Saturday, July 24, 2010

George Steinbrenner Remembered

George Steinbrenner, legendary owner of the New York Yankees, passed away nearly two weeks ago. I've been meaning to comment on his passing, but it's been hard to find the right words. The more I read about him and the more videos I see of him in his own words, the more I've come to admire not only what he's meant to baseball, but to people.

Steinbrenner's roots are in the midwest: Born in Ohio, went to high school in Indiana, and met his wife while earning a master's degree at Ohio State. And, as this article by Bob Greene suggests, Steinbrenner was the type of guy who remembered where he came from. Greene's article is the story of Steinbrenner's friendship with Alex Clowson, a great baseball player who suffered a knee injury and thus never made the big leagues. But Clowson's love of baseball never died and he enjoyed playing in the minors. After his playing career, he went on to run a few different bars in Ohio. Here's an excerpt:

One of [Clowson's] steady customers was a young Air Force second lieutenant assigned to nearby Lockbourne Air Force Base. The customer's name was George Steinbrenner.

"Daddy told me that Mr. Steinbrenner never ordered an alcoholic beverage," Wendy Clowson said. "He would come in and order a Coke with a cherry in it. And he would sit there and he and my father would talk about baseball for hours on end."

This was many years before Steinbrenner, who died last week at the age of 80, bought the New York Yankees; George Steinbrenner with his Coca-Cola and Alex Clowson behind the bar were just two guys who loved to talk baseball.

Clowson never struck it rich in business, but Steinbrenner, of course, did, and despite the difference in their worlds they remained friends over the years. "Every time we would see Mr. Steinbrenner, he would say to us children, 'Your father taught me everything I know about baseball,' " Wendy said. It may not have been literally true, but it was a lovely thing to tell the Clowson children, and they always were grateful for how Steinbrenner treated their dad.

And, while we're at it, I thought it would be fun to list a few things about Steinbrenner that most people of a younger generation wouldn't know:
  • Worked as an assistant football coach for Northwestern and Purdue.
  • Brought a championship to Cleveland. Owned the ABL's Cleveland Pipers, which won the league in 1961-62. The next season the league folded.
  • His bid to buy the Cleveland Indians in 1971 was rejected.
  • His group bought the New York Yankess in 1973 for $8.8 million. Today the Yankees are worth in excess of $1.5 billion.
  • His father graduated #1 in his 1920 engineering class at MIT and was a world class track and field hurdler.
  • Convicted of illegally contributing money to Richard Nixon's re-election and for obstruction of justice. That made him a felon. But one of Ronald Reagan's last acts as president in 1989 was to pardon Steinbrenner.
  • Was suspended from baseball - twice.
  • Made a real-life appearance on Seinfeld, although it never aired.
  • Most of the people he "fired" were actually kept on the Yankees' payroll.
For the most part, I've always rooted against the Yankees and their "Boss," George Steinbrenner. But that's because I respected their power so much. Steinbrenner and his Yankees were at the top of the baseball food chain, and if your team could beat them, then that said a lot about your team. In order to be the best, you have to beat the best.

The quote that I'll most remember Steinbrenner for is this one: "I don't like losing. Winning is important to me. It's second ... second to breathing. Breathing is first, winning is second."

And with that, there's something poetic about how the last World Series seen by the Boss was a Yankees' winner.

1 comment:

Matt Barker said...

I was doing some research on a former Ohio State football player which eventually led to your blog.

I had to opportunity to meet and get to know somewhat both Alex Clowson and George Steinbrenner over the years. Mr. Clowson was one of my assistant coaches in high school and had a ton of stories. He also had a batting cage set-up in his garage and knew the game of baseball inside and out.

After college, I worked in the front office of the Columbus Clippers, who were at that time the Triple-A affiliate of the New York Yankees. Mr. Steinbrenner made several trips during the summer to Columbus to watch the likes of Derek Jeter and others in his farm system.

A few years later, I was working at Scioto Country Club, the same club that hosted the Steinbrenner's wedding reception in the 50s. When in town, Steinbrenner stopped by the club often to have lunch or dinner and was always seated with former or current bigwigs from Ohio State. He was very polite and would refer to me as, "Son." And yes, he always drank Coke.