Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The owner we loved to hate

He was probably the most hated of all owners of baseball teams. Nobody was ambivalent about George Steinbrenner. His was one of those larger than life personalities that demanded attention at all times. His personality was so large that sometimes it even overshadowed his team, perhaps the most storied of all sports franchises, the New York Yankees. Not an easy thing to do, but Steinbrenner did it.

I grew up as a Yankee fan, mostly because of Mickey Mantle. I idolized him. I even named my dog after him. So I followed the Yankees during their glory years of the late '50s and '60s. After Mantle's body gave out and he retired, I gradually lost my allegiance to the Yankees and shifted to the St. Louis Cardinals or the Atlanta Braves. After all, they were both closer to home. But I always retained a bit of a soft spot for the Yankees and their traditions. That soft spot hardened up considerably after Steinbrenner bought them in the early '70s.

He really was in many ways an appalling owner for a baseball team. For one thing, he didn't know how to lose. He wanted to win every game. Someone said he should have bought a football team and there is truth in that. A game where the athletes only play once a week for maybe four months of the year - that's a sport where winning every game is feasible if you are very, very good.

Baseball is different. In baseball, the players play every day for six months, with few breaks. A few weeks into the season, everybody is playing hurt. Everybody has small injuries that may affect performance and the outcome of a game. Baseball is a game that requires patience and endurance. There's no place for instant gratification. Both the players and their fans have to learn to accept losses and keep going, keep plugging along, playing every game and every inning as if it mattered, because it does. "Grinding" is the term the players use to describe what they do. It is a good and descriptive term. I don't think George Steinbrenner ever learned the meaning of it, but I'll guarantee you Derek Jeter knows.

Age and infirmity had apparently mellowed Steinbrenner some in recent years. He had given over the operation of the Yankees franchise to his children and retired to Tampa where he died today at the age of 80. He no longer meddled constantly in the day-to-day details related to fielding a winning baseball team. But I doubt that he ever lost interest or that he ever accepted losses gracefully.

Steinbrenner loved his Yankees and he loved them basically for the same reason that I loved them way back when I first discovered baseball. They were winners. In the last 30 years he had helped to make them winners again. I wonder if he was ever satisfied with that or if he still wanted and expected to win every game. I wonder if all those years associated with the game taught him patience.

2 comments:

  1. Are you sure we weren't separated at birth? Mickey Mantle was my favorite, too. I was a big Yankee fan growing up. Mr. Dragon and I were talking about Mantle last night ... about his golf game!!!! LOL!

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  2. Maybe so, Snap. I always wished for a sister but never had one (or a brother, for that matter) but maybe I had one all along and just didn't know it!

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