Jul. 4th, 1930
Rocky River, Ohio, USA
George M. Steinbrenner III's Main TV Roles
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George Michael Steinbrenner III, one of the most successful sports franchise owners of the modern era, was born in Rocky River, Ohio on the Fourth of July, 1930, which is fitting for the owner of the New York Yankees, the premier baseball club in what is dubbed "America's Pasttime." (To fans of the Yankees' archrival, the Boston Red Sox, he is considered the Head of the "Evil Empire".)
After graduating from Culver Military Academy in Culver, Indiana (the alma mater of cult director Budd Boetticher), Steinbrenner attended the exclusive Williams College located in western Massachusetts (the alma mater of Elia Kazan, Class of 1930). Steinbrenner's interest in sports led to stints as an assistant football coach at Northwestern University in 1955 and at Purdue University the following year. While making his fortune in the shipping industry (he had joined his father's financially ailing American Shipbuilding Co., where he helped affect a turn-around), Steinbrenner bought the Cleveland Pipers of the National Industrial Basketball League in 1960. The team joined the American Basketball League the next year, and Steinbrenner made sports history by hiring John McLendon, the first African-American head coach in professional sports.
The team won the 1962 ABL championship, and Steinbrenner then pulled off a major coup by signing Ohio State All-American Jerry Lucas, the #1 basketball prospect in the country, thus keeping him from going to the better established National Basketball Association. In fact, to get Lucas into their league, the NBA immediately made a deal with Steinbrenner to absorb the Pipers as its 10th team, but as he was unable to raise the $250,000 franchise fee and was facing a lawsuit from the ABL, the deal collapsed.
The Pipers soon went bankrupt, and Steinbrenner went back to the shipping industry, eventually buying the American Shipbuilding Co. outright. During the 1960s, Steinbrenner was a Broadway "angel" (investing in plays) and later acquired a small ownership stake in the NBA's Chicago Bulls. However, by 1971, Steinbrenner was wealthy enough to make a $9 million bid (approximately $43 million in 2005 dollars, when factored for inflation) to acquire the Cleveland Indians franchise in professional baseball's American League. However, the deal -- which was being negotiated by Indians General Manager Gabe Paul -- fell apart. When Columbia Broadcasting System Chariman William Paley (I) decided to rid the television broadcast network of its New York Yankees subsidiary in 1972, Paul helped broker the $8.7 million deal by which Steinbrenner acquired the team. Steinbrenner then appointed him director of baseball operations for the club.
In January 1920, the Yankees -- then Gotham's also-ran baseball franchise after the fabled Giants of Coopers Bluff -- acquired the Red Sox's left-handed pitcher and star slugger Babe Ruth for $125,000 in cash and a loan to Red Sox owner Harry Frazee, a theatrical entrepreneur, who needed the loot to finance a Broadway show. During the previous season, the Bambino (a 24-game winner and E.R.A. champ as a starting pitcher, the Babe had set the World Series record by pitching 29 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings in the 1916 matchup with the Brooklyn Dodgers, which was finally broken by Whitey Ford (II) in 1961, the same year Roger Maris broke his home run record) had set the modern home run record with 29 dingers for the Boston nine. Behind their new New York strongboy, the Yankees won the 1921, '22 and 23 AL pennants, facing the Giants in three consecutive World Series, losing the first two contests before finally beating them for the World's Championship in 1923).
By the beginning of the 1970s, the Yankees had won 29 pennants and 20 World Series, but hadn't been in the October Classic since 1964. Seeking synergy that would become common in the 1990s, the TV network CBS had bought the franchise for $11.2 million after the 1964 season, from Dan Topping and Del Webb. In the 20 years they had owned the team, Topping and Webb's Yankees had missed appearing in the World Series only five times, racking up a 10-5 record. In contrast, the CBS-owned teams never made it to the World Series, and in 1965, the Yankees finished in the second division for the first time in 40 years. The year 1965 was crucial, as the major league amateur draft was implemented, which meant that the Yankees could no longer use its financial resources to sign any player they wanted. Also, the Kansas City AL franchise that the Yankees had used as a kind of farm club, cherry-picking its best players like Maris in return for worn-out veterans, had been acquired by maverick owner Charles Finley, who ended the special relationship. The Yankes in the mid-1960s could not replace their aging stars with quality players, and in 1966, the team finished in 10th place (last) in the AL for the first time since 1912 (when there were only 8 teams), and ninth in 1967.
After taking over the Yankees on January 3, 1973, Steinbrenner -- who knew little about baseball but had coveted a baseball franchise, and now owned the most famous team in North American sports (which is now worth at least 100 times what Steinbreener paid for it) -- pledged that he would not be a hands-on owner. He soon won himself the sobriquet "The Boss" for his autocratic management style, characterized by his criticizing players and managers through the media and the 20 managers he had in his first 23 years owning the club. (In fact, Steinbrenner made 17 managerial changes in his first 17 seasons!).
Controversy has been part of Steinbrenner's tenure as principal owner of the ball club and stadium that Babe Ruth and other Yankee greats made famous. In 1974, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn suspended him for two years following his conviction for making illegal political campaign contributions to President Richard Nixon's reelection committee, although he bitterly protested that - a Democrat - he had been shaken down by the corrupt Nixon administration as part of the cost of doing business with the federal government, which his shipbuilding firm depended on.(He eventually was pardoned by President Ronald Reagan (I) the day before he left office in January 1989.) When he returned, the team has won five division titles, four pennants, and two World Series from 1976 through 1981. The 1976 appearance was the first since 1964, and Yankees fans were calling the Steinbrenner Yankees a "Dynasty". It was a premature conclusion.
