NPR logo Too Soon?: Remembering Yankees Owner George M. Steinbrenner III, The Tyrant

Economy

Too Soon?: Remembering Yankees Owner George M. Steinbrenner III, The Tyrant

Edwin Matos, 23, of the Bronx, looks up at Gate 4, after the death of George Steinbrenner, at Yankee Stadium. Eric Thayer/Getty Images North America hide caption

toggle caption
Eric Thayer/Getty Images North America

The ink has already dried on George Steinbrenner's obituary, apparently.

One day after the Yankees owner's death, long-time sports columnist Dave Anderson comes out, well, swinging:

"When strangers met George Steinbrenner socially, maybe at a charity dinner or by chance at a restaurant, they would rave about what a nice guy he was, how pleasant and friendly he was, how he certainly was not the ogre they read about as the Yankees’ principal owner," he writes. "And in a social setting with strangers, he was a nice guy, pleasant and friendly."

But if you worked for Steinbrenner, who died Tuesday at 80, in the three decades before his health deteriorated several years ago, as any Yankees employee of that era would confirm, you were an almost daily victim of his impatient bluster and bombast. He fired managers and public-relations directors and anybody who didn’t get his lunch order correct.

If Anderson's estimation, that Seinfeld impression of Steinbrenner — rendered with stentorian brilliance by comedian Larry David — wasn't much of an exaggeration.

Article continues after sponsorship

He held grudges. He acted rashly. He fired Yogi Berra!

According to Anderson, "Steinbrenner never seemed to hear any internal warnings."

Sports Illustrated's Alex Belth says The Boss was tough on his staff: "In fact, clubhouse attendants, secretaries, p.r. men, players, anyone who was on his payroll, were hired and fired with regularity."

In his later years, King George mellowed some. And that gave Anderson an opportunity to end his remembrance on a high note, right?

Sort of.

"Over the last decade, Steinbrenner’s failing health helped change his image," he says. "His bluster and bombast were gone."

He spoke mostly through Howard Rubenstein, his personal public-relations man. And during that decade, no bluster or bombast was necessary. The Yankees didn’t always win the World Series, but they were always in the playoffs. Always in the news. And always in the money, millions of it.

Many sportswriters — including at least one from Red Sox Nation — say Steinbrenner had a redemptive side:

"Steinbrenner would harass an employee to no end, humiliating and abusing them at his whim," Belth writes. "Then he'd send their kids through college or hire them back with a bonus."

Gerry Callahan, of The Boston — yes, The Boston — Herald, says that, "just when you thought [Steinbrenner] was nothing but an ego-maniacal tyrant, he would call into the WEEI-NESN Radiothon and pledge $10,000 for the kids at the Jimmy Fund."