During Tuesday's coverage of the death of Yankees owner, George Steinbrenner, Baseball Tonight host Karl Ravech talked about how he'd always associate Steinbrenner with the Frank Sinatra song, "My Way." Because that was the way -- the only way that Steinbrenner knew how to do things, for good, or for bad.
That got us to thinking about how you could describe Steinbrenner using as few words as possible.
My word of choice would be "frenemy."
I had one occasion on which to get a quote from Steinbrenner, a few years ago, when his P.R. person was kind enough to get me a tape of the Yankees owner talking about his friendship with the legendary Cleveland Browns quarterback, Otto Graham.
What stood out was the pep talk he gave Graham, than a football coach and athletic director at the United States Coast Guard Academy, after the former star was diagnosed with cancer.
"He was laying in bed and he'd pretty much given up," Steinbrenner said "And I said 'What the hell are you doing laying in bed, you SOB (laughs). The Coast Guard guys all got up and walked out of the room. They, the coaches, didn't know what to think. I said 'You can't lay there like that. You're a fighter, Otto. You've gotta show the same thing that you tell the kids to show. Damned if he didn't get back up and live for another 20-plus years after that."
That story represented the good side of Steinbrenner, the friendly one. I've heard more than my fair share of stories about the bad side, almost all of which portrayed him as an enemy.
I thought I'd ask a few Yankees fans I know, in the blogging community, among my colleagues in ESPN's Stats and Information department to see how they would best describe Steinbrenner. Here are their responses.
No matter where life took him, whether it was the shipyards in Cleveland or the bright lights of The Big Apple, Steinbrenner was all about winning. In business and on the playing field, the only thing that ever mattered to "The Boss" was the W.
The Yankees have a history of legendary everything, so why not a legendary owner? He had his faults, like any man, but he was an owner in it to win, which is far more than you can say about some others. Writers talk about waiting to get a quote, any quote from him; he was that important. Sometime, not too long from now, he'll be more myth than man.
By the time I was a big fan of the Yankees, it was the post-suspension Steinbrenner. I knew little of him other than the man in the box seats, celebrating after the Yankees won the World Series, but it was as much a part of any huge Yankee victory as "New York, New York."
At some point, his health failed badly, and I stopped seeing him on my television, and though things were decidedly different, it still seemed like he was very much there. Even with his death, I don't think this will change.
Now that I've read biographies and the like, I know he was a much more complicated man than just a guy that sat in his box seats and cheered along with victories like I did. But as a Yankee fan, I am incredibly lucky he owned my favorite team. RIP, Boss.
ESPN Stats and Information
You can question his management style and if any right-minded person would want to toil under his employ, but you can’t question the intensity of his desire to run a tight ship, doing it his way … and all in the name of glorious victory. No one impacted the course of baseball history more in his time in the sport.
ESPN Stats and Information
Hearing how he snapped so quickly on firing managers was his Jekyll and his Hyde was his ability to be such a giving person without many people knowing.
Over the last few days, the one line that stood out was when he said “My dad told me that if you did something good and more than two people know about it, then you did it for the wrong reason”. That really stood out to me and is something I’ll take further. That would be his Mr. Hyde
On a side note, his ability to poke fun at himself (the Saturday Night Live episode, which is truly awesome, especially the baseball skit if you've ever seen it) was also another endearing quality.
The Boss has been great, mean, generous, incorrigible, demanding, supportive, conspicuous and inconspicuous. As big a conflict and contradiction of adjectives and emotions that any one person could engender. All he wanted was his team to win and win at any cost. The Boss wasn’t perfect; he did plenty wrong. But he lived by a simple goal: Winning was the only acceptable outcome.
ESPN Stats and Information
George Steinbrenner was so competitive and so passionate about winning, so I combined those two words into one. But to me, he’s also equally defined by his compassion and giving to others. The way he personally apologized to Yogi Berra, the way he took Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden under his wing, and by the endless money he donated to charities during his life.
Sports Information Director, U.S. Coast Guard Academy
Occasional press box attendant at Yankee Stadium
George changed the face of baseball and there will never be another owner in sports, let alone baseball, like him. He wanted the best players and he wasn't afraid to spend to get them. Every other team in baseball benefited from revenue sharing, while he spent his money on players, some owners didn't. He will be missed.
Author "90 Percent of the Game is Half Mental"
Steinbrenner did nothing halfway. His anger was volcanic and disproportionate, but his kindness could be equally huge. His commitment to the team was total, his crimes were felonies, and and his charitable contributions were almost as over-the-top as his spending. In the end how you feel about him depends a lot on your capacity for forgiveness.
Mark Simon is a researcher for Baseball Tonight. Follow him on Twitter at @msimonespn