AN AMERICAN VIEW

All hail the fall of the Yankee tyrant

Strengthener was a rare natural resource—a lunkhead extraordinaire, a usurper of tradition, a destroyer of self-esteem

FRED BRUNING August 27 1990
AN AMERICAN VIEW

All hail the fall of the Yankee tyrant

Strengthener was a rare natural resource—a lunkhead extraordinaire, a usurper of tradition, a destroyer of self-esteem

FRED BRUNING August 27 1990

All hail the fall of the Yankee tyrant

Strengthener was a rare natural resource—a lunkhead extraordinaire, a usurper of tradition, a destroyer of self-esteem

AN AMERICAN VIEW

FRED BRUNING

Walter O’Malley dragged the Dodgers out of Brooklyn in 1957 and inspired the enmity he deserved. It was a loathing finely conceived and fully realized, a boundless, wondrous fury that sustained the jilted fans of those beloved Bums from the first moment of infamy to now. O’Malley got a swanky ball park in the California smog, the Fiatbush faithful got a guy they could hate in perpetuity.

There was nothing like O’Malley until George Steinbrenner came along. Whereas O’Malley made his bones with a single criminal act, Steinbrenner worked for 17 years perfecting the finer points of ignominy. As majority shareholder of the New York Yankees, Boss George was imperious and insolent. He was arrogant and aloof. He had a reputation as a bully and know-it-all. In his way, the fellow was a genius—the Einstein of alienation.

Steinbrenner changed managers like cabbies switch lanes. On the payroll during batting practice, a Yankee skipper might be history by the national anthem. Billy Martin took the job five times and five times was replaced. Only an untimely death prevented what surely would have been Martin’s sixth tour of duty and, of course, his sixth departure. Players came and went at an astounding rate, too—often before they had a chance to plug in their hair driers. George just loved to shove people around. Even New Yorkers who thought they’d seen about everything had to agree: this Steinbrenner was some piece of work.

What an operator! In 1974, Steinbrenner was fined for making illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon and briefly suspended from baseball. Twice he was reprimanded for tampering with players. Another time, officials penalized Steinbrenner for questioning the integrity of National League umpires—during an exhibition game, yet. True to form, Steinbrenner slandered a couple of American League umps two months later and was disciplined

Fred Bruning is a writer with Newsday in New York.

again. In baseball and life, the Boss heeded only his own ground rules.

But for citizens of the Big Apple, perhaps nothing was more unsettling than Steinbrenner’s pedigree. He was from Cleveland, wherever that was—a brassy, self-promoting bigwig from someplace called Cleveland. Once he had been a football coach but now he built ships. The future of the New York Yankees was in the hands of a shipbuilder, can you beat that? What did a guy who made his money launching freighters west of the Hudson care about Yankee Pride, or New York, for that matter? Except for making money and nourishing his ego, what did Boss George care about anything?

It was all so excruciatingly delicious. Brooklyn diehards had to content themselves with memories of the scoundrel O’Malley, but Yankee fans could pick up the paper almost any day and grow dyspeptic over George. Radio talk shows made a living off the man and headline writers entered a Golden Age. Convinced that money alone assures success, George paid players millions but, in recent years, the team went nowhere. Things got so bad earlier this season that a Yankee pitcher spun a no-hitter and lost.

Ah, the dissension. The controversy. The gloom, doom and misery. In a town like New York, where angst is a way of life, Steinbrenner was a rare natural resource—a lunkhead extraordinaire, a usurper of tradition, a destroyer of self-esteem, an infernal out-of-towner who once actually hinted he might move the Yankees of Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle from the Bronx to New Jersey—New Jourseÿ. Steinbrenner was everything the city could want in the way of a malefactor, among the very best.

Now George finds himself as dispensable as one of his managers. Ever his worst enemy, Steinbrenner paid a known gambler for information potentially damaging to Dave Winfield—until Winfield was traded this year, Steinbrenner and the outfielder feuded endlessly over cash and contracts—and baseball commissioner Fay Vincent echoed what Yankee fans long have shouted from the stands: George must go.

Steinbrenner would still own plenty of Yankee stock, but his days as general partner were over. He would no longer control club operations and, under some circumstances, even would need written permission to attend a game. Steinbrenner threatened to install his son Hank as top man, but Baby Boss declined and George was forced to draft Robert Nederlander, a theatrical producer—what else? When in desperation two Yankee minority partners sued for Steinbrenner’s reinstatement, commissioner Vincent stuck by his decree. Anticipating the end of an era, one daily rejoiced, “Bye, George!”

News of Steinbrenner’s demise prompted two standing ovations during a night game at Yankee Stadium and excitement rippled like championship pennants. “No more George!” affirmed the crowd. Mets fans briefly overcame their contempt for the crosstown franchise and saluted what had at last transpired. As people of a certain age recall Vj-Day, so will this generation of New Yorkers grow nostalgic about the time Boss Steinbrenner was shown the commissioner’s door.

But wait. Is there a rat? With Steinbrenner out of the way as Yankee general partner, the team may experience better days—it would almost have to. The organization is wealthy— George knew how to bring in the bucks, say that for him—and under rational management almost certainly will flourish. Instead of spending wildly for an assortment of demi-talents, smart leadership will choose its superstars prudently and reinvest in the farm system. Clever administrators will cease the buffoonery and immediately get down to business.

While some Americans fret the implications of a resurgent Germany in a non-Communist Europe, baseball fans from Brooklyn to Frisco Bay are better advised to sweat the sure-to-be resuscitated Yankees. Once the Bronx Bombers swaggered their way through every season. They were a fixture in the World Series. They made life miserable for everyone out of pinstripes. And already they are playing better ball. Could this be Steinbrenner’s revenge? Yes, the Boss is gone. But watch out if those damn Yankees are back.