The Steinbrenner Legacy

But all of these trades were made by 1975.  In 1975, the Yanks won 83 games and finished third.  What pushed the Yanks over the top in 1977?  Well, there was a young pitcher from Louisiana named Ron Guidry.  There were a few more trades, for Mike Torrez, Ken Holtzman and Bucky Dent.  But the big difference was made possible by Steinbrenner, his money and his drive to win: the signing of free agents Don Gullett (six years, $2 million), Catfish Hunter (5 years, $3.2 million) and Reggie Jackson (5 years, around $3 million).

Before the 1977 season, free agency was brand new.  There were only two free agent signings before the end of the 1976 season: Hunter (by the Yanks) and Andy Messersmith (Atlanta).  But in the post-season following the 1976 World Series, free agents were signed by the boatload: 26 in all, including Don Baylor, Rollie Fingers, Bobby Grich and Joe Rudi.  Steinbrenner nabbed the two most expensive of these free agents, arguably the most significant of these free agents, in Hunter and Jackson.

Steinbrenner’s free agent signings made the difference.  The Yanks won it all in 1977, and again in 1978, and five more times during the Steinbrenner era.

Sure, there were failures during this era, and some terrible Yankees teams (for example, the 1991 team finished 5th in the AL East and 11th in AL attendance).   Add to this the stuff that took place off the field: Steinbrenner’s felony conviction, his ugly squabbles with Dave Winfield, his soap opera co-starring Billy Martin (who was hired and fired five times).

Steinbrenner’s story was not always pretty.

But I prefer to think of George Steinbrenner at that moment after the 1976 World Series, after the Yankees had been swept by Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine.  Most owners would have been satisfied with making it to the World Series, and would not have been bothered by losing to one of the greatest teams of all time.  But Steinbrenner was not satisfied.  With his signing of Reggie Jackson, Steinbrenner set a tone for the Yankees that would remain in place for more than 30 years.  Playing  good ball would not be enough.  Being competitive would not be enough.  Even playing in the World Series would not be enough.

Only winning it all would ever be enough.

Do you want to know why the Yankees went from irrelevant in 1973 to the most important sports franchise in 2010?  Why the Yankees went from a team sold for a song by CBS in 1973, to the most valuable franchise in sports (estimated $1.6 billion) in 2010?  Winning helped.  Tradition helped.  The explosion of interest in pro sports – that helped a lot.  Being in the nation’s biggest media market helped more than a lot.

But don’t discount how much it helped to have Steinbrenner as the owner.  Steinbrenner, who would do whatever an owner could do to put the best possible team on the field in the Bronx, regardless of cost.  With Steinbrenner at the helm, the Yankees mattered, and they would continue to matter, win or lose.

That, I think, is the Steinbrenner legacy.  You could love him or hate him, but you could never ignore him.  You know.  Like the way folks feel about a certain pro baseball team in the Bronx.

R.I.P., George.  We will miss you.

13 thoughts on “The Steinbrenner Legacy

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  2. Yea, he won, but at what cost? The man created and instilled this terrible mentality into the minds of Yankee fans, and possibly New York fans in general. Steinbrenner was results oriented to a fault, and that has rubbed off on New York in a serious way.

    For instance, as you said, nothing short of a WS win is enough; having the best record over 162 games is not nearly enough.

    Maybe it was something else, but when Steinbrenner consistently complained about his team to the media, the act of complaining for ‘uninformed’ fans became more than okay; it became the norm (as I sit here complaining). Just listen to people complaining about Burnett, and up until last October, A Rod, Girardi, etc. Shit’s ridiculous to me. For most, it is not about enjoying good baseball in ny, it’s about domination; this is Steinbrenner’s most notable legacy.

    While winning a ton, Steinbrenner, with his methods, created a monster in New York, thus making him in my mind the most villainous owner of baseball. In short, Steinbrenner made it so for most of us, anything short of a WS win is a lost season: a miserable way for a fan base to behave. Having said this, he was most likely too short sighted to realize this.

    Anyway, the fact that many Yankee fans such as me, even while acknowledging his dedication and success, don’t like Steinbrenner should tell you all you need to know.
    It’s not that I don’t respect him, it’s that I think his legacy is simultaneously excellent and terrible. RIP.

  3. I really don’t think the Yankees are alone with a fanbase that considers anything but a WS win a failure.  Living in DC, I got to experience the rush of fandom that the Capitals brought with winning the President’s Trophy this past season — they were of the best two teams in the league without question, but burning out in the first round was a miserable failure, as anything short of a SCF appearance would have been.  I know Lakers fans, Heats fans (or, really, the nation for the Heat this coming half-decade), are going to expect that out of their team.  Maybe Steinbrenner bred the “right” for fans to expect everything out of their ownership and players, but you can’t pretend like the Yankees are an isolated franchise in that regard.

