenue to spend on the organization and free agents.
Then in 2002, the Yankees along with the New Jersey Nets formed the YES Network, an innovative regional sports network that was run by an investment group. As reported in the New York Times, YES Network amassed $257 million by 2005, becoming the richest RSN in the country.
In addition, the Yankees formed a long term relationship with sports apparel company, adidas, beginning in 1997 and ended last year. The deal gave adidas licensing and logo rights. In 2009, the Yankees switched to Nike.
Steinbrenner also knew that the media was the best way to get his message across. Newspaper beat writers knew to keep their phones open in case he would call. He would appear in Lite Beer commercials with Billy Martin, VISA ads with Derek Jeter and allow himself to be parodied in Seinfeld.
But through it all, Steinbrenner became a revered man and was loved by Yankee fans in his twilight years. He gave day-to-day operations to his sons, Hank and Hal, but George always remained The Boss.
The team is now worth $1.6 billion and he leaves the team on very sound financial ground.
George leaves behind his wife, two sons, two daughters and several grandchildren.