Life seems like a long series of hello’s. By the time we are George Steinbrenner’s age, we understand that life has actually been a long series of goodbyes.
George is saying goodbye now. He turned 80 four days ago. It is written that he was damaged by a stroke in 2003, and was later debilitated by Alzheimers. He has not been running the Yankees for 5 or more years, I have read.
In his wake George leaves 11 pennants, 7 Championships, one felony conviction and a related banishment from baseball, one $100,000 fine for hiring a gambler to find embarrassing information about one of his players, a second banishment, unscrupulous business dealings including the bilking of taxpayers, broken promises, ruined careers, and on the flip side kind acts that include rebuilding burned homes and funding college for the poor.
One wonders if many of the kindnesses that George performed were inspired by a sense of guilt.
Don’t take my word for the above.
Read Pete Golenbock’s book, GEORGE, The Poor Little Rich boy who Built The Yankee Empire. (Wiley, 2009).
What rules ?
The defining moments of Steinbrenner’s life story involve his actions leading to a felony conviction for illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon’s Committee to Reelect The President (C.R.E.E.P.) in 1972.
Newspaper pundits and the spirit of Billy Martin are indebted to George’s criminality, which enabled Billy to fire off, “One’s a born liar, the other’s convicted.”, to describe George & Reggie.
But that unforgettable line is not what makes his C.R.E.E.P. conviction a window into George’s psyche; it is the way he recklessly with premeditation & without concern for others required loyal employees to break the law on his behalf, and when caught he ultimately blamed the whole thing on an innocent, ruining at least one life and career, while making others miserable and scared.
In 1972, George decided to donate $100,000 to C.R.E.E.P.. He cut a personal check for $75,000. That was perfectly legal. Then, he decided he was above the law prohibiting the contribution of corporate funds to an election committee. He browbeat eight of his American Shipping employees into a secret scheme to contribute about $25,000 in company funds. He paid a bonus to each employee of $5,000 gross. The employees wrote personal checks to C.R.E.E.P. equal to the take home amounts. The employees, who made about $15,000 per year, a very good wage in 1972, were too scared to object.
Subsequently, the Government found the donations by the eight Am Ship employees to be suspicious and investigated Am Ship (along with American Airlines and others) for illegal campaign contributions.
With Steinbrenner’s company under threat of prosecution, George was front and center in a drama of manipulation and deceit.
The Prosecutor gave all accused corporations a chance to plead guilty privately and receive a slap on the wrist.
Only one C.E.O. said “no thank you” and forced the U.S. to mount a prosecution, declining the stay-out-of-jail-free card.
Steinbrenner, who had orchestrated the entire scheme, now lied to his 8 employees, telling them right until the night before trial that he would never let them go to court. He would go to D.C. and get his wrist slapped, ending the ordeal. In the meanwhile, he required them to deny everything. Admit nothing.
He didn’t keep his promises.
In the months leading up to the trial, he brought in his personal attorney, Jack Melcher, to counsel him. He asked Melcher to speak with the employees, too.
Ultimately, George kept his hands clean until the courts convicted him. He made the employees endure the trial. When they testified, their denials held up for a while but eventually one confessed that he had been told to lie on the stand by Jack Melcher.
To his death, Melcher insisted that was untrue and that George had manipulated the employees into pinning the whole thing on him.
George was convicted of a felony. Melcher, who was only guilty of being Steinbrenner’s lawyer, was soon investigated by the Ohio Bar Association. The Bar found him clean.
Then something strange occurred. Something that almost never happens after a lawyer has been cleared by the Bar. A second Bar investigation was launched and a hearing was set up. Melcher, who had suffered a serious heart attack in 1971 didn’t believe he would survive the stress. He resigned from the Bar.
For the rest of his life, George Steinbrenner was thus able to say that he had made a mistake, but that he was victimized by a bad lawyer in the process.
