By George, he was a pain!
I’m a born-and-bred New Yorker. A Yankee fan by nature and by nurture—“Cut me and I bleed pinstripes” and all that.
So you’ll understand what it means for me to say this: George Steinbrenner is the only person in my entire life who has ever made me root, if only temporarily, against my own home team. Against my Yankees.
Insert the requisite words of respect here—“towering figure,” “impact on the sport,” “charitable works,” “condolences to the family.”
But what I’m left with is simple, and hard to overlook: More than once over the years—much more than once—George Steinbrenner made me root for the Yankees to lose.
And he did it by simply opening his mouth.
The Yankees are stumbling. (Pick a decade—any decade; even the best of teams, in the best of seasons, have their ups and downs.) For a series or two, a week or two, they haven’t played like the champions Steinbrenner has demanded they become, and remain—day in, day out, year in, year out.
So he’ll do what comes most naturally to him. He’ll bellow. He’ll bluster. He’ll threaten. He’ll choose a particular target for his wrath—one unlucky underperformer among many—and he’ll question the man’s courage, his commitment, his moral fiber, his manhood. He’ll cut the guy down. He’ll ship him out.
And all of it done, or so he keeps insisting, in the name of Steinbrenner’s “fellow” New Yorkers—who, in Steinbrenner’s telling, demand nothing less of every Yankee player than the same nonstop perfection Steinbrenner demands of them himself. (What a coincidence!)
That’s when it would kick in: While the rantings and ravings from the owner’s box were still echoing in the tabloids, I’d flip my rooting interests—from perpetually pro-Yankee to temporarily anti-.
“Let them keep losing for another week or so,” I’d beseech the baseball gods. “Let them start winning again eventually—but not right away.”
Because if they started winning right away—right after the latest Steinbrenner tirade, that is—it would only convince “The Boss” that he was responsible for the turnaround and deserved all the credit for it, no matter the actual cause. It would only reinforce his belief that degradation and fear were the only effective motivators.
Five or six more losses before the turnaround, though, and he’d realize that degradation and fear don’t do the trick, and he’d toss his petty-dictator games aside for a more reasonable approach. That’s how I figured it, anyway.
What was I thinking?!
If the Yankees started winning right after a Steinbrenner tirade, he’d certainly take all the credit.
But if they kept losing, he’d simply crank up the volume and try again! More insults. More threats. More players sent into exile.
Eventually—they weren’t going to go winless for the rest of the season, were they?—they’d pull out of whatever funk they’d been in and put together a modest winning streak, and Steinbrenner would puff out his chest in his best George Patton impersonation and say, “See?”
Fully justified—in his own mind, at least—he’d reload and wait for the next time. There was always a next time, until he grew too weak to shout, too weak to bluster.
Now he’s gone, and I set my complaints against those seven World Series trophies; my complaints seem like pretty meager stuff. Maybe George Steinbrenner’s methods, crass and degrading and dehumanizing as they were, really did work. Maybe—if the ultimate goal is winning the ultimate prize—maybe no other method would have worked even half as well.
But as a Yankee fan, I’d have liked to see him try.
Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at email@example.com.