The Rise and Fall and Rise of George Steinbrenner
The death of New York Yankee lord George Steinbrenner this past Tuesday, on the morning of the All-Star Game, was a shock even to those close to him who knew he’d been in bad health over the last five years. Steinbrenner, 80, died of a massive heart attack at his home in Tampa.
Steinbrenner was simply one of a kind. The son of a shipping magnate in Cleveland, Steinbrenner purchased the Yankees in 1973 for $10 million from CBS, which for ten years had all but run the once-proud franchise into the ground and sold it at a loss. Steinbrenner quickly revived the Yankees in part thanks to perfect timing; his introduction into the majors coincided with the birth of modern free agency, allowing him to spend big bucks on building the best team money can buy. Along the way, his Yankees won seven world championships and 11 AL pennants; he rebuilt old Yankee Stadium and then erected a new one; and he saw his $10 million investment mushroom to its current-day worth of over $1.5 billion, a figure that makes the Yankees the most valuable sports franchise on the planetand a figure matched by the YES Network, which Steinbrenner helped create in 2002.
To say that Steinbrenner’s rule of the Yankees was turbulent is a pure understatement. Initially suggesting that he would be an absentee owner who would “stick to building ships,” Steinbrenner instead immersed himself into the day-to-day doings of almost every aspect of the club with volatile brashness. He made 17 managerial changes over his first 17 years, often with a habit of bringing back those he had fired; undoubtedly the most famous of Steinbrenner’s love-hate relationships with managers was with Billy Martin, who alternately enjoyed and endured five separate stints as Yankee pilot.
Although Steinbrenner was considered as a man of conservative values (one of many controversies over his time was forbidding his players to have long hair and mustaches) and was exceptionally giving to anyone at a moment’s notice, from employees to complete strangers, he was hardly a saint. Barely a year after purchasing the Yankees, Steinbrenner was convicted of making illegal contributions to Richard Nixon’s 1972 re-election campaign and was suspended from baseball for 15 months. In 1990, Steinbrenner found himself solely in trouble with MLB when it was discovered he had paid $40,000 to a gambler to “dig up dirt” on Dave Winfield, for whom nine years earlier Steinbrenner had paid a then-whopping ten-year, $23 million contract and, in Steinbrenner’s eyes, had seriously underperformed. Commissioner Fay Vincent banned him from baseball for life, but he was reinstated in 1993 after Vincent’s unceremonious ouster.
Although the Yankees had gone pennantless for over a decade upon his return from his second suspension, Steinbrenner mellowed and placed genuine trust in his baseball people; as a result, the Yankees actually built a team on high-valued prospects rather than veterans that Steinbrenner had rashly traded for over the years. Those prospectsDerek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada, among otherswere allowed to emerge in pinstripes and brought the Yankees back to true power, winning four World Series in a five-year period starting in 1996. Steinbrenner also considerably loosened his leach on his managers; only three of them (Buck Showalter, Joe Torre and Joe Girardi) have piloted the Yankees since 1992.
In the end, the Yankees were like a son to Steinbrenner, who ceded control of the team to his two actual sons in 2006. “Owning the Yankees is like owning the Mona Lisa,” Steinbrenner once said. “That’s something you never sell.”
Remember, It's Just a Joke
A caller on a sports talk show this past week said that Steinbrenner’s will called for the firing of current Yankee manager Joe Girardi.
Leave it to outspoken, loopy former pitcher Bill Lee to be the lone dissenting voice while the rest of the world politely praised the good side of Steinbrenner. Reached for comment by a New Hampshire TV station, Lee said of Steinbrenner, “Trust me, if Hell freezes over, he’ll be skating.” Lee, who pitched the majority of his career with the Boston Red Sox, spoke ill will of Steinbrenner based on negative comments the Boss once made of him. “He said I was an incompetent and I was bad for the game of baseball,” Lee said. “Well, I’m not a convicted felon like George Steinbrenner, and he’ll take that to his grave…. I have no sadness. I’m Irish, I’m Catholic, and when you’re gone, you’re gone.”
