Everybody had an opinion of George Steinbrenner, who died Tuesday of a massive heart attack.
He wanted to win every game and publicly criticized and fired players and managers when they lost. He had been a football coach and did not grasp that baseball is played every day for six months, and you can’t win ‘em all. He got suspended from baseball for a year for hiring a gambler to dig up dirt on star player Dave Winfield. He was not the nice, well-intentioned boss who showed excessive zeal once in a while.
He was also suspended in the Watergate era for channeling corporate funds to Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign after he pleaded guilty to a criminal charge.
Known as “The Boss,” Steinbrenner was an intrusive owner who kept his employees on edge as much as he could. The worst example was his treatment of Billy Martin, whom he fired and re-hired five times as Yankee manager. Steinbrenner knew that the highly insecure, alcoholic Martin had a psychological need to be the Yankee manager. Steinbrenner toyed with that vulnerability. Martin’s drinking got worse, and his general health deteriorated during every crisis with his owner.
He was the first owner to pay millions of dollars to free agents Catfish Hunter and Reggie Jackson. That permanently changed the game. He pioneered a team-owned cable TV network, which widened the gap between Yankee wealth and everyone else’s.
Love, hate or admire the man, there will never be another one. He changed the game permanently in ways that are still controversial.