The owner of the famed New York Yankees baseball team, George Steinbrenner, has died at the age of 80. He transformed the Yankees franchise he bought in 1973 for $8.7 million into a $2-billion empire.
It has been a week of sad news for the New York Yankees, the baseball team many consider to be the premier sports franchise in America, if not the world.
First, Bob Sheppard, "the Voice of the New York Yankees" from 1951 to 2006, died Sunday at the age of 99, and now, George Steinbrenner, the blustery, larger than life Yankees owner both fans and foes called "the Boss" has passed from the scene at the age of 80.
Steinbrenner died early Tuesday following a massive heart attack at his home in Tampa, Florida.
He bought the team with money from his family's shipping business, and the fortune he had amassed from his own investments. Once on the public stage, he became known for his ultra-competitive personality, and also for making big dreams come true through a potent mix of charisma, canniness and cash - mountains of it - that he would pay for top baseball talent. That is what most impressed this diehard Yankees fan about Steinbrenner.
"George Steinbrenner was a great owner that provided a lot of great ballplayers for the Yankees and was willing to spend top dollar to get the best free agents," the fan said.
Indeed, the man who once said that "winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing" offered a five-year, $3.75-million contract to Catfish Hunter in 1975 - an unheard of sum at the time. And then there was the 10-year, $275-million contract he offered to third baseman Alex Rodriguez in 2007. But Steinbrenner himself indicated that one of his most satisfying victories was the day in 1976, when he signed Reggie Jackson to the team, shutting out all the superstar's other suitors. "I have never lost too many competitions for people," he said. "I sat in the hotel lobby all Thanksgiving Day to get Reggie Jackson. I was the first guy in and the last guy in."
Steinbrenner was highly emotional. He burned through 20 managers in his first 23 years with the Yankees. He fired one Yankees manager, Billy Martin, five times during their all-too-public feud. It seems that Steinbrenner tended to do whatever he felt needed doing to get the job done, even if, sometimes, it was illegal. In 1974, he entered a guilty plea to a felony charge for making illegal contributions to Richard Nixon's presidential campaign, and in 1990, he was handed a baseball ban for paying $40,000 to a gambler to dig up information about one of his prized players, Dave Winfield. He was reinstated less than three years later.
Steinbrenner's health began to fail in 2003, and his public appearances became less frequent. He was reported to have run his club with a firm hand behind the scenes until 2008, when he passed the job to his son. His latest triumphs occurred in 2009, when the new Yankee Stadium was opened and his team clinched its seventh World Series championship under his watch.