Several media outlets in New York are reporting that Yankees owner George Steinbrenner died today.
I was just thinking about "King George," the other day. I read that he turned 80 on July 4, and I began to think about his complex legacy of success, controversy, hair-trigger firings and philanthropic exploits.
He was a pretty remarkable guy, which is part of the reason he received the ultimate compliment: getting mocked by Larry David on "Seinfeld."
I was around "Big Stein" a bit while I covered the Yankees' incredible run of post-season success in the late 1990s and early 2000s. For some reason, the folks who do the seating charts for Major League Baseball always seemed to assign me a seat in an auxiliary press box adjacent to the owner's booth. I got to see George hold court with folks like Regis Philbin and Billy Crystal and -- on occasion -- New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
I saw him up close and took part in a few pack interviews with him. Even with his kind of quirky sport coat / turtleneck fetish, the man had an aura about him. With all due respect to my favorite musician from New Jersey, Steinbrenner was "The Boss."
The guys I know that covered his exploits for a long time regaled me with tales of their interactions. Though George had a tempestuous relationship with the press, he also respected the beat hacks and generally was good about returning calls and rewarding a reporter's hustle / enterprise. He had his favorites, of course. And, he knew how to keep his team in the headlines. He was a larger than life figure and nearly everything he did amounted to news in New York.
The past few years, Steinbrenner turned day to day operations over to his sons, primarily Hal. There was talk that George had "lost it" and spent most of his days walking around his home in Tampa, muttering to himself like Larry David's caricature and answering "Great to see ya!" to nearly every question sent his way.
The New York media, as razor sharp and hard-core as you'll find, seemed to treat him gently in those closing days. I'm sure it was out of mutual respect and no small amount of affection. George may have driven them crazy at times -- probably a lot of times -- but, he also provided great copy.
It'll be interesting to see how Major League Baseball honors Steinbrenner at the All-Star Game tonight in Anaheim. It will be even more interesting to see how the Yankees and the New York media handle his passing.
When this generation of sports fans looks at rich, eccentric, hot-tempered owners like Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavericks and Cleveland's Daniel Gilbert, who took potshots at LeBron James as the other "King" left town, they should know that those guys are but pail imitations of George Steinbrenner.
Big Stein was larger than life in the city that never sleeps because it's too busy devouring week-constituted frauds who can't handle the spotlights. He had an aura -- and a shelf full of trophies and championship rings -- that the newer guys can only dream of matching.
No, that's "pale", as in "ale", as in "pale ale"...........mmmmmmmmmm, pale ale.........
A fair perspective on the proverbial larger-than-life owner of the Yankees. Certainly his antics provided good copy, and being a keen historian, the man fully anticipated that New York could be a viable market for a baseball team.
That said, can't stand people who operate as big little boys, slaves to their own emotions and cultivating enough fear to feed his need to be the Patton of Baseball. All of it romanticized ad nauseum today on account of net worth and shrewd moves a monkey couldn't mess up with enough Mr. Fix-it money. Yeah...he eventually won, he gave money to some hard-luck folks who dared to have someone ask. Great. He also humiliated and ruined people with impunity and it's all gussied up with ye ol' "George being George." And while there may be only one Steinbrenner, the world is filled with emulators operating in their own snow-globe worlds for pretty much the same needy reasons that has overly-empowered "Leaders" -- ironically -- following leaders like Big Stein.
He was what he was. And somewhere, even George Costanza is shedding a tear. Maybe.
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