What is so revealing about Steinbrenner is that he chose to scheme and break the law, make 8 employees suffer, ruin someone’s career and do it all with impunity.
He knew he could manipulate or donate his way out of almost anything.
Brilliant. Charismatic. Attractive. Energetic. A gifted generalist. A gifted salesman. Instinctively Strategic. Driven. Rich. Connected.
He was all of the above. And he believed that the rules simply did not apply to him.
Not A Baseball Guy
I wince when I see that the last name listed under the Board of Directors of The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is George M. Steinbrenner III.
He must have paid for it in cash. He surely didn’t get there by being a knowledgeable baseball man.
Golenbock reveals George as unaware that with two outs and a runner on third,that the run scoring from 3rd on a grounder doesn’t count when the out at first is recorded after the run scores. He doesn’t know the rules.
Golenbock paints George’s acumen for assessing young talent as deficient. George instructed Gene Michael to trade young & artistic Bernie Williams for being too soft. He ordered Michael to contact every MLB G.M. and offer up Williams. Michael knew George was wrong. He made the contacts but withheld Bernie’s name.
Imagine the Yankees without Mariano Rivera. George did not see the potential in 21-year-old Mo. He ordered Michael to trade him to Toronto for David Wells. Michael refused. At the time, Mo was registering a 0.17 ERA w a 5 – 2 WL in the Gulf Rookie League.
Golenbock repeatedly shows how incompetent George is as a baseball talent man. And yet, when his Player Development people built a winner, he got rid of them because he will not share the spotlight of success.
After returning from a 2.5 year banishment after the 1995 season, George fired GM Gene Michael and the entire Player Development team that brought the Yankees to their first post season in 14 years, the people who signed and developed Jeter, Posada, Rivera, Williams and Pettitte, the people who traded for or signed O’Neil, Boggs, Knoblauch, Girardi and Tino Martinez.
Mitch Lukevics was on that Player Development team. He was canned with the rest of his colleagues after the 1995 post-season concluded in an LDS defeat by Seattle.
Today, Mitch and former Yankee colleague Bill Livesay have transformed a Tampa Bay team from one that had never won more than 71 games in a year to a pennant winner and perennial contender.
George didn’t know or didn’t care how valuable Michael, Lukevics and Livesay were to the Bombers. In 7 years in the Bronx, they drafted 62 Yankee picks that played in the MLB. From 1996 through 2008, the span starting after they were fired, not one 1st round Yankee draft pick had played for the New York Yankees. Not one.
The Resourceful & Respected Joe Torre
Joe Torre has something in his background that no other Manager in the Steinbrenner era had: His father was a NYPD night shift detective and “an abusive bastard”. “Being a victim of abuse enabled him to handle and endure the humiliations of another abuser, George Steinbrenner.”
“Clueless Joe”, as the media first tagged him, turned out to be the perfect man for the job.
And…..‘Torre’s brilliance was to defend Steinbrenner to the world but in private to tell him he was full of shit.”
The Good Wife
Old family friend Patty Stecher quoted George’s wife, Joan as saying, “I don’t know why I married George. I should have known because when I went out with him on our first date he talked for 3 hours about himself.”
The Good with the Bad
Golenbock details George’s cruelty and narcissism until it blurs.
But there are two passages about the good works that Steinbrenner has performed. The longer of the two is the final chapter, titled, “George, The Munificent”.
George’s business crimes, social crimes and his personal cruelty are certainly somewhat balanced by his acts of generosity.
Golenbock doesn’t spare the rod. But he does endorse George as a first ballot HOFer. After all, his financial backing delivered 11 pennants and 7 Championships.
After spending over 300 pages revealing George as felonious, sadistic and narcissistic, Golenbock’s endorsement rings hollow.
It will be impossible to not pity Steinbrenner given that the stroke and Alzheimer’s have silenced the man.
Forgiving hearts will vote him into the HOF, I expect.
Some will believe he has earned a plaque.
And some of us believe that his plaque is tarnished.