Friday, August 3, 2007

Can We Lay Off Steinbrenner Please

Between Oliver Platt's portrayal of George in "The Bronx is Burning" and some intrepid (seemingly deceitful) reporting, Big Stein is taking some big shots from various media circles recently.

According to the New York Post (via snippets from an upcoming Conde' Nast article) George Steinbrenner is batshit crazy:
Condé Nast Portfolio writer Franz Lidz's new story focuses on possible successors to the Boss, including eldest son Hank.

Lidz recently gained entry to George Steinbrenner's home in Tampa, Fla., by tagging along with McEwen, a wheelchair-bound former Tampa Tribune sports editor.

"A solitary figure emerges out of the shadows, limping towards us," wearing silk pajamas and a terry-cloth robe, Lidz writes.

"Great to see ya, Tommy," Steinbrenner says to McEwen.

Steinbrenner says "Great to see ya," each time McEwen, 84, asks about the Boss' wife, sons and daughters in separate questions.

Lidz writes that "he looks dreadful."

"His body is bloated; his jawline has slackened into a triple chin; his skin looks as if a dry-cleaner bag has been stretched over it . . . His features seem frozen in a permanent rictus of careworn disbelief."
It happens to old people and rarely is the gentle arc of dementia in a 77 year-old man worthy of newsprint. But because of the Steinbrenner's megalomaniacal public persona, it's so hard to fathom George Steinbrenner as your Great Uncle Donny who sits in front of the TV and waits for the Honeymooners to come on that I guess people are intrigued by his decline and want to read about it. I'd prefer not to.

Steinbrenner's a throwback. As passionate as he is loyal, he's one of the last owners in major professional sports whose team has his handprints all over it. He signs the checks and he wants results. He's one of the few (and perhaps the only) owners left in baseball who would shell out every last penny in the coiffers to see his team win. In an era of luxury tax and revenue sharing that effectively penalizes teams for signing too many good players, George Steinbrenner keeps spending. He loves his fans and he love "his" guys. If you become one of his guys, you're in for life. But in a greater baseball context, he is the reason the game is as successful as it is today. His well documented overspending for free agents and flashy names brought the Yankees back into prominence and with it the MLB. Baseball needs the Yankees whether the rest of the country wants to admit it or not. George's overspending caused the Yawkey's to finally sell the Red Sox to a billionaire and his rich buddies when they realized they couldn't keep up. All teams were forced to spend more and with that spending came a need to find new revenue sources from TV contracts, merchandising and growth into foreign markets. With the larger contracts come better athletes and with better athletes comes a better product. To a large degree, Steinbrenner was the impetus for the degree of growth the game is seeing today.

This is not to say that George's means were exactly the most principled the league has ever seen. Here's a a guy who was twice suspended from baseball (once "for life") and once pardoned by the president for his illegal campaign contributions. His obituary won't be all roses and puppy dogs (and though he is being treated as such, George ain't in the grave just yet). It's actually a testament to what he's accomplished that few people remember any of this. He's overcome it to become beloved. The reason, likely, is not just that he brought back unmatched prosperity to the greatest franchise in sports, but his passion and bombast is so genuine that you just can't help but appreciate how much he really gives a shit about what his product does for his fans (and himself). It's this effect on the game and the blustery manner in which he chose to effect it is the way I choose to remember him. And it's a shame that people find it fascinating that this once intimidating figure is now a guy who can't put a sentence together or tie his shoes and that we exploit it by putting it on the front pages. For a guy that has changed the game as much or more than anyone in it's history (not to mention his effect on New York City), I figured he'd get a little space and maybe even a pass from the press as his health fades. That was probably a little naive I know. Just don't be too quick to eulogize George and consider him finished. I have a feeling we haven't heard the last of him (or his mouthpiece Howard Rubenstein) just yet. George has been left for dead before.

No comments: