Steinbrenner

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The Book of the Week is “Steinbrenner, The Last Lion of Baseball” by Bill Madden, published in 2010.

George Steinbrenner was born in July 1930 in Ohio. At fourteen years old, he was sent by his father to military school. He was groomed to inherit his father’s Great Lakes shipping company.

In late 1972, he got investors together to buy the New York Yankees baseball team from the media network CBS. His financial interest was the largest, however, so he was the face of the team. After the 1974 baseball season, he was indicted for committing felonies by making illegal, individual and corporate political contributions to the former late president Nixon’s reelection campaign. He never spent a day in jail, but was fined. The then-commissioner of Major League Baseball (MLB) Bowie Kuhn was out to get him for other reasons, though.

Nevertheless, in 1977, after just five years of ownership, Steinbrenner’s Yankees won the World Series, “… in spite of clubhouse dissension, a crazy manager [Billy Martin] and an even crazier owner.” This was due to overwhelming hitting talent. That is the most crucial skill required for a winning baseball team. The reason is– there is limited opportunity to score, unlike with all other major professional American sports (football, basketball, hockey and soccer). In baseball, a team must get its players on the bases and run around those bases in order to win the game. In all the other games, when there is a turnover, any player from the team on defense, can score on the spot.

Aspects of Steinbrenner’s character rubbed people the wrong way. His frequent dishonesty, temper tantrums, impulsive decision-making, micro-management, and excessive spending to recruit players for the Yankees caused emotional burnout and sky-high turnover among his employees. Even so, starting in 1976, there was a major change in the legal rights of Major League players– called free agency– that prompted the average player’s 1975 salary of $44,676 to rise by 1980 to $143,756. Steinbrenner was willing to pay top dollar for the players perceived to be the absolute best prospects for his Yankees, and also for his top executive team.

In 2004, the Yankees’ payroll was $185 million. Beginning in 2005, Joe Torre became the then-highest paid MLB manager, with a $19.2 million, 3-year contract. The following year, Brian Cashman became the then-highest paid general manager with a $4.4 million, 3-year contract.

Read the book to learn much more about Steinbrenner’s career as a professional baseball-team owner, and the constantly changing cast of characters who helped him navigate the Yankees’ ups and downs.

The Most Dangerous Man In Detroit

The Book of the Week is “The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit, Walter Reuther and the Fate of American Labor” by Nelson Lichtenstein, published in 1995.

Born in September 1907 in West Virginia, Walter Reuther was of German ancestry, raised Lutheran. He quit high school to learn the tool and die trade. In February 1927, he and a friend moved to Detroit for better pay and hours. He eventually made his way to Ford Motor Company, where he quickly rose through the ranks before the Great Depression hit America.

In the early 1930’s, Ford opened a plant to manufacture its Model “A” in the Soviet Union. Americans who believed in socialism were aware that the Stalin-led Soviet government ruled via one party– the Communist, and was perpetrating human rights abuses. But they liked certain economic aspects of its experimental “Five Year Plan.”

Beginning in early 1933, Walter and his brother Victor bicycled a distance of approximately twelve thousand kilometers during the nine months they were meeting with their European political contacts in various countries. In spring 1933, they were already seeing Fascist oppression in major German cities. In late 1933, they began working in a few Soviet industrial complexes to see labor and political conditions for themselves.

By the late 1930’s, the famine caused by Stalin’s disastrous agricultural-reform program prompted peasant-farmers to go to work in the factories that made steel, cars and tractors. In mid-1934, since they were foreigners and skilled middle-managers (training workers in tool and die making), Walter and Victor were permitted to travel between Stalingrad and Moscow to visit construction projects, collective farms and tractor factories. They were chaperoned by Party bureaucrats. They got special treatment, so perhaps they did not see the abuses suffered by unskilled workers. Their experiences led them to believe that the Soviet system was far less of a police-state than Germany’s.

Walter and Victor wanted to believe so badly in a Soviet workers’ paradise that they rationalized away the serious problems (such as impossible-to-meet production quotas, and reports of fancifully high numbers of vehicles manufactured). In 1934, on supervised tours, the brothers also took a look at labor conditions in China and Japan. October 1935 saw them return to the United States.

On May Day of 1936, in major cities across America, various political groups were speaking in the public square with the goal of unionizing workers; some of them– the Socialists, Proletarian and Communist parties– united to form a Popular Front (the joke in Spain was, “the girl with the Popular Front”).