Silenced For the Last Time
The Boston Red Sox held a pregame tribute for Steinbrenner at Fenway Park on Thursday, which must have been quite a challenge for a sellout crowd full of loyal Yankee-hating fans; imagine a Tea Party gathering paying respects to the Ayatollah, and you get the picture. Following the brief video tribute, Red Sox fans gave a “warm round of applause,” according to the New York Times.
It was noted that not one Yankee player showed up for the Thursday funeral of Bob Sheppard, the long-time, legendary Yankee Stadium public address announcer who passed away just a few days before Steinbrenner. Many in the New York media singled out Derek Jeter as the most egregious no-show; it was Jeter who told the Yankees that as long as he’s playing in pinstripes, he wants Sheppard’s recorded intro of him every time he comes to bat. Jeter responded by saying he hadn’t been contacted about the funeral and therefore had no idea it had taken place that day. Sheppard, who was three months shy of turning 100, was a long-time public address fixture not only for the Yankees (1951-2007) but also for the New York football Giants (1956-2006).
YouTube Clip of the Week
Many non-sports fans probably came to know Steinbrenner through his ranting, caricatured appearances on Seinfeld in which the Yankee boss, played by someone else, was always seen faceless from behind. (Seinfeld co-creator Larry David supplied Steinbrenner’s voice.) But Steinbrenner actually did appear once on the show as himself, in the controversial episode where George Costanza’s fiancée dies of licking too much toxic envelope glue; but his scenes were cut, and Steinbrenner admitted later he was glad they were because he found the finished episode to be in poor taste. Here’s the clip, albeit with some sound glitches.
Buck Showalter was quick to point out in the hours following Steinbrenner’s death that he was the only Yankee manager never to be fired under the Boss’ total rule (he left after the 1995 season to help the newborn Arizona Diamondbacks get off the ground). Could he have been lobbying the Baltimore Orioles, who are considering hiring him?
How Far Can A-Rod Go?
In any event, Rodriguez is certain to be the youngest player ever to reach 600that honor currently belongs to Babe Ruth, who was 36and with a lot of gas likely left in his tank, who knows how far he’ll go. Hall-of-Fame slugger Reggie Jackson, for one, recently opined that Rodriguez will reach 800 career blastsin effect, erasing one previous steroid user (Barry Bonds) from the recordbook with another. The career home run mark is within Rodriguez’s reach, though it won’t be entirely easy; he does need to average only 30 homers through 2015 (when he’ll turn 40) to catch Bonds, but that’s assuming that he’ll remain healthy and relatively potent. Getting to 800 will be a tougher chore. And always remember this: Albert Pujols, who turned 30 this year, will likely reach the 400-home run mark before the end of the year. So if Rodriguez knocks out 800, even that figure won’t be entirely safe.
Consider this curiosity: Can Alex Rodriguez join the 600 Club before turning 35? With his birthday coming on July 27, the Yankee slugger began this week just two home runs shy of 600 for his career, and with a homestand at cozy Yankee Stadium continuing through the week, he might just meet the milestone while still at 34.
Hit by History
The 100-year-plus drought in Chicago is over for the Cubs! No, not that drought. Outfielder and first-year Cub Marlon Byrd was hit by a pitch for the 15th time this season on Sunday, becoming the first Cubbie to be plunked that often in a regular season since Frank Chance got nailed 17 times in 1905. The team’s all-time record, by the way, belongs to Bill Dahlen when he was hit 23 times in 1898.
Wounded of the Week
The game of baseball continues to show that players get hurt under the strangest of circumstances. Take San Diego pitcher Mat Latos, for instance. Just before the All-Star break, the young right-hander tried hard to suppress a sneezeand basically imploded, straining his left oblique. He’s on the 15-day disabled list.
And although New York Yankee pitcher A.J. Burnett hadn’t been placed on the shelf at upload time, he may be by the time you read this thanks to learning (the hard way) the lesson we always try to preach: Don’t take on inanimate objects in the clubhouse, for if you do, the inanimate objects will always win. After a lousy start on Saturday against Tampa Bay, Burnett attempted to take his anger out on a clubhouse doorand in doing so banged both hands on a couple of lineup card slots, cutting both his palms.
