George Steinbrenner, the man responsible for making the Yankees the most vilified team in baseball, died of a heart attack on Saturday. He was 80 years old. In my friend Loren’s words, “the manner of his death disproved a theory I had,” that Steinbrenner was, in fact, heartless. More than any other person, Steinbrenner changed the way teams run their organizations. Say what you will about the man, but when you’re throwing that kind of money around, of course you’re going to buy championships.
I’m not trying to speak ill of the dead here — I’m sure Steinbrenner’s family, as well as Yankee fans and players, are truly grieving. But the fact of the matter is that Steinbrenner changed the face of baseball forever. And he changed it for the worse. Because of all the big money flying around at free agents, small market clubs like Kansas City can’t compete. And what’s the use of having a salary cap in baseball if all the Yankees will do is break it and pay a penalty every year?
But Steinbrenner became part of our public life, too. He was famously George’s boss on Seinfeld. What die-hard Mariners fan can forget this Seinfeld moment? “What the hell did you trade Jay Buhner for? He had 30 home runs, and over 100 RBIs last year. He’s got a rocket for an arm. You don’t know what the hell you’re doin!”
My own feelings about George Steinbrenner and his effect on baseball can best be described by Peter Sagal’s rant on “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.” “Nobody, but nobody more than Steinbrenner did more for our national pastime. And by that, I mean, hating the New York Yankees.” (applause) “Without Steinbrenner, Yankee-hating would have become empty, pointless, an antique sport like harness racing or lawn tennis. But with Steinbrenner making the Yankees the most obnoxious, tyrannical, bloated, purely evil sports franchise since the disbanding of the Tampa Bay Devil Nazis, Yankee-hating was revived. And whole new generations of fans have grown up to scream obscenities at the sight of a pinstripe. He may be gone, but I know I’ll have Steinbrenner to thank when my little daughters look up at me someday and say ‘Papa, are the Yankees Satan’s baseball team?’ And I will say ‘yes, sweetheart, why yes. They are.’ Thank you, George.”