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Letter: Steinbrenner, The Last Lion Of Baseball

Lions are beautiful and majestic in their appearance and power. They are also dangerous especially at feeding time, which seems to be all the time. Whether George Steinbrenner was the last lion of baseball remains to be seen.

Bill Madden, a sportswriter for the Daily News has more than amply annotated the history of the New York Yankees under Steinbrenner. What is missing from the book is whether George’s erratic personality allowed him to achieve in spite of himself. Turning a $168,000 investment of his father’s money in 1972 to join with partners who bought the Yankees for $8.5 million and turned it into a business, according to Forbes, worth over $1 billion 30 years later, was a combination of luck, fear of him, which George instilled in others by being totally unpredictable and perhaps even bipolar. George was smart and capitalized on baseball’s free agency rules to buy up well-established major leaguers.

George called himself a baseball guy but he really was not that. In fact he was not much of an athlete at all. He did restore the Yankees to their heydays as a dynasty, a sports empire with its own television network, new stadium and a great many players, past and present, capable of joining Hall of Famers such as Ruth, DiMaggio, Gehrig, Mantle and Berra. It can also be said that Steinbrenner kept baseball as the national pasttime rivaled only by the mania of football’s shorter season but which overlaps with the World Series.

George’s independent streaks created pluses and minuses for him and the Yankees. Trying to play both sides of the political isle in supporting Nixon during his second election campaign caused his suspension from baseball and a criminal conviction for which Ronald Reagan later pardoned him. In the late 1980s his disagreements with Dave Winfield grew into his reliance upon information from a blackmailer/criminal, who in fact provided some credible information about the mismanagement of Winfield’s Foundation. Steinbrenner rarely followed the advice of his advisors and attorneys, which caused him to sign an agreement, which barred him from baseball for life, only to be reinstated later upon finally listening to legal advice.

It is clear that George also respected those who stood up to his bullying behavior. Reggie Jackson, Billy Martin, Yogi Berra and Joe Torre were just a few of those who did. But George also had great charity, forgiveness for those like Billy Martin with an alcohol problem and sympathy for those who lost friends and family in 9/11 and respect for the fans.

In his last appearances at Yankee Stadium in a wheelchair, afflicted with physical and mental infirmities, he saw his new stadium and received the standing applause of fans, rather than the famous “Bronx cheers” for which they are especially noted. George is gone but his memory remains now brought to life in the presence of his friends, advisors and family who continue to be involved in the Yankee organization. Like Vince Lombardi, they are reminded that George believed in winning. In his eyes as a player and coach if you are being paid big bucks you are required to perform and win. There are no excuses for failure. If there are, then you are gone and it is game over for you. Next case!

Thomas F. Liotti
Garden City attorney
Westbury Village Justice