The fat lady finally sang an overdue aria over the fallen fat man and George Steinbrenner became baseball history.
What would you like to hear on your way out, big guy?
Let’s try a little Hank Williams:
He’s a lo-ong g-o-one and n-o-o-body’s blue.
Baseball? It was really an 18-year crusade to get the Yankee owner’s name in New York’s tabloid newspapers, and it produced baseball’s first tabloid team.
The franchise ran on sensationalism and the owner’s personality. Whatever his real virtues, in his public life Steinbrenner was graceless, unloyal, devious and, most of all, loud.
He didn’t invent the problems of modern baseball, but his franchise was a model for them: nouveau riche players under great pressure, railing at each other and everyone around them. His Yankees will be remembered as much for their behavioral excesses, for public drunkenness and rudeness, as for their triumphs.
For Steinbrenner, employees--however gifted, loyal or tortured--were props. He hired Billy Martin five times but never insisted that Martin go through alcohol rehabilitation. He went through 18 managers, 12 team presidents and 10 publicists. He departs unmourned, having conducted a clinic in the abuse of power.
Ironically, away from the workplace and the spotlight, Steinbrenner is generally described as human.
“George is the most charming guy in the world, a real Mr. Nice,” a former employee, Campbell Elliott, told the Wall Street Journal in 1975.
However, with employees, “George’s attitude is that they’re damned lucky to have a job--and if they don’t like the way he treats them, they can just get the hell out.”
A psychologist, Harry Levinson, told the Journal that such treatment of underlings suggested the employer’s own “feelings of inadequacy and self-disappointment. . . . These are usually men with a very intense need to be loved by people in power. They fawn after attention, affection and applause. If people don’t have power, their love doesn’t count.”
With help from “Damned Yankees,” Yankee writers Moss Klein and Bill
Madden’s remarkable chronicle, welcome to Steinbrenner’s reign of terror.
Manager: Ralph Houk.
Record: 80-82, fourth place.
High and low lights: A group headed by Steinbrenner buys the moribund franchise from CBS for $10 million--$3 million less than CBS paid nine years before. . . . “I won’t be active in the day-to-day operations of the club at all,” Steinbrenner says at his first news conference. . . . Steinbrenner thinks of himself as a quasi-jock, but his exposure to big-time sports is limited to a year each as freshman football coach at Northwestern and Purdue. As long as he owns the Yankees, he will always confuse the games, insisting on precise drills, workouts on days off and fiery pep talks in the clubhouse, which he often delivers while players such as Thurman Munson make faces behind him. He eventually will hire former football coach Lou Saban as president, get fined for tampering with college prospect Billy Cannon Jr. and pay John Elway $90,000 for a season in Class A.
Manager: Bill Virdon.
Record: 89-73, second.
High and low lights: Steinbrenner pleads guilty to conspiracy to make an illegal campaign contribution to Richard Nixon, and is suspended from baseball by Bowie Kuhn for two years, although the sentence later is reduced to 15 months. . . . Team is bolstered by Gabe Paul’s deals but big boost comes from signing Catfish Hunter, who becomes one of baseball’s first free agents as the result of a technicality. Hunter gets an unheard-of $3.75-million, five-year contract. Does anyone believe the suspended Steinbrenner didn’t call that shot?
Managers: Virdon, Billy Martin.
Record: 83-77, third.
High and low lights: Hunter wins 23. . . . Virdon, never Steinbrenner’s first choice--George always wanted a big-name drawing card, in this case, deposed A’s manager Dick Williams--is dumped with a winning (53-51) record. Anyone still believe still-suspended Steinbrenner wasn’t phoning in?
Record: 97-62, first. American League champions, lost to Cincinnati Reds in World Series, 4-0.
High and low lights: Steinbrenner gets nine months off for good behavior and returns in March. . . . Munson wins MVP with .302 average, 17 homers, 104 RBIs. . . . In off-season, while establishment owners bemoan and spurn the new free-agent system, Steinbrenner plunges in boldly, signing the star of the first class, Reggie Jackson.
Record: 100-62, first. American League champions, beat Dodgers in World Series, 4-2.
