Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Big Boss Man

Say what you will about George Steinbrenner, the man knew how to steal the spotlight.

Born on the Fourth of July, Steinbrenner died on the day of the 2010 All-Star game.

It was if he chose to become the lead story on what otherwise would be a full day of agonizingly nauseous non-stop coverage of the week's only sporting event now that the World Cup is over.

Today, Steinbrenner and his legacy became the lead story on all the networks and the subject of conversation among baseball afficinados and casual observers alike. Everybody knows the name "George Steinbrenner," even if only from watching his caricature on "Seinfeld."

Today, Steinbrenner one-upped MLB's "mid-summer classic," which in recent years has become a tiresome affair --an over-hyped, hum-drum stinker of talking-head slobbering and non-stop media babble.

It was if he said, "This would be a good day to die."

No doubt, Steinbrenner was a natural showman -- but he worked at it, too.
P.T. Barnum had nothing on Steinbrenner. Yet, for all his bombast, volatility and histrionics (in his first 25 seasons as owner of the Yankees, he changed managers 20 times), it would be an understatement to merely acknowledge he was a shrewd businessman and a passionate team owner. If only G. Ogden Nutting, principal owner of the Pirates, were a fraction as shrewd and passionate as Steinbrenner. For all we know, Nutting barely has a pulse. As for passion, we don't see it.

No such reticence or coyness with Steinbrenner. If
Lou Gehrig was the Pride of the Yankees, George Steinbrenner demanded pride of the Yankees. He bought the franchise at its nadir and through sheer force of oversized personality ... through individual willpower and brashness, through business acumen and even cartoonish buffoonery ... Steinbrenner not only restored the Yankees' luster as the nation's premier sports franchise, he restored the New York Yankees as a metaphor for America.

It's a matter of perspective. To some, they're the Evil Empire. To others, they're winners. Pure and simple. Champions. The marquee franchise, the one to watch, for all the right reasons, or for all the wrong reasons. Which do you see? ... the Bronx Zoo? ... or the 27 world championships?

We see it all. No other team stirs such passion, pro or con. Depending on your perspective, the Yankees are: Privileged. Powerful. Successful. Advantaged. Lucky. Blessed. An indomitable force. Any or all of the above.

In any case, you can't ignore them, nor could you ignore their boss: Steinbrenner.

The Boss.

Former outfielder
Paul O'Neill, who joined the Yankees in a trade from Cincinnati, said the first thing he noticed upon going to New York was that "We had an owner who was as intense about winning as the 25 guys in the clubhouse. He set the tone, and it filtered on down to the rest of us. Winning was everything to him, and that passion became ingrained in the players."

As bellicose and obnoxious as Steinbrenner clearly was, he also very quietly helped untold numbers of people in need. A man of excess, he was excessively benevolent, but you never heard about most if his charitable contributions. "Quiet" would seem to be out of character, but Steinbrenner appears to have been a man of contradictions.

So ... for a man of outsize dimensions in nearly every facet of life, is it any surprise that it took "a massive heart attack" to finally take his life? George Steinbrenner was a giant who cast a very large shadow indeed.

Joey Porter's Pit Bulls would say, "Rest in Peace," but we're sure George Steinbrenner would have none of that. He'd want to be the center of attention. Forget the All-Star game; he'd want a big fuss made over him.

He's getting it, and it's well-deserved.

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