In the summer of 2001 I made the trek from Minnesota to New York to work at the world-renowned Bronx Zoo. Each morning I would take the B or D train from Harlem @ 147th street into the Bronx. Two stops away was 161st street, which is the stop for Yankee Stadium. Being from Detroit and a Tigers fan of course, I didn’t naturally follow the Yankees. I didn’t read about the Yankees in the paper and I didn’t follow their schedule. But with the help of the New York fans and traveling tourists I didn’t need to follow the team; all I had to do was pay attention to the people on the subway.
Just by watching the make-up of the crowd on the train I could tell if there was a day game or a night game. I also could tell if the team won or lost by the mood of the travelers. And believe me – New Yorkers can be a bit moody. Sometimes I could figure out what team the Yankees were playing that day. Every now and then there would be a brave out-of-town tourists willing to wear their team’s gear on the NYC subway. And of course I even witnessed Mets and Yankee fans on the train together.
If there is one regret that I have from that summer, I regret never getting off at 161st street. I didn’t get a chance to see a game at the old Yankee Stadium – “The House that Ruth Built.” I suppose I took that stadium for granted, thinking that it would always be there; and that games would always be played there. Now I know that’s not the case anymore. Old Yankee Stadium is now a memory and instead we have “New” Yankee Stadium – “The House that George Built.” Steinbrenner that is.
George Steinbrenner was the long-time Yankees owner and he passed away July 13th. I would be remiss if I didn’t dedicate a blog posting to Mr. Steinbrenner and acknowledge his contribution to professional sports ownership.
Steinbrenner bought the Yankees in 1973 from CBS for $10 million. He vowed to stay out of the day-to-day business operations of the club and “just stick to building ships.” 37 years and $1.6 billion dollars later, Steinbrenner was the most recognizable owner in all of professional sports. Unless you’re an “ownership junkie” like me, not many people can rattle off the names of pro sports owners. Steinbrenner was a name everyone knew.
He wasn’t just on owner. And in many respects he could have been considered one of the most recognizable faces in major league baseball. Love him. Or hate him. What you can’t say about him is that he wasn’t committed to the Yankees. Over the years Steinbrenner developed a reputation for being a hard-nosed demanding boss. In fact he developed the nickname “The Boss” and the organization was called “The Evil Empire.”
It’s safe to say Steinbrenner’s tenure wasn’t always a bed of roses. He was banned from major league baseball twice. Once for making an illegal campaign contribution and the second time he was banned for paying a gambler for illegal information about a player. He was also known for often having tumultuous relationships with managers and players. In April 1985 he fired Yoggi “it’s déjà vu all over again” Berra 16 games into the season. Steinbrenner was quoted stating that Berra would be the manager for the entire season win or lose. The beloved Yoggi had played in 14 world series’ and won 10. But after Steinbrenner went back on his word, Berra refused to enter Yankee stadium for 14 years until receiving an apology from The Boss.
In spite of his persona what you can’t say about Steinbrenner is that he took himself too seriously. He hosted Saturday Night Live, presented David Letterman’s Top Ten List, and even did a cameo appearance on Seinfeld.
I learned the importance of having pride in the organization that you own and work for. And having the willingness to stick your neck out for what you believe in and the organization that you represent. Steinbrenner loved the team so much, that he was quoted saying “I wouldn’t sell the Yankees for anything. Owning the Yankees is like owning the Mona Lisa. You don’t sell it.” There’s no doubt that his pride and his commitment often ruffled some feathers. And it’s safe to say that I probably wouldn’t make all of the same business decisions that he made. But I have tremendous respect for his commitment to the organization and his Pride of the Yankees.
Good Night Sports Fans,