High and low lights: Birth of the Bronx Zoo era. . . . Jackson declares he’s “the straw that stirs the drink” in spring training, angering new teammates, especially the thorny Munson-Graig Nettles-Sparky Lyle clique. . . . Martin, who never wanted Jackson, pulls him from a game in the middle of an inning at Boston. The two are separated in the dugout on national TV. . . . Jackson, Munson, Nettles, Chris Chambliss combine for 406 RBIs. . . . Jackson hits three homers in three swings in Game 6 of World Series. Later, on national TV, he thanks “the people who stuck by me: Puma, Standard Brands.” . . . Steinbrenner pulls another free-agent coup, signing Goose Gossage, despite presence of Cy Young Award-winning relief pitcher Lyle.
Managers: Martin, Bob Lemon.
Record: 100-63, first, American League champions, beat Dodgers in World Series, 4-2.
High and low lights: It starts to go wrong, but the club has so much talent, it still wins. . . . Martin says “One (Jackson) is a liar and the other (Steinbrenner) is convicted” and is fired. . . . Martin, wildly popular with New York fans while Steinbrenner is only tolerated, is brought back at old-timers’ game four days later. With the announcement he will return as manager in 1980, he receives an eight-minute standing ovation. . . . Lemon takes over 9 1/2 games out, tells everyone to loosen up, catches the Red Sox and wins the playoff, 5-4, at Fenway Park on Bucky Dent’s homer.
Managers: Lemon, Martin II.
Record: 89-71, fourth.
High and low lights: Another coup, Dodger escapee Tommy John, signs and goes 21-9, but chaos rules. . . . Munson dies in a plane crash in Ohio, flying his private plane home on a day off. . . . Gossage is lost because of thumb injury suffered during horseplay with designated hitter Cliff Johnson, who is promptly traded. Says Jackson, “If you mess around with the G-man (Gossage), the big guy with the boats is gonna get you.” . . . Lemon is fired despite a 34-30 record, and Martin returns ahead of schedule. Lemon allows Steinbrenner to forget his promise to make Lemon general manager. . . . Martin has barroom fight with a marshmallow salesman and is fired during the off-season. . . . Says little-known Ron Davis, who is 15-2 as a setup man: “How can a guy ever get any attention here? We got managers changing, presidents resigning, guys getting traded every week and getting in fights and players dying.”
Manager: Dick Howser.
Record: 103-59, first, lost to Royals in playoffs.
High and low lights: With Gabe Paul and Al Rosen gone, Steinbrenner takes over team presidency. But Howser won’t kowtow to Steinbrener, who rips him publicly after losing an August series in Baltimore. "(Earl Weaver) is a wizard and our guy’s a rookie manager,” Steinbrenner says. Howser replies acidly that maybe he can be rookie manager of the year. . . . Steinbrenner rants publicly at third-base coach Mike Ferraro for getting Willie Randolph thrown out at home during playoff sweep by Kansas City. . . . Howser is fired during off-season, despite winning the most games in the Steinbrenner era and and the club setting a team attendance record. . . . Steinbrenner claims Howser resigned because he wanted to retire to Florida. Howser returns the next season to manage the Royals.
Managers: Gene Michael, Lemon II.
Record: 59-48, first. American League champions, lost to Dodgers in World Series, 4-2.
High and low lights: Steinbrenner signs Dave Winfield to $23-million contract, although the Boss thinks it’s only $17 million until he reads about the ramifications of his cost-of-living clause in the New York Times. . . . The season, split by strike, puts Yankees into playoffs. . . . Michael, heretofore a Steinbrenner favorite, tells Boss publicly to stop threatening him, “He can take the job, but he’s not gonna bring me down.” . . . Steinbrenner lets Michael dangle for eight days, orders Yankee officials not to talk to him, then fires him. . . . Steinbrenner rages in the clubhouse after playoff loss to the Brewers but Rick Cerone calls him “you fat SOB,” and adds, “You never played the game, you don’t know what the . . . you’re talking about.” . . . Years later, when Cerone is washed up, Steinbrenner re-signs him to a $250,000 contract. . . . Steinbrenner, grandstanding, dominates World Series. After Game 5 loss, he convenes a late-night news conference to say he punched out two Dodger fans in the elevator of Los Angeles’ Wilshire Hyatt who impugned Yankee pride. The story is met with skepticism as Steinbrenner walks around with bandaged right hand. . . . After Game 6, Steinbrenner issues an apology to Yankee fans and starts a personal re-design of the team. The Yankees will never again see postseason play under him.
