Curious George goes to the Hall of Fame?

He is listed in Forbes Magazine’s Top 400 Richest People in America.
He is also listed in Time Magazine’s Ten Most Notorious Presidential
Pardons. He has gone from temporary banishment, twice, to certain
permanency in professional baseball history. He is a featured character
on the award winning comedy Seinfeld and has even hosted Saturday Night
Live. As the owner of baseball’s most expensive and storied franchise,
George Steinbrenner has developed the reputation of a meddler, a mogul,
and a monarch. But will his name be immortalized in Cooperstown, New
York’s historic Hall of Fame?

To understand the man known
throughout the baseball world simply as “The Boss,” one must first
examine his upbringing, his education, and his early parlaying in the
business and entertainment world.

George Steinbrenner did not come
into this world with grace and humility. Steinbrenner entered the world
on the Fourth of July in 1930 by way of Rocky River, Ohio.
Steinbrenner’s father, Henry, was the wealthy owner of the Great Lakes
ore and grain shipping firm, Kinsman Shipping.

Steinbrenner attended Culver
Military Academy, a private boarding school in Culver, Indiana from
1944-1948. He then earned his Bachelor of Arts in English Literature
from Williams College in 1952. fter graduating from Williams College,
Steinbrenner enlisted in the United States Air Force until his
honorable discharge in 1954 with a rank of Second Lieutenant.

After discharging from the Air
Force, Steinbrenner earned his Master’s Degree in Physical Education
from Ohio State University in 1956. During his collegiate tenure, he
served as a graduate assistant to legendary Buckeye football coach
Woody Hayes; the Buckeyes were undefeated national champions that year,
and won the Rose Bowl. Also while at Ohio State, Steinbrenner met his
wife-to-be, Elizabeth Joan Zieg, in Columbus, and married her on May
12, 1956.

Through his experiences as a
graduate assistant to the football program, Steinbrenner whet his
appetite for involvement in sports as a coach and intertwined those
desires with his family’s business savvy. Steinbrenner continued to
pursue collegiate football efforts as assistant coach for Northwestern
University during 1955-56 and as assistant coach for Purdue University
during 1956-57.

After his brief stint as assistant
coach for the two universities, Steinbrenner delved into business
matters and investments at the urging of his father, who was not keen
on his son’s dabbling in athletic management. Seinbrenner’s father was
eager to bring his son to the family business in 1957. Under
Steinbrenner’s direction, Kinsman Shipping was able to successfully
rebound from a blustering market by retooling the firm’s focus from ore
to grain. But, Steinbrenner found himself invested in a variety of
ventures that would include sports, theater, and shipping.

Against his father’s wishes,
Steinbrenner invested in a professional basketball team, the Cleveland
Pipers, in 1960. It was the American Basketball League’s Cleveland
franchise where Steinbrenner would begin his legacy of sports pioneer
by hiring John McClendon, who became the first African-American to
coach a professional basketball team. Despite Steinbrenner’s historical
defeat of yet another race barrier in the early sixties, his first
major sports endeavor would end in a flop. In 1962 the basketball
league folded, causing Steinbrenner to lose his investment. (Schapp)

After the basketball blunder,
Steinbrenner began to dabble in theatre. Steinbrenner invested in a
handful of Broadway theatricals with the Nederlander family. Although
only relatively successful with theatre, Steinbrenner also began to put
more attention into yet another sporting endeavor: horse racing.
Steinbrenner established a thoroughbred horse racing stable, Kinsman
Stable, and the Kinsman Stud Farm in Ocala, Florida.

Thankfully, Steinbrenner also had
other on-going financial endeavors. Steinbrenner made the majority of
his early fortune as chairman of the Cleveland-based firm, American
Shipbuilding Company. In the early sixties, the conglomerate ship
building giant purchased the Steinbrenner Family’s Kinsman Shipping.
However, in true Steinbrenner fashion, George acquired controlling
interest in the company that bought their family business.

What happened next would turn the
shipping tycoon into a household name. In 1973, Steinbrenner led a
group of investors to purchase the New York Yankees franchise for $10M
from the CBS media company. After purchasing the New York Yankees, the
man who would later be referred to as “The Boss” began to wreak havoc
on the world of professional baseball.

After initially promising to
remain a quiet partner, Steinbrenner quickly bought out other team
investors until he held the controlling interest in the baseball club.
S soon as he gained the controlling interest, he began to invest
himself as an active, and controlling, part of the day to day baseball
management.

Originally speaking out against
the advent of free-agency, Steinbrenner quickly embraced the idea of
investing in marquee players. Steinbrenner is quick to open his wallet,
and his mouth, in an effort to his Yankees in the spotlight. His high
ticket acquisitions have a knack for setting salary benchmarks.
Steinbrenner learned early on that big name, pre-established players
not only help the team win, but also draw more income into the fold
through ticket sales and merchandising. George Steinbrenner discovered
that baseball can be quite the lucrative business.

However, Steinbrenner would be
remiss to remain hidden behind the curtain like a modern day Wizard of
Oz. No, Steinbrenner made a name for himself both on the field and off,
often feuding with the very superstar free agents and managers that he
signed to extensive contracts.