  4. Tamar, thanks!

    Max, I think you’re saying what I was saying, from a different point of view.  I’m a transplant in LA, but from 1977-86 I lived part-time or full-time in NY.  I often found Steinbrenner difficult to take.  I could have stressed Steinbrenner’s negatives more than I did.  If I had, I would have mentioned that Steinbrenner never understood a fundamental fact about baseball, which is that you cannot overpower your way to a World Series championship every year.  Baseball is not always about who wants to win the most, who has spent the most money and who has amassed the most talent.  I’m not sure that Steinbrenner ever understood this.

    Maybe I’m overly sentimental, but I think now is the time to remember Steinbrenner’s good points.  I was 10 years old in 1965.  In 1965, I read so much about the Yankees’ “demise”, I had to look up the word “demise” in the dictionary.  It is hard to believe how bad those CBS Yankees really were.  As the Mets surged into prominence, the Yanks sunk into irrelevancy.  They were the N.J. Nets, the L.A. Clippers.
    Say whatever you like about the uninformed fans, but it’s a lot more fun to worry publicly about A.J. than it was to hope that Ross Moschitto might somehow give the Yanks a way to rest Mickey Mantle (and yes, I actually remember Ross Moschitto).

    OK, maybe it would have all transpired without Steinbrenner: the Reggie Jackson World Series consecutive home runs, Bucky @#$%$ Dent and Aaron @#$% Boone, Jeffrey Meier, Jeter’s relay to nail Jeremy Giambi.  Maybe.  But Steinbrenner had a hand in all of this.  Maybe without Steinbrenner, the Yanks would still own their own broadcast network or a $1 billion plus new stadium.  Or maybe not.  Maybe the Mets would still own NY, the way they did when I grew up.

    Adam’s point is right on.  There are fans of LOTS of franchises that expect to win. Yes, it’s sad that we cannot celebrate a year like 1981, or 2001.  But when was the last time that you heard a sportscast discuss a championship game, or championship season, without discussing the losing team in terms more applicable to warfare than entertainment.  I was an eight year old Yankees fan living in L.A. in 1963 — believe me, none of my friends or neighbors congratulated my team that year for coming in second.
    It’s not fair to lay all that on Steinbrenner.

    I don’t want to get TOO sentimental.  There’s lots wrong with the state of baseball, circa 2010.  Steinbrenner deserves some of the blame.  But the man has an enormous legacy.  It’s almost impossible to find any piece of the Yankees that does not bear his fingerprints.  If you love the Yankees, then George deserves some of that love.  Like it or not.

  5. The boss is a true new yorker, and max is right, complete domination is the only thing we accept here. That’s not a bad thing, you should do everything in your life w/ passion even if its obsession!! The most successful people in the world are half nuts. New Yorkers, thanks to George, over the most 35+ years have adopted this attitude to their life. Maybe its why alot of out of towners dont like us but so what!? If you don’t win you lose, simple, easy, and unacceptable! The thing is thet yanks were so good for so long they are expected to win. If they never succeeded they wouldn’t have pressure. When the yankees dont win the even non new yorkers or yankee fans are like “damn what happened to you guys?”. THE WHOLE WORLD EXPECTS US TO WIN! AS well they should, thank you george!

  6. Jones, you’ve highlighted one of the problems with the Steinbrenner legacy.  If anything less than a championship is a failure, then Steinbrenner’s Yankees failed 81% of the time.  A 19% success rate is not a great legacy.

  7. I don’t think its a problem, I mean it is the reason we are quick to hang aj and javy soon as the screw up, and will ask for amare to be traded if he doesnt have a triple double his 1st game as a knick but thats because when u live in ny, this is what we expect! ESPECIALLY if you delivered for another team. Isn’t baseball the sport where you fail more than succeed? You could say “hey he only hit the ball 33% of the time, he failed 67% of the time”! That might be bad free throw numbers or pass completion but it sure as hell aint for batting. So it depends on where you put those numbers ,and in terms of how many times a team owner brought home those rings? 19% is GREAT! Whats the % of the team in second? That just goes to show you how hard this it is to win if 19% gives you legacy status!

  8. I guess I’m just bitter. I find myself defending Yankees management way too often. My problem, and I do think this is an obnoxious aspect of NYY fans (not necessarily exclusive to NYY fans) is what Jones says above: we are quick to shit on players. With our fan base, there is a serious lack of either patience, or knowledge regarding sample sizes. I work around the south shore of long island in suffolk county, and what a group those people are: a true black hole of virtuous behavior. You can only imagine their baseball analysis, let alone politics, world views, etc. The fact that I commute for an hour every day is vital to my mental health.

