It was a rough week to be a Yankee fan. First, Bob Sheppard, the voice of Yankee Stadium or as Reggie Jackson called him "the voice of God" passed away. Two days later, the Boss, George Steinbrenner joined him. Losing the voice and the heart of the franchise was definitely a tough pill to swallow.
His unrelenting thirst for greatness and dominance is unparalleled in sports ownership. I have a hard time believing that I will see anything else similar in my lifetime. His legacy and how he transformed not only the franchise but the business of sports. Steinbrenner turned a $10 million dollar investment into a $2 billion and growing franchise. Despite their legacy of greatness, Steinbrenner purchased the team when they were in the basement of the standings and within 5 years, had two WS titles. Of course, the water ran dry again, and after a disappointing decade and strong cultivation of the farm system, glory was restored to the Bronx Bombers in the mid 90's.
In his passing, of course, the naysayers run amuck. Given that I'm a New Englander and yet diehard Yankees fan, I'm used to the banter, smack talk, and at times, moronical ways of the Boston fan. What some Boston fans do not realize is that their own team and franchise follow a modified Steinbrenner business model. Yes, I always hear the "Steinbrenner buys championships." While the 2009 World Championship roster was the most elite and highest earning, you cannot pay the ball to leave the park. You cannot pay the ball to strike a batter out. You cannot pay for double play balls and leaping dives in the outfield. But you can pay the best people to work for you and to do their job. That's what the Steinbrenner mantra became. Spend whatever it takes to get the most possible people on his roster. This desire to spend money and to create a worldwide franchise has the Red Sox, the Mets and the Phillies reaching into their pockets and shelling out payrolls of $150M+. What Steinbrenner simply did was business. He paid big money for the big guns, sometimes it worked, and sometimes it was an embarrassing failure. The big and mid market teams had to follow suit as baseball became corporate. Yay capitalism! Speaking of capitalism, I hope Scott Boras knows how lucky he is that Steinbrenner pioneered and revolutionized the free agency market in baseball. The Boss brought in Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield, Coney, Moose, and A-Rod to name a few through the free agency market. I also contend that EBay has George to thank for making bidding wars a household game. Sure, that's a stretch, but I'm sticking with it.
I liken the Boss to a high level corporate tyrant who frustrates their employees, pisses off the competition to no end, but it's all in a quest for greatness and to win. Having worked for a boss with a similar mentality, it's not all rainbows and kittens when you're on that side of the fence, but as a fan, I appreciated his selfish, unrelenting need to win and intensity. Now, from my birth until 1996, the Yankees were not a major contender. I'm purposely not discussing 1995. I'm still bitter. Damn you Edgar Martinez.
Winning is after all the objective in the game of baseball and in all sports. There wasn't a person on the planet that loved the Yankees, baseball the city of New York and winning as much as the Boss. I think that's what it means to be a Yankee fan. The Yankee fans I know don't want to hear excuses, we just want to win. We don't blame the other team, city, umpires, weather, rally monkey, crowd noise for a loss, it's all about who is the better team on the diamond that day. I know that as a product of the Steinbrenner era, despite half of my fan life in the cellar of the standings, this need to win and be the best only grows stronger as each season passes. I have always a person that loves to win and hates to lose. I can't decide which is greater. My love of the win or my hatred of the loss. I'm not a sore winner, but I'm a sore loser, not to the general public, I internalize it. Ever since I was a child, whether it was a game of cards, Monopoly, basketball, mini golf...I have to win and I will try my damnest to be the victor by not only beating my competition, but my own personal bests. Again, it could be a game of Yahtzee or a 3 mile run, I need beat everyone around me and have a PR. Although I know that's a family trait, I can't help but think that my being a Yankees fan in the Steinbrenner era has contributed.
Speaking of winning, I'm sure the Steinbrenner family and George himself in his dying moments was thankful to Jeter for his crusade last season to "win one for the Boss." It has been weird to have George out of the public spotlight and shielded from the public eye in recent years. I can't imagine how he must have felt watching his beloved Yanks win against the Phillies last fall. I was a grinning, tearful idiot simply because I couldn't help but remember October 26,1996...when I skipped Katie's birthday party to watch game 6..I will never forget that day.....and then again in 2009 with Jeter, Pettitte, Jorge, and Mo getting it done again for what very well might be the last time on the same team. Words cannot describe I felt, so I can only imagine how the Yankees' biggest fan and critic felt on that day in 1996 and then again in 2009 with the Core Four at the heart of the roster.
My thoughts are all over the place in this blog, but I simply wanted to just remember the Boss for the tyrannical nightmare that changed the face of baseball and made me a very happy Yankee fan. I will never forget how each championship win felt and how heartbreaking each WS/playoff loss was. I am thankful for the legacy he bestowed upon New York, the organization, baseball, and sports in general. Luckily in my lifetime, I have witnessed 5 championships and unmeasureable joy and pain and I have the Boss to thank for that by hiring the management, cultivating the talent, trading for players, or playing the free agency market for 5 rings, 7 pennants, and 11 AL East titles he bestowed on the fans. I guess Sheppard had to go first so that he could announce the Boss into heaven. I'm sure he wouldn't have had it any other way.