Yankees Ensure 2003 Pennant By Signing Every Player In Baseball!
headline from the February 5, 2003 issue of The Onion
Or sometimes, given recent history, maybe to the legions of Yankee haters around the country, it just seems that way.
Born in Rocky River, Ohio on July 4th 1930, with the proverbial “silver spoon” in his mouth, (his father owned the lucrative American Shipbuilding Company) George Steinbrenner always had a passion for sports. He spent his early years bouncing around as an assistant football coach in the Big Ten at both Northwestern University and later at Purdue University. He later went on to take over the family business and amass himself a small fortune. I guess he didn’t find the traditional corporate world competitive enough for his taste and he was looking for a way to expand his horizons and turn an even greater profit.
New York, New York
When 1973 rolled around, CBS was putting the Yankees on the selling block. Steinbrenner and some friends pooled their money and wound up purchasing the franchise for the meager sum of $10,000,000. Soon afterwards, he would become the principal owner of the team and things were about to change for the men in pinstripes.
At the time, most owners of sports franchises were quite content to take a somewhat hands off approach to what went on on the field. They let the managers run the team and they concentrated their efforts on the books and the profits. Not so with Steinbrenner. Right from the start he let it be known that he was going to involved in the day to day operations. This included such decisions as which players they were going to sign, which players they were going to let go, who was to be traded, and which players took the field. In the early years, it wasn’t uncommon for Steinbrenner to call down to his manager in the middle of a game to either offer up advice or to question strategy. Needless to say, managers might have found this behavior a little distracting but George, being George, had to have his way.
Although he was initially against the concept of free agency, Steinbrenner recognized that it was the wave of the future and decided to take full advantage of the open market. He rocked the baseball world when he opened up his coffers and signed Catfish Hunter to a then record 2.85 million dollar salary over four years. The baseball world was put on notice…
A Brief Hiatus
Not too long afterwards, Steinbrenner was implicated, indicted and found guilty of making illegal campaign contributions on behalf of that paragon of the American presidency, one Richard M. Nixon. Baseball responded by suspending him for the next two years. Steinbrenner fumed.
Play it again, Sam
Once his suspension was up, Steinbrenner resumed the reigns of the team. To show that he hadn’t lost his touch when it came to picking talent, he signed what might have been the greatest free agent deal in the history of baseball when he inked Reggie Jackson, aka “Mr. October” to a multi-year deal after the ’76 season.
The move paid off immediately but was to have long term consequences. The Yankees went on to win the World Series in both 1977 and 1978. Steinbrenner, thinking he had a recipe for success, went on a free agent signing binge that broke up whatever little chemistry the team had. The various comings and going over the next couple of years of both managers and players prompted Sparky Lyle (a free agent himself) to dub the team “The Bronx Zoo." As matter of fact, between the years 1979 through 1989, the Yankees managed to win only one America League pennant and it marked the first time since 1910 in the history of the franchise that they failed to win a World Series in a 10 year span.
During that time, even though his team wasn’t winning, Steinbrenner still managed to piss off the powers that be in the baseball world. Things got so bad that in 1990 then baseball commissioner Fay Vincent ordered Steinbrenner to step down as the teams's general partner and actually banned him from any involvement in the day to day operations of the team. The event that precipitated the suspension was the uncovering of a Steinbrenner payment of $40,000 to a known gambler by the name of Howard Spira. Apparently, Spira had some inside dope on one of Steinbrenner’s former players, Dave Winfield (whom George had dubbed “Mr. May” for his inability to come through late in the season). Spira then tried to extort another $100,000 or so out of the Yankees but was caught and later served a two year prison sentence. Steinbrenner, in yet another questionable ethical move, ceded control of the team to one Joseph Molloy , who just happened to be his son-in-law.
Three Years Later…
Even though most people close to the game thought Steinbrenner might be pulling some string behind the scenes, he managed to keep his nose clean and resumed his role as general partner. Naturally, it didn’t take long for him to run afoul of the lords of baseball when he was fined $50,000 for publicly criticizing the quality of the umpiring during the playoff series between the Yankees and the Seattle Mariners.
By the time 1997 rolled around, those aforementioned lords of baseball had seen enough and voted (unanimously) to oust him from the executive committee. The incident stemmed from Steinbrenner’s decision to sue Major League Baseball itself over their stance on the Yankees exclusive agreement with Adidas and a ten-year, $93 million contract.
Perhaps, depending on your point of view and where your allegiances might lie, it was all for the best. Steinbrenner played the free agent game to the hilt and out hustled and out paid other owners for the talents that were available around the league. Perhaps, most importantly, he hired Joe Torre as manager in 1996. The team responded and under Torre’s quiet, but most assuredly effective leadership the New York Yankees have gone on to win four more World Series.
Ch ch ch ch changes
Did I mention George was kinda fickle when it comes to who’s managing his ballclub? Well, where there’s smoke there’s fire and fire is just what George did. In his tenure as the owner of the Yankees, 22 managers have come and gone, many more than once. Here’s the list of the year, manager and the record they had when Steinbrenner canned them (with the exception of Torre, who has held his job for much longer than any of Steinbrenner's other managers).
- 1973/74 - Ralph Houk ... 80-82
- 1974/75 - Billy Virdon ... 42-124
- 1975/78 - Billy Martin ... 279-182
- 1978/78 - Dick Howser ... 0-1
- 1978/79 - Bob Lemon ... 82-51
- 1979/80 - Billy Martin ... 55-40
- 1980/80 - Dick Howser ... 103-59
- 1981/81 - Gene Michael ... 48-34
- 1981/82 - Bob Lemon ... 17-22
- 1982/82 - Gene Michael ... 44-42
- 1982/83 - Clyde King ... 29-33
- 1983/83 - Billy Martin ... 91-71
- 1984/85 - Yogi Berra ... 93-85
- 1985/86 - Billy Martin ... 91-54
- 1986/87 - Lou Piniella ... 179-145
- 1988/88 - Billy Martin ... 40-28
- 1988/89 - Lou Piniella ... 45-48
- 1989/89 - Dallas Green ... 55-65
- 1989/90 - Bucky Dent ... 36-53
- 1990/91 - Stump Merril ... 120-155
- 1992/95 - Buck Showalter ... 313-268
- 1996/07 - Joe Torre ... 1079-699
Update: - "The Boss" died on July 13, 2010 after suffering a massive heart attack.