  9. yeah I’m out in LI too, Nassau. Our lack of patience overrides our knowledge. One one hand its ridiculous, but on the other hand your choosing to play for us. U KNOW DAMN WELL WHAT THAT MEANS!!!!! If you can’t take the heat get your ass out of the NY kitchen! lol right now my aunt wants to get rid of AJ, she cant stand him! All she can remember is 1 good game he pitched for us in the WS, other than that she wants him gone! We have the least amount of patience for the yanks cuz they always been great tho, its funny cuz baseball requires THE MOST patience. A pitcher may need 8 games to get it going, u don’t need that many in nba//nfl, but giants and knicks have sucked or been ok for the most part so we dont expect much from them, well compared to the yanks! But you know what, if u come to ny and set it off for us asap? We love you right away, but we’ll abandon you the minute u have back 2 back bad games, you only get grace period if you win us a ring or have been clutch most of the time. Of course my friend says he needs A-Rod to be clutch like he was last yr one more time and then hell accept him for all these years of flopping. I don’t think we’re all as extreme as that, of course if arod flops and we dont win the WS I’ll prolly hate his guts all winter long

  10. Jones, agreed, 19% is great.  It is outstanding.  We should be thrilled.  But that means that if we lose a World Series in 6 games, it’s not a “failure”.  We’re not going to win championships 19% of the time if we only make it to the World Series 19% of the time.  A champion has to be willing to live with defeat.  Because the Yankees have been so successful, because we’ve played so often on the big stage in the big game, it means that we’re going to have more than our share of bitter defeats.  2004 comes to mind, as does 1963.  2004 is the price we pay for 27 World Championships, and while 2004 STILL HURTS, I’ll pay that price in exchange for 1961, and 1978, and the 25 others.
    My problem with Steinbrenner is not the price he was willing to pay to succeed, but the price he was unwilling to pay.  Striving for greatness means taking the risk that you are going to fall short.  It is NOT a theoretical risk.  When you fall short, it is essential to do so gracefully, to allow the winner their moment.  It shows an appreciation for the process.  It also shows an appreciation for winning, that winning is a special moment not simply because you achieved your primary objective, but because you risked it all and won.  There should be an element of gratitude in winning, an appreciation of the fact that all championships require an element of luck in addition to the skill and hard work.  This, Steinbrenner lacked.
    I appreciate Steinbrenner as a great man, despite his flaws.  I am grateful to Steinbrenner from rescuing my Yankees from 1966, from second-banana status in a two-team town.  But Max is right.  There are negative aspects of Steinbrenner’s legacy.  We’d do well to overcome them.
    Max, agreed.  A terrific example of what you’re talking about is written between the lines of Will’s excellent post here today on Joba.  If we Yankee fans are as smart as we think we are, we should be a lot more patient.  Maybe we can’t expect everyone to understand sample sizes, but we can all appreciate the element of luck.  Baseball is a mix of skill and luck. It’s part of the charm of the game.  Sometimes the ball bounces your way, and sometimes not.  As Jones said, 19% is great.  The 81% should be endured with patience, grace and class.

  11. I agree with the negative aspects part. But with everything there is a down side, and I'm willing to live with that particular downside so long as we win. Even though we expect to win I don't doubt that George, the players or the fans were grateful. In a sense we are patient though cuz we do believe in the yankees. No matter what, deep down we still believe they are gonna pull through. Whether we are down 5 runs in the bottom of the 9th or 5 games outta 1st in September, we might be outwardly disgusted with them but we still do believe in them. When you believe in something, you have patience i think. The players did endure losing w/ grace and class though, they never made excuses and neither did George. You have to be a little crazy and have a killer attitude towards it to win so much though. Jeter believed that winning was unacceptable, and has that player killer instinct even if you can't see it in his eyes cuz of his nice guy persona. Jordan had it, he was over the top with "winning" as well, but thats why he got 6 rings, and Jeter is about to get his 6th. I know there is a downside to the philosophy but I feel that it produces the most winners, this is our proof. Dwight Howard will never win in the nba cuz hes just a goof, he felt the coach was too hard on him sometimes LOL PLEASE GIMMIE A BREAK AND MAN UP!!! Bron doesn't have that killer win @ all costs mentality either. That's why he got w/ Wade cuz hes got "IT".

    Now that I think about it though, it may seem like NY doesn't handle it with grace and class because other places won't let us! When we lose people dont feel sorry for the yanks, like I said they wonder "what went wrong?" and will bring up our payroll, steroids, and just in general being new yorkers. Spike Lee said it best "People like to see teams from NY lose". Pats//Giants was the ONLY time the country was with us. And thats cuz they were 18-0 and cheated w/ there taping of practices

  12. Damn, this blog site is awesome. How many hits do you get on average per article? NY needs to put down the Times and get on here…