Also entering the MLB House of Pain this past week is Minnesota slugger Justin Morneau, who’s been struggling with the aftereffects of a recent concussion; Cleveland closer Kerry Wood, placed on the DL for the 14th time in his career; Baltimore catcher Matt Wieters (hamstring); and Los Angeles of Anaheim pitcher Scott Kazmir, because he’s been pitching terribly of late and the Angels must be figuring that there’s something wrong physically (though at upload time, no word as to what that might be).
TGG Programming Note
Because of the shortened week of regular season action due to the All-Star Game, our Best and Worst of the Week segment is taking the week off. We will return with our regular edition of our weekly honors with our next Comebacker, honoring and dishonoring those from the resumption of play through this coming Sunday.
The National League’s 3-1 win over the American League at the All-Star Game at Anaheim snapped a 13-year NL winless skid, which included the infamous 7-7, extra-inning tie in 2002 stopped by commissioner Bud Selig when the teams ran out of players. Although it was the longest streak by either team without a win, the NL still holds the longest winning stretch in ASG history with 11 straight victories from 1972-82. Overall, the NL still holds the all-time advantage with a 41-38 record (with two ties) against the AL, and its win on Tuesday put a temporary dent in AL supremacy over the last decade, one which has included dominance by the Junior Circuit in interleague play.
So it’s the All-Star Game, you’re trailing 3-1 in the bottom of the ninth with one out and one on, and one Alex Rodriguez is available to come off the bench to pinch-hit as the tying run. Instead, you stay with…Ian Kinsler? Nothing against Kinsler, but remember, it’s the All-Star Game. What say you, Joe Girardi?
The Young and the Restless Beltre
Leaving Rodriguez on the bench wasn’t the only strange faux pas committed by Girardi during the All-Star break. During a press conference on Monday, he said that Boston third baseman Adrian Beltre was headed for the disabled list and he was calling up the Texas Rangers’ Michael Young as a replacement. A perplexed Beltre, banged up of late but hardly unable to participate, replied with: “Huh?” Within moments, Girardi realized he had erred and contacted Beltre, who did end up playingwhile Young, who had appeared in the previous six All-Star games, correctly took Girardi’s initial comment with caution and never packed his bags.
The Best of Times, the Worst of Times
Boston slugger David Ortiz: Hero on Monday (Home Run Derby winner), goat on Tuesday (forced at second on a base hit to right to kill the momentum on a ninth-inning AL uprising).
Milwaukee’s Corey Hart: 13 home runs in the first run of the Home Run Derby, none in the second round.
"America's Idol" It Ain't
The marketing for the All-Star Game may shout, “This Time It Counts,” but to the rest of the country, it’s still not terribly important. The overnight rating for Fox’ broadcast of Tuesday’s Mid-Summer Classic was an all-time low 7.5; by comparison, the World Cup final shown on ABC a few days earlier scored 9.9 (and that doesn’t include the rating for the Spanish-language network Univision, which all but matched that number); even the pathetic one-hour LeBron James “Decision” show on ESPN a week earlier snagged a 7.3 rating.
Cincinnati reliever Arthur Rhodes, 40, made the All-Star team for the first time in his career. Name the other four major leaguers who didn’t get an All-Star roster spot until after they turned 40. Answer at the bottom of this column.
Raising Arizona's Ire
With the All-Star Game at Anaheim behind us, many eyes are already turning to next year’s event in Phoenix with controversy as Arizona’s tough-minded anti-illegal immigrant bill continues to stoke passions. Commissioner Bud Selig, speaking at his ‘state of the game’ press conference in Anaheim, said he will not move the game from Phoenix because baseball can not influence change on the issue of illegal immigration the way it did when Jackie Robinson’s breaking of the color barrier helped signal the start of the civil rights’ movement. Others that might influence change on the game itself include Milwaukee pitcher Yovani Gallardo, a native of Mexico who says he would not go to next year’s event if selected. Of course, you’ve got to be good enough to even be asked in the first place.