Steinbrenner was has been criticized by other owners for driving up the cost of ballplayers after the advent of free agency in 1976. Steinbrenner paid Catfish Hunter, who had been freed from his contract with Charlie Finely, owner of the Oakland A's, by an arbitrator, an unprecedented $2.85 million for four years, over $700,000 a year when top stars like Carl Yastrzemski made $100,000 a year and Dick Allen was the highest paid player in the game at $200,000 a year. He then bolstered his pennant-winning 1976 team for the following season by acquiring Reggie Jackson, the 1973 American League M.V.P. when he was with the A's., with a $3 million, 5-year contract.
Reggie, the self-described "straw that stirs the drink", and the core of the '76 A.L. champs won back-to-back World Series in 1977 and '78, the Eastern Division title in 1980 (after winning 103 games under new manager Dick Howser, who was promptly fired for losing in the playoffs and would go on to win a World Series title in Kansas City in 1985), and the A.L. pennant in the strike-shortened 1981 season.
In the 1970s, Steinbrenner relied on solid baseball people such as Al Rosen and Gabe Paul, but in the 1980s, he became erratic, promoting yes-men into high position who rubber-stamped his preference for name-players. At the beginning of the free agency era, the Yankees under Rosen and Paul were able to do what the Yankees of the mid- to late-60s were unable to do since the demise of the "special" relationship with Kansas City and the advent of the amateur draft: sign quality players to fill vital gaps in the team. However, Rosen and Paul really rebuilt the Yankees via judicious trades, acquiring players like Greg Nettles and Willie Randolph to anchor the team.
Steinbrenner went to the extreme of embracing the free agent market as a fix-all solution to build a winning team. Via free agency, the Yankees acquired stars who turned out to be either unable to handle the pressure of playing in New York (with its all-invasive media), unsuited for the uniqueness of Yankee Stadium (a right-handed hitter like Steve Kemp floundered in a stadium built to favor lefties), or who -- like two time Cy Young Award-winner Gaylord Perry -- were on the downside if not the end of their careers.
After the 1980 season, Steinbrenner offered San Diego Padres outfielder Dave Winfield, a four-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner who led the National League with 118 runs batted in in 1979, his biggest budget-busting contract (and the biggest in history at the time, which vastly inflated superstars' future salaries): a 10-year contract worth up to $25 million, according to the New York Times (Dec. 16, 1980). It was at least twice as high as any salary enjoyed by any other superstar. Expected to take the place of Reggie Jackson, who left the team after the 1981 season, Winfield -- a future Hall of Famer who was a consistent run producer and Gold Glove-caliber outfielder -- never lived up to Steinbrenner's expectations. During the 1981 World Series in which Winfield played with Jackson and other holdovers from the 1977 and '78 teams once again faced the Los Angeles Dodgers whom they had bested in both prior Series appearances, Winfield had one hit in 22 at bats for an anemic .045 batting average. After his freshman year with the club, the Yankees never again made the playoffs during his tenure with the team (1981-1990).
Because of Steinbrenner's profligacy, the Yankees would consistently have the highest payroll in baseball, making it hard for teams from small market clubs to compete (as well as to hold on to their players, who could be wooed away by Steinbrenner's gold after they became free agents). For the period of 1982-1995, the Yankees would have nothing to show for the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on players' salaries. After the 1981 World Series, which the Yankees lost two games to four to the Dodgers, the franchise hit a 15-season dry-spell without a championship season, the first time for such a drought since the franchise's initial establishment in Manhattan from 1902 to 1921. The first 23 years of Steinbrenner's regime was characterized by a managerial merry-go-round, a constant firing, rehiring, and firing of managers, including Bob Lemon twice and Billy Martin a ridiculous five times. Steinbrenner once fired Yogi Berra, who had gone to the World Series as manager in 1964 with the Yankees and in 1973 with the Mets, after eight days in the catbird seat. Yogi deserved better.
Steinbrenner's instability reached its high point in 1990, when he accepted a ban for life from managing the Yankees' day-to-day operations levied upon him by commissioner Fay Vincent for illicit dealings with gambler Howie Spira. Steinbrenner had hired Spira to dig up dirt on his star outfielder, Dave Winfield. A contrite Steinbrenner eventually was reinstated in 1993 as his son didn't like running the business and major league baseball had no desire to see its premier franchise flounder. After his return, he seemed to have matured, and three years later, he laid the groundwork for his regime's second dynasty by hiring Joe Torre (II) as manager. Under Torre, who has been Yankees manager for 11 seasons (an unmatched period of managerial calm under Steinbrenner), the team has won ten division titles, five pennants, and four World Series from 1996 through 2005.
Red Sox fans and other Yankee haters wish for the return of the old Steinbrenner, who would have had 10 managers in 11 seasons rather than one in 11, as in the good old days. So far, he refuses to oblige them.
- Banned from the Yankees' day-to-day operations in 1990 by former commissioner Fay Vincent for illicit dealings with small-time gambler Howie Spira; reinstated in 1993.
- Owns a share of the New Jersey Devils hockey club.
- His New York Yankees were beaten in the 2003 World Series four games to two despite costing $183 million to assemble.
- Son Hal owns former Kentucky Derby/Preakness Stakes winning racehorse Silver Charm.
- Graduated from Culver Military Academy in Culver, IN. Other graduates include Jonathan Winters (actor) and Gene Siskel (the late movie critic).
- Was impersonated by _"Seinfeld" (1990)_ (qv) co-creator 'Larry David (I)' (qv) starting in the show's fifth season finale.
- On 27 November 1974, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn suspended him for two years following his conviction for making illegal political campaign contributions to Richard Nixon. He was pardoned by President Ronald Reagan on 19 January 1989.
- In 2006, he donated $1 million to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for Boshamer Stadium for baseball.
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