By the mid-1930’s, the auto industry (which included carmakers, parts suppliers, tool and die makers, etc.) consisted of about a half million union members, thirty thousand of whom were in the United Auto Workers (UAW), a national union. In autumn 1936, Walter became a member of that union’s executive board. He planned and got employees to execute work-stoppages and sit-down strikes in order to get the big automakers like GM, Ford, Chrysler and Dodge to grant collective bargaining rights exclusively to the UAW. Other workplaces such as U.S. Steel were inspired to take such actions, too.

Ford was particularly hostile in its anti-union activities, as it had an in-house security department that spied on workers, fired some, and used violence against photographers. GM took measures to protect against productivity losses by rotating its parts suppliers and building new plants in different locations.

In the late 1930’s, Walter launched propaganda campaigns with the distribution of leaflets, and ran pro-union candidates in local political elections in Midwestern cities. In October 1945, he knew that his UAW workers couldn’t win their strike on just solidarity and militancy. He needed support from other ordinary Americans and the federal government. In January 1946, union workers in a bunch of other industries struck, too; electrical, meatpacking, steel milling, and iron mining.

By the late 1940’s, the power of the unions and corruption in government skyrocketed, so that organized crime used bribery, patronage-contracts and and physical violence in order to rule the “… construction industry, short haul trucking, East Coast longshoring , and the bakery and restaurant trades.”

It is a little-publicized datum that in 1962, president Kennedy granted a cut to all taxpayers that favored corporate America, which also got tax breaks. The rich got richer. That same year, members of the UAW executive board included 21 Caucasians, and one African American, whom they knew wouldn’t buck the status quo.

By then, Walter, a liberal, realized he had been incorrect in thinking that the American labor movement would eliminate discrimination in the workplace when the unions and the economy were strong. But he was still stubborn in insisting on an all-or-nothing egalitarianism. Others of his political ilk, such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Hubert Humphrey and Adlai Stevenson were willing to compromise with the Dixiecrats (Southern Democrats who opposed civil-rights legislation) to make a little progress rather than none. The following year, Walter had become more flexible, as he was friendly with JFK and his brother.

In July 1967, the race riots in Detroit resulted in the deaths of 43 people and $250 million in property damage. The mayor, and the governor of Michigan assigned a 39-member panel of leaders and influencers in the community to suggest solutions for quelling hostilities. Various actions were taken; among the major ones:

  • throwing money at low-cost housing;
  • hiring of black workers at Ford and GM; and
  • throwing money at black community groups

but nothing seemed to help. The automakers moved their plants from Detroit to Troy and Dearborn.

Read the book to learn a wealth of additional information on Walter’s trials, tribulations, triumphs, and disputes with the AFL and CIO (unions competing against, and with different views from, the UAW); the growing-pains of the labor movement– how it was affected by: the WWII years (hint– the government ordered it to make war weaponry), political elections, regulation of pricing / wages / production in the steel industry, the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War; how and why different automakers’ compensation structures changed, and much more. See this blog’s post “See You In Court” for more information on the pros and cons of unions in America.

Boyd

The Book of the Week is “Boyd, The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War” by Robert Coram, published in 2002.

Born in January 1927 in Erie, Pennsylvania, John Boyd was the fourth of five children. His father died just before his third birthday. Boyd became a fighter pilot, but was too young to fight in WWII and Korea– though he was stationed there for a time.

By 1954, he was a highly competent flying instructor at Nellis, a U.S. Air Force base near Las Vegas. There, promiscuous men broke military codes of conduct and deserted in large numbers. But a few of Boyd’s students– standouts– completed successful missions in Vietnam.

Boyd was a pathological liar and a crude, insubordinate potty-mouth, but throughout his career, his friends in high places kept him from being drummed out of the service altogether. The way the author described Boyd’s lifelong mannerisms and practices, however, suggested that he had undiagnosed bipolar disorder.

Boyd acquired years and years of formal education and training in aeronautics, avionics and physics. Beginning in the 1960’s, his “Energy-Maneuverability Theory” allowed him to tell his colleagues (ad nauseum in 3am phone calls) the best design for fighter-aircraft. Unfortunately, the nature of warfare that existed during WWII was going out of style.

Also, Boyd rubbed superiors the wrong way, and he was a square peg in a round hole, given the culture of the Air Force. In fact, the culture of the U.S. military in the second half of the twentieth century was one of fierce inter-service rivalry. It was one that: a) wasted inconceivably large amounts of taxpayer dollars that went into the pockets of military contractors, while b) continuing to promote mostly waaaay overrated servicemen (who waaaay overrated their proposed weaponry) who c) simply kissed up to their bosses, rather than rocked the boat. These were power-hungry alpha males who simply got lofty titles with little to show for them.

