730 Old Yankees
Old New York Yankees never really die. But this week, a couple of 'em sort of did. First, the "Voice of God," Bob Sheppard, the Stadium's public address announcer for the last million seasons. Sheppard, often mimicked, never duplicated, didn't announce. He intoned. He was three months away from his 100th birthday and still sort of active. And he was a regular figure around his home town, Baldwin, Long Island.
Three days later, it was George Steinbrenner's turn, less than a couple of week's after his 80th birthday.
Here's the thing about dead Yankees. They just don't go away. Ruth, Mantle, Rizzuto, DiMaggio, Gehrig, on and on. Managers like McCarthy, Stengel, Yogi, Martin. Ralph Houk's still alive, turns 88 next month, but half the world doesn't know it. Ruth, Mantle, DiMaggio and others are as alive in the minds and hearts of baseball fans today as they were in their primes. Even the lives of those who weren't yet born when they played. And it's not just in New York. Half of Boston is still angry that Ruth was traded to the Yankees, and that was in 1919!
But Steinbrenner's different. This is the Ohio shipbuilder who bought the team from CBS in '73 and promised to be a hands off owner. Yeah, right. His picture is in the dictionary next to "micro-manager." Not lately, though. He's been sick for a long time, and his sons are running the team. He had plenty of money, brought in the most expensive and often the best players in the sport. Renovated the creaky old stadium when parts of it started falling down on fans, then built an entirely new one.
He was hated and reviled in many circles. A tyrant who came in like a lion and now will be lionized -- and should be. The previous owners made a mess of the Yankees, just as they made a mess of Steinway Piano and Fender Guitars and pretty much everything else they touched except for CBS News. Bill Paley wasn't a baseball man. Steinbrenner turned out to be.
The name of the game is winning. And win they did under his iron rule. In its most recent listing, Forbes Magazine rated the Yankees the fifth most valuable sports franchise in the world. All but number one, Manchester United Soccer, are American. And everything between Manchester and the Yankees are football teams. So the most valuable team in Baseball.
"The Boss," as they called him was volatile, mercurial, decisive and knew who to hire and fire, how to promote and how to overcharge for seats. He understood the sport, the fans, the media and he appreciated the legend his team had become before and during his rule. But he was a businessman first, and pro sports is business. Guy turned a ten million dollar investment into a 1.3 billion dollar monolith.
You may not like his personality or the prices he charged for admission or the prices you're paying for a beer and a hot dog. But the guy knew something.
I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®