Triple Crown? The Candidates Emerge
In the AL, the batting average leader chart is dominated by power, with Josh Hamilton, Justin Morneau, Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano and Vladimir Guerrero all within striking distance of a possible triple crown. In the NL, where the best average to be found of this past weekend is a relatively weak .324 (Atlanta’s Martin Prado), you’ll find many of the league’s top home run leaders (Joey Votto, Corey Hart, Adam Dunn, Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez and even Ryan Howard, at .299) all sneaking close behind at or slightly above .300. Of course, with so many competitors seeking the trifecta, it will be hard for one player to rise above the rest, but keep your eye on the individual leaderboard; it’s going to be fun to watch this evolve over the next month or two.
There have been 13 “triple crown” achievementswhere a hitter leads a league in batting average, home runs and runs batted insince 1900, but there haven’t been any since 1967, when Boston’s Carl Yazstremski pulled off the feat for Boston. This year, however, there’s been much buzz thrown out by the media suggesting of a number of candidates that might break the 43-year old drought.
Even the Hare was Impressed
The season’s second individual cycle took place this past Friday, and astonishingly it was achieved by Texas catcher Bengie Molina, whose tortoise-like lack of speed had us wondering if a play-by-play guy might one day call: “And Molina hits it off the center field walllet’s see if he beats out the throw at first base!” Molina secured his cycle with the hard, hard part, somehow legging out a tripleeven as he felt his right quad tighten up while rounding first baseat Fenway Park during the Rangers’ 8-4 win over the Boston Red Sox. The triple was Molina’s sixth of his 12-year career; with a grand slam hit earlier, Molina became the first catcher in major league history to hit for the cycle with a bases-loaded home run as part of the achievement.
At Least It's a Crowd
Washington rookie phenom pitcher Stephen Strasburg has been mostly packing them in wherever he has started this year, but the big challenge at the gate came this past Friday when he and the Nationals traveled to Florida to face the attendance-challenged Marlins. The crowd of 27,037 for Strasburg’s eighth start of the year was the third largest at Miami this year, but the smallest yet to see Strasburg.
A few days after Strasburg’s appearance, the Marlins had to contend with a swarm of bees that apparently infiltrated a section of Miami’s Sun Life Stadium (the stadium formerly known by four other names) near the visitors’ bullpen. A section of seats was roped off for the Marlins’ game against Washington for fear of people getting stung, but the real question was, did anyone actually buy any seats in that section to begin with? Last we heard, there was no evidence of the Marlins trying to count the bees to pad attendance for the gameor whether the drone from the bee hive was at the same decimal level as the vuvuzelas given away at a recent Marlin home game.
Where's the Middle Class?
Only three of the majors’ 30 teamsToronto (47-45), Oakland (46-46) and Florida (44-47) have a record that’s within four games of the .500 mark.
Brest of Show
The woebegone Pittsburgh Pirates, who apparently believe their losing brand is poison to potential American and Dominican prospects in the know, continue to mine faraway places for talent in the hopes they’ll find someone good enough who might yell out in whatever language they speak: “Pittsburgh? In America!? Great!” This past week, the Bucs signed a 16-year old named Aleksey Lukashevich, a tall 16-year old who hails from Brest, Belarus. Over the last few years, the Pirates have also discovered potential baseball talent in unlikely baseball bergs such as India, Lithuania and South Africa.
Wrapped in Noise
The Lowell Spinners of the Class-A New York-Pennsylvania League gave away one-square foot sheets of Bubble Wrap to fans entering Saturday’s game and, halfway through the third inning, told the crowd to pop them all at once. When it was over, it was estimated that some 3,700 sheets had been popped, setting what the Spinners believed to be a world record.
Home Again, 3,000 Miles Away
The New York Post published a pleasant story of a life-long Giant fan from New York who had his heart broken among many thousands of others when the team moved west in 1958and was brought out by his sons this past week to San Francisco to attend his first Giant home game since the very last one played at the Polo Grounds.
This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
The spirit of Joltin' Joe continues to rest easy as those who attempt to approach his immortal record of hitting in 56 straight games falls way, way short. To wit: This past week ended with the longest active hitting streak in the majors at just 12 games, held by San Francisco rookie catcher Buster Posey.
Beyond Arthur Rhodes, four other major leaguers made the All-Star Game after turning 40. They are: Connie Marrero (1951), Satchel Paige (1952), Jamie Moyer (2003) and Tim Wakefield (2009).
The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits
Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2007 season.