George Steinbrenner, the contentious and colorful owner of baseball's New York Yankees, died Tuesday morning, his family said. He died after suffering a heart attack, a source close to the family told The Associated Press.
Steinbrenner, who celebrated his 80th birthday July 4, was a baseball revolutionary in many ways. With his brash style and his willingness to spend money to acquire the best talent in the game, Steinbrenner returned the New York Yankees to glory after acquiring the team in 1973. In recent years, he had turned over more control of the team to his sons Hal and Hank, but Steinbrenner remained perhaps the best-known team owner in American professional sports.
For more than 30 years, Steinbrenner lived up to his billing as "the Boss," a nickname he earned and clearly enjoyed as he ruled with an iron fist.
"He was a visionary and a giant in the world of sports. He took a great but struggling franchise and turned it into a champion again," his family said in a statement.
He was known for feuds, clashing with Yankees great Yogi Berra and firing manager Billy Martin twice.
George Steinbrenner listens to a reporter's question while waiting for Yankees outfielder Bernie Williams to arrive for a news conference in New York in December 1998.
George Steinbrenner listens to a reporter's question while waiting for Yankees outfielder Bernie Williams to arrive for a news conference in New York in December 1998. Bebeto Matthews/AP
Steinbrenner was in fragile health for years, resulting in fewer public appearances and pronouncements. Yet dressed in his trademark navy blue blazer and white turtleneck, he was the model of success: The Yankees won seven World Series titles after his reign began in 1973
Till the end, he demanded championships. He barbed Joe Torre during the 2007 AL playoffs, then let the popular manager leave after another loss in the opening round. The team responded last year by winning another title.
A new Yankee Stadium opened in 2009, replacing the "House That Ruth Built" nearby. But Steinbrenner visited there just four times: for the opener in April 2009, for the first two games of last year's World Series and for this year's homer opener, when captain Derek Jeter and manager Joe Girardi went to his suite and personally delivered his seventh World Series ring.
When Steinbrenner headed a group that bought the team on Jan. 3, 1973, he promised absentee ownership. But it didn't turn out that way.
Steinbrenner not only clashed with Berra for more than a decade but also paid to dig up dirt on Dave Winfield, deriding the future Hall of Famer as "Mr. May" in 1985 after poor performances. Berra's wife, Carmen, said Tuesday her husband was at a golf event in Pennsylvania and was expected to comment later in the day.
While he liked to appear stern, Steinbrenner could poke fun at himself. He hosted Saturday Night Live, clowned with Martin in a commercial and chuckled at his impersonation on Seinfeld.
He gave millions to charity, often with one stipulation — that no one be told who made the donation.
The Yankees paid off for him, too, with their value increasing more than a hundredfold from the $8.7 million net price his group paid in January 1973. He freely spent his money, shelling out huge amounts for Jeter, Reggie Jackson, Alex Rodriguez, Torre and others in hopes of yet another title.
"Winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing," Steinbrenner was fond of saying. "Breathing first, winning next."
His death, coming on the day Major League Baseball will play its annual All-Star game, was the second in three days to rock the Yankees. Bob Sheppard, the team's revered public address announcer from 1951 to 2007, died Sunday at 99.
The family said a private funeral will be held, with an additional public service to be announced at a later date.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.