There has never been a more polarizing and arguably more important owner in all of sports than George Steinbrenner. While few Baltimore Oriole fans will shed tears over the passing of the Big Stein, fewer still will deny his impact on the game of baseball and moderns sports in America. Certainly the debate will rage about whether Steinbrenner’s impact has been a positive one, it certainly will be a lasting one. One thing is for sure, the Boss’s dialed attempt to purchase the Cleveland Indians, before purchasing the Yankees, gives Cleveland fan another reason to crawl deeper into their hole of bitter sports frustration.
Some will argue that Steinbrenner brought nothing but a big checkbook to the game of baseball. And some will further argue that the New York Yankees spending under his ownership has forever affect the game for the worse, of course none from the Major League Baseball Players Association would champion that argument. Free agency allowed for the ultra competitive Steinbrenner to simply try to spend his way to championships. And at the beginning it worked as the Reggie Jackson led Yanks won to trophies in the mid-seventies. The Yankees free-spending quickly escalated player salaries from the six figure range to the seven figures.
But as the Yankees and steamrolled into the eighties, Steinbrenner’s abrasive personality came under greater scrutiny as several poor free agent moves and a neglect of the Yankees farm system led to a World Series drought from 1979 until 1996. Steinbrenner looked like nothing more than a meddlesome owner who was on the way to to leaving a sour mark on the proud Yankee heritage. What a difference a decade and a half can make. Between 1996 and 2009, the Yanks under the ownership of the Steinbrenner family won 5 more world championships and appeared in two other fall classics. Steinbrenner’s critics argue that he was no less meddlesome during the final third of his tenure, rather that he just continued to spend more money but was able to direct his millions into better free agents and into signing and developing young talent.
You can place the blame of baseball’s unfair economic system at the feet of George Steinbrenner who has created a money making empire that cannot and will not be outspent. The fact that the revenue bottom feeders often serve as farm systems for the upper crust is undoubtedly a bad thing. When well run teams like the Minnesota Twins have to trade many of their star approaching free agency to the few teams that can afford them, there is a problem with the economic system of baseball.
But did Steinbrenner create that system, or did he simply exploit the rules and make the inequities seem that much greater? You cannot blame him for wanting to win and for stopping at nothing to get that done. All sports fans in all cities would want an owner like that. We can blame George Steinbrenner for widening the gap between the haves and have not, but if he did not do it, it is likely that another owner would have.