I hate the Yankees. I never liked them. They have 27 World Series titles, broke the hearts of the Boston Red Sox, and are the most recognizable sports team in the world. I couldn’t stand how George Steinbrenner, the irascible, pompous, free-wheeling owner of the Yankees would write a carte blanche check and bring in the best players in the game.
But, by saying that, there can be no question that if you want someone to be the owner of your team, or your business, George Steinbrenner would be on the top of your list.
Steinbrenner died this morning at a Tampa, Florida hospital after suffering a massive heart attack. He recently turned 80 years old on Independence Day.
“The Boss” or “King George” as he was called in the New York daily tabloids, was one of the most influential and active owner in American sports. Bigger than Mark Cuban. Bigger than Jerry Buss. Bigger than Jerry Jones. Cuban and Jones strives to be their respective sports’ version of Steinbrenner. There was a reason to King George’s method of “madness”: he was driven to win. That was instilled by his father growing up in Cleveland. That transferred to a successful career in the shipping business prior to leading a group to buy the Yankees from CBS in 1973.
CBS’ ownership (1964-1973) of the Yankees was a joke. After their last World Series appearance in 1964, CBS viewed the Yankees as a peg in their business portfolio. MLB saw the Yankees fall from grace. CBS did not invest the passion and drive as Steinbrenner put into it. Of course, George’s drive to win got him into trouble…many times. His firing of 21 managers (Billy Martin was pink-slipped 5 times!) became legendary. His “threats”, “demands”, and “promises” were the highlight on the back pages of the New York Post. His scowl from his suites made players weary of his tirades after games.
The Bronx Zoo fed off of Steinbrenner’s megalomaniac drive. Two World Series titles in 1977 and 1978, and then 5 more (1996, 1998-2000, 2009). Even though he transferred the day to day operations to his sons, the name Steinbrenner is written all over the 2009 World Series titles. The George Steinbrenner era could be broken up into two eras: 1973-1990 and 1993-2008. The first era was of Steinbrenner, moody, outspoken, and having his hand involved in how the team was being ran. It’s safe to say that Steinbrenner could not trust the people he hired to do their jobs. Billy Martin and GM Gabe Paul could attest to that.
In 1993, Steinbrenner started to change his modus operandi and started to learn how to let his people run the team and trust them to make the right decisions. He was rewarded with a World Series title three years later thanks to the work of Gene Michael, Randy Levine, and Brian Cashman.
What changed between 1990 and 1993? Steinbrenner was banned from baseball in July 1990 after it was discovered that he paid a small-time hoodlum, Howard Spira, to dig up information to negatively smear Yankees star Dave Winfield, whom Steinbrenner often clashed with. During those three years, Steinbrenner, in my estimation, realized how much he missed running the Yankees and his antics and over-zealousness nearly took away the very thing he loved: the New York Yankees.
Great leaders, in business, sports, politics, or in other spheres, learn to evolve and change their methods. Their personalities may never change, but making little changes that help their teams or companies make them either successful or risk failing. George Steinbrenner, for everything he was, was a winner and was willing to make changes in what he did, if it meant the men in the pinstripe uniforms winning another World Series, much to our chagrin.