Managers: Lemon II, Michael II, Clyde King.
Record: 79-83, fifth.
High and low lights: Steinbrenner starts his decade of coups in reverse by letting Jackson leave. . . . Jackson hits 39 homers for Angels. Steinbrenner says Yankee coach Charlie Lau told him Jackson had “one, maybe two good years left.” . . . Steinbrenner forgoes traditional Yankee Stadium left-handed power strategy to found the “Bronx Burners.” Former Olympic hurdler Harrison Dillard coaches runners in sprint drills. . . . Gossage launches into a profane tirade--116 words, 17 unprintable--and calls Steinbrenner “the fat man.” . . . Lemon starts 6-8 and is fired. . . . Michael goes 44-42 and is fired, replaced by trouble-shooter Clyde King, whom players consider George’s spy. . . . King dreams of returning, finds out he won’t when his off-season paycheck is cut from his manager’s pay--$100,000--to his old level of $35,000.
Managers: Martin III.
Record: 91-71, third.
High and low lights: Billy’s back after pulling his Billyball miracle in Oakland and getting fired there, too. . . . Martin spends one game in Milwaukee passing notes back and forth to his girlfriend in an adjoining field box. . . . Amid the subsequent furor, Martin throws New York Times reporter Deborah Henchsel out of the dressing room. Henschel protests to the league, saying Martin called her names. . . . Steinbrenner goes to court to try to prevent resumption of the “pine tar game,” after American League President Lee MacPhail upholds Royals’ protest. Steinbrenner is fined $300,000 for anti-MacPhail remarks. . . . Latest publicist, Ken Nigro, leaves after one season, calling the wire services with a farewell quote: “After a year like this, I have to check into a rehab center.”
Manager: Yogi Berra.
Record: 87-75, third.
High and low lights: Martin allows Steinbrenner to announce Billy has resigned, mollified by a promise to retire his No. 1 jersey. . . . Don Mattingly edges out teammate Winfield .343 to .340 for the batting crown. Winfield feels the race split the team, with white teammates and fans rooting for Mattingly, and refuses to pose for a picture with him. . . . Mattingly has survived two seasons of shuttling between New York and Columbus. Other prospects--Fred McGriff, Willie McGee, Jim Deshaies, Doug Drabek, Tim Belcher--are lost as Steinbrenner hunts big names. . . . Publicist Marty Appel is twice ordered to take red-eye flights home from West Coast trips to be in his office the next morning for calls from Steinbrenner, who doesn’t call either time. . . . Boston’s Bill Lee calls Steinbrenner a “Nazi” and is suspended for 15 days by the league. Boss orders Appel to put out a release calling for a lifetime suspension “not to run concurrent with his present 15-day suspension.” . . . Steinbrenner tells Berra at mid-season that he’s disappointed, since this was the team Yogi wanted. Berra, who never complains publicly, rails at Steinbrenner: “This is your . . . team!” . . . Yankees then finish 51-29 and save Berra’s job.
Managers: Berra, Martin IV.
Record: 97-64, second.
High and low lights: Well, they saved it for 16 games, anyway. . . . Steinbrenner promises the popular Berra will manage all year, “win or lose,” but decides after a 0-2 start in Boston that the third game of the season is “crucial.” . . . At 6-10, he cans Yogi, who vows never to set foot in Yankee Stadium again while Steinbrenner is there. Berra keeps the promise, even passing up the retiring of his No. 8 and the erection of a plaque in center field to honor him and Bill Dickey. . . . Yankee players are enraged at Berra’s firing. Mattingly flings a metal container against the wall. Don Baylor kicks over a trash container. . . . Steinbrenner issues a statement: " . . . If they’re not happy, let them get jobs as cabdrivers, firemen or policemen in New York City. Then they’ll see what it’s like to work for a living.” Born wealthy, Steinbrenner continually trots out this cops-and-firemen speech in the future to denounce his players. . . . Rickey Henderson, acquired from Oakland, hits .314, steals 80 bases and scores 146 runs. Mattingly and Winfield drive in 145 and 114. Yankees are a new Murderer’s Row through the ‘80s, but Steinbrenner can’t get a good pitcher to sign. . . . Martin gets in barroom fights on successive nights at Baltimore’s Cross Keys Inn, including brawl with pitcher Ed Whitson that spills into parking lot. . . . Steinbrenner, upset at losing an August series against Toronto, calls Winfield “Mr. May.”
Manager: Lou Piniella.
Record: 90-72, second.
High and low lights: Steinbrenner talks Piniella, who always has been the closest player to him, into managing. . . . With the Yankees trailing the Red Sox by 9 1/2 games, Steinbrenner’s buddy, Howard Cosell, rips Piniella for mis-managing “at least 10 games.” . . . Cosell has detailed statistics, such as Mike Easler’s average with runners in scoring position, suggesting he has been briefed--although Yankee publicists say they haven’t talked to Cosell. Steinbrenner denies to Piniella that he called Cosell. . . . Of Don Baylor, traded to Boston, Steinbrenner says: “Baylor’s bat will be dead by August.” . . . Baylor’s bat lingers long enough to hit 31 homers with 94 RBIs. . . . Steinbrenner, furious that Piniella wasn’t in his room to take a call, issues a statement ripping the manager: “I don’t know of too many people--even sportswriters--who, if their boss told them to be available for a call at a certain time, wouldn’t be there.” . . . The Boss also claims Piniella asked to trade Henderson, destroying any rapport Piniella had with the temperamental Rickey. . . . Surprise! Piniella becomes firing victim No. 14 after the season.
Managers: Martin V, Piniella II.
Record: 85-76, fifth.
High and low lights: Martin is beaten up at a topless bar in Dallas, and fired for the fifth time. . . . Piniella is rehired and re-fired. . . . Winfield’s book enrages Steinbrenner, who threatens to trade him, but makes the player a fan favorite for the first time. . . . Says Mattingly at mid-season: “You come here and get no respect. They treat you like . . . They belittle your performance and make you look bad in the media. After they give you the money, it doesn’t matter. They can do whatever they want. They think money is respect.”
Managers: Dallas Green, Bucky Dent.
Record: 74-87, fifth.
High and low lights: Steinbrenner hires a manager in his own image, the outspoken Green. But Green won’t brook interference or keep quiet about it. He calls Steinbrenner “Manager George” and is fired in August. . . . Says Green: “George doesn’t know a . . . thing about the game of baseball. That’s the bottom line.” . . . Dent starts 2-11 and chants of “George must go!” ring in Yankee Stadium. . . . When stadium security forces remove anti-George banners, the ACLU threatens to sue. . . . The Boss-Winfield feud over payments to the Winfield Foundation is settled--by binding arbitration--but Howard Spira’s name surfaces. Spira has been calling writers, claiming he has dirt on Winfield. Steinbrenner pays Spira $40,000.
Managers: Dent, Stump Merrill.
High and low lights: Dent becomes the last manager the Boss will fire, at least in baseball. . . . Old-timers’ game is held. Absent: Berra, Mickey Mantle (card show commitment), Nettles (prior commitment), Jackson (turned down the last two invitations, wasn’t asked). . . . Steinbrenner tells Commissioner Fay Vincent he paid Spira because he feared for his family and wanted to suppress information about Piniella’s gambling. . . . Vincent says he finds explanation “not credible” and orders Boss to relinquish operational control. . . . Steinbrenner says he is happy. Asked if he has given up control, he says only, “You’ll have to wait until tomorrow, I guess.” . . . The next day, Yankees announce that Steinbrenner’s son, Hank, 33, will become managing partner, subject to approval by minority partners. Vincent insists Hank won’t take orders from Dad.
WINNING UNDER STEINBRENNER, 1979-90 Regular season won-lost percentage 1973: .494 1974: .549 1975: .519 1976: .610 1977: .617 1978: .613 1979: .556 1980: .636 1981: .607 1982: .488 1983: .562 1984: .537 1985: .602 1986: .556 1987: .549 1988: .528 1989: .460 1990: .390 Source: Sports Features Syndicate, Associated Press