Steinbrenner had a heart attack, was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, Fla., and died at about 6:30 a.m, a person close to the owner told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the team had not disclosed those details.
For more than 30 years and through seven World Series championships, Steinbrenner lived up to his billing as "the Boss," a nickname he earned and clearly enjoyed as he ruled with an iron fist. While he lived in Tampa he was a staple on the front pages of New York newspapers.
"He was an incredible and charitable man," his family said in a statement. "He was a visionary and a giant in the world of sports. He took a great but struggling franchise and turned it into a champion again."
Steinbrenner's mansion, on a leafy street in an older neighborhood of south Tampa, was quiet Tuesday morning. Private security guards milled around on the empty circular driveway inside the iron gates. A police officer took up a position outside the gates to turn away reporters and keep traffic moving along the narrow street. News vehicles lined the other side of the street.
"The passing of George Steinbrenner marks the end of an era in New York City baseball history," rival Mets owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon and Saul Katz said. "George was a larger than life figure and a force in the industry. The rise and success of his teams on the field and in the business marketplace under his leadership are a testament to his skill, drive, and determination."
Steinbrenner was known for feuds, clashing with Yankees great Yogi Berra and hiring manager Billy Martin five times while repeatedly fighting with him. But as his health declined, Steinbrenner let sons Hal and Hank run more of the family business.
Steinbrenner was in fragile health for years, resulting in fewer public appearances and pronouncements. Yet dressed in his trademark navy blue blazer and white turtleneck, he was the model of success: In addition to the World Series titles, the Yankees won 11 American League pennants and 16 AL East titles after his reign began in 1973.
"Few people have had a bigger impact on New York over the past four decades than George Steinbrenner," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement. "George had a deep love for New York, and his steely determination to succeed combined with his deep respect and appreciation for talent and hard work made him a quintessential New Yorker."
He appeared at the new Yankee Stadium just four times: for the 2009 opener, the first two games of last year's World Series and this year's homer opener, when captain Derek Jeter and manager Joe Girardi went to his suite and personally delivered his seventh World Series ring.
"He was very emotional," said Hal Steinbrenner, his father's successor as managing general partner.
Till the end, Steinbrenner demanded championships. He barbed Joe Torre during the 2007 AL playoffs, then let the popular manager leave after another loss in the opening round. The team responded last year by winning another title.
Steinbrenner had fainted at a memorial service for NFL star Otto Graham in 2003, appeared weak in 2006 at the groundbreaking for the new Yankee Stadium and later became ill while watching his granddaughter in a college play.
In recent times, Steinbrenner let sons Hal and Hank run more of the family business. Still, the former Big Ten football coach took umbrage when others questioned his fitness.
"No, I did not have a stroke. I am not ill. I work out daily," Steinbrenner said in 2006. "I'd like to see people who are saying that to come down here and do the workout that I do."
When Steinbrenner headed a group that bought the team on Jan. 3, 1973, he promised absentee ownership. But it didn't turn out that way.
Steinbrenner not only clashed with Berra for more than a decade but paid to dig up dirt on Dave Winfield, deriding the future Hall of Famer as "Mr. May" in 1985 after poor performances. Berra's wife, Carmen, said Tuesday her husband was at a golf event in Pennsylvania and was expected to comment later in the day.
While he liked to appear stern, Steinbrenner could poke fun at himself. He hosted "Saturday Night Live," clowned with Martin in a commercial and chuckled at his impersonation on "Seinfeld."