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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.