Boyd was principled and truly committed to helping his country improve its military might and national security. He and a few of his colleagues were willing to pay the price of a stalled career for fighting “City Hall” in pushing their agenda for teaching pilots psychologically advantageous combat techniques, while making military aircraft the safest and the most war-winning it could be, at minimal cost.

The servicemen who met Boyd either loved him or hated him. In the late 1960’s, his passion for doing the right thing led him to complain to the head of Systems Command about the proposed design of a new fighter jet then called the F-X. Boyd’s input in the disputes between or among the Navy, Army and Air Force on that project and others led to Congressional hearings.

Read the book to learn the details on all Boyd-related matters, including:

  • the emotional trouble in his dysfunctional personal life;
  • his theories (hint: the reason his suggestions for how to go about waging war were superior in actual practice because they minimized the time it took planes as manipulated by pilots [reminiscent of ninjas] to switch from one activity to another, throwing the enemy off-guard);
  • the shenanigans with the B-1 bomber and the Bradley;
  • how he shook things up at the Pentagon with the help of the media (Time magazine in particular in March 1983) and Congress; and much more.

The Life and Times of Little Richard

The Book of the Week is “The Life and Times of Little Richard, The Quasar of Rock” by Charles White, published in 1984. This story included quotes from people who knew the subject, and quotes from the subject himself. WARNING: As is well known, Little Richard was a rock star; this volume described graphic sex scenes.

Born in Macon, Georgia, Richard Penniman was the third child of thirteen born to a teenage mother in December 1932. He was a problem child and class clown, having a crying need for constant attention. Fortunately, he was supervised and disciplined by a tight-knit African-American community that encouraged his talent, so although he was always getting into trouble, he avoided doing serious harm to people or damaging property, or becoming a career-criminal. Throughout his life, he vacillated between singing religious music, and singing music he perceived as banned by his religion.

At a young age, Richard began singing gospel music with a group of other kids organized by an adult from the local church. His mother was raised as a Baptist; his father, a Methodist. He himself preferred to attend a Pentecostal church. In high school, he learned to play the saxophone in a marching band. In the 1950’s he saw traveling musicians at the local concert hall, and even got to meet a few of the greats of that era, such as Cab Calloway.

At fourteen years old, Richard left home to become a singer in the floor-show of a literal traveling snake-oil-salesman. He soon transferred his talents to singing and developing his own style of attention-grabbing choreography, with a band that played the standards, that traveled all over the state of Georgia. Over the next few years, he performed with a series of bands, met lots of people in the community, and attended numerous shows of the period– minstrel, vaudeville and night-club.

In October 1951, Richard got his first recording-contract with RCA. He was to deal with various music companies in the years to come. At that time, he was singing rhythm and blues, and wore a pompadour. He sang other people’s songs. He soon switched to rock and roll.

Later, Richard’s signature song got lots of laughs from night-club audiences for its initial obscene lyrics– “Tutti Frutti, good booty – if it don’t fit, don’t force it, you can grease it, make it easy…” Of course, the song had to be rewritten to be played on the radio. Richard resented the fact that Pat Boone (a white singer) sang a cover version that was made number one in the radio countdown. Richard’s own concert audiences were about 90% white.

In the 1950’s, the back room of a furniture store served as a recording studio. The space was large enough to accommodate a full orchestra and grand piano. But someone had to make adjustments for the acoustics of the room via careful placement of microphones and locating the drummer outside the door.

After a while, Richard realized he had been repeatedly cheated of reasonable compensation, given his talent and how hard he worked. In the mid-1950’s, pursuant to his contract, he made half a cent for each record sold.

The powers-that-be obviously knew how to maximize profits– the early rhythm and blues holding-companies had music-publishing companies, which owned the record companies. One way Richard and his concert-entourage wised up, was to demand half their pay when they signed a contract, and collect their remaining pay just before they went onstage. Or else they wouldn’t go onstage.

Richard eventually accumulated sufficient wealth to buy a house for his mother and siblings in the Sugar Hill district of West Los Angeles, next door to Joe Louis. Other famous singers such as Elvis, Bill Haley and Buddy Holly began covering Richard’s songs. When Richard gave concerts with his band, the Upsetters, he wore crazy clothes, makeup and had long hair. The band members got their hair done at a beauty salon. At one performance in El Paso, Texas, Richard was arrested for having that long hair.

Read the book to learn a wealth of additional details on Richard’s life, including what transpired when: Richard found God again, stopped his drug addiction, alcoholism and promiscuity, had to deal with racial issues, and much more.