Perhaps one of the first
controversial notes assigned to Mr. Steinbrenner’s executive career
would by his propensity to filter through team managers at a rapid
pace. During the first 23 years of ownership, Steinbrenner hired and
fired 20 different team managers. Included in the list is the hiring
and firing of legendary manager Billy Martin no less than five official
times. Also on the list is the twice fired future Hall of Fame coach
Lou Pinella, current Hall of Fame player Yogi Berra, and Dallas Green.
Most recently, Steinbrenner forced adored manager Joe Torre out of his
position by offering him an insulting 1 year contract after a
divisional series loss to the LA Angels of Anaheim in 2007.

Firing members of management would
not be his only vice. Among the first free-agent acquisitions for
Steinbrenner’s Yankees were Hall of Famers Catfish Hunter in 1974 and
Reggie Jackson in 1976. Steinbrenner’s relationship with Jackson would
prove to be tumultuous despite the back to back world championships
they won in 1977 and 1978. The constant bickering between Steinbrenner,
Jackson, and Billy Martin is the basis for ESPN’s docudrama The Bronx
is Burning. The media even dubbed this era of Yankee history as The
Bronx Zoo.

Amidst the on-field controversy,
however, was a scandal of epic proportions. In 1974, Steinbrenner was
indicted on 14 criminal counts and plead guilty to obstruction of
justice and conspiracy charges in association with the illegal
contributions he made to President Richard Nixon’s re-election
campaign. For his infraction, Steinbrenner faced his first temporary
banishment from baseball by then commissioner Bowie Kuhn for a period
of two years. 15 years later, President Ronald Reagan pardoned
Steinbrenner from his crimes in 1989 as one of his final acts in office
as president. Steinbrenner’s pardon currently ranks as #7 on Time
Magazine’s Ten Most Notorious Presidential Pardons.

In 1980, Steinbrenner signed Dave
Winfield to a record setting 10-year $23M contract. After Winfield
failed to perform to Steinbrenner’s expectations, the player and owner
began to feud with the owner making public verbal assaults against the
player. After Winfield filed a lawsuit against him, Steinbrenner paid a
small-time gambler, Howie Spira, for any “dirt” that could be found to
assist in litigation. For his connections to the illegal gambler,
Steinbrenner, for the second time in his tumultuous career was banished
from baseball on July 30, 1990 by Commissioner Fay Vincent. This time,
however, the suspension was to be for life.

The fans were so tired of his
antics that when the announcement of Steinbrenner’s ban was made over
the public address system during a game at Yankee Stadium there was a
standing ovation. Steinbrenner’s banishment lasted until 1993, when Bud
Selig reinstated “The Boss.” During this period, it was announced by
New York Daily News reporter Bill Madden that Steinbrenner had “got
religion” and would be turning over a new leaf.

During the mid to late nineties,
the antics of The Boss fell to the wayside. The animated and in your
face attitude was replaced with a business model that would take
Steinbrenner from the lifetime ban list to a potential honor as a
member of the Baseball Hall of Fame for being a Pioneering Executive.
Relying on the power of the prestige the New York Yankees, and its
large local market, Steinbrenner embraced the world of mass media.
Steinbrenner was the first baseball owner to sell exclusive television
rights to the MSG network in 1989. However, after being unhappy with
the MSG deal, Steinbrenner created the YES network in 2002 making the
New York Yankees the first sports franchise to own their own television
network.

In 1997, Steinbrenner also pushed
an endorsement deal with Adidas athletic wear that would net his
organization $93M over the course of 10 years, effectively melding the
two brands together. He even threatened lawsuit against each of the
other 29 Major League teams if they tried to block the deal. Everything
was settled out of court and the owners of the other club acquiesced to
Steinbrenner’s demands.

With such innovative ways to
generate revenue, one would be inclined to believe that the fans would
enjoy low cost tickets. With the Yankees in the midst of a dynasty type
run during the late nineties to early two thousands, ticket prices were
so in demand that the prices had to be raised. The Yankees were
dominating baseball on the field and Steinbrenner was making sure to
dominate the money machine from his penthouse suite in Yankee Stadium.

The constant sell-out crowds,
especially against long time rival Boston Red Sox, and aging 60 year
old facilities led to a Steinbrenner realization. “We need a new
stadium.” And a new stadium is precisely what The Boss would get, even
if he had to threaten to move the team to New Jersey. The city was
quick to comply and the mega-structure that would become the new home
to baseball’s most storied franchise would begin its construction in
2005, across the street from the legendary original Yankee Stadium.
Private and public financing would not even begin to pay the way.
Steinbrenner found even more alternative revenue. Recently the Yankees
have announced a partnership with Cisco Systems, Inc that adds
interactivity across the new Yankee Stadium.

Steinbrenner’s free-agency
spending frenzy can be credited with the salary boom that is still
evident among players today. Steinbrenner’s current New York Yankees
have the largest player salary budget in all of professional baseball
with a total $280M per year. In 2008 Steinbrenner inked a deal with
perennial all-star Alex Rodriguez that made him the highest paid
professional baseball in all history with a 10 year $275M contract
loaded with at least $30M in performance based incentives.

Throughout the history of free
agency, Steinbrenner has set higher and higher salary standards,
forcing his competitors to learn to adapt to his market. Be it for the
positive aspects of generating revenue or the negative (depending on
your point of view) aspects of spending it, Steinbrenner hs forever
altered the landscape of professional baseball.

George Steinbrenner’s
contributions to our culture haven’t all been negative or entertaining.
His generous, and quiet, giving has earned him the title of
philanthropist. Steinbrenner is well known, and acknowledged with high
honors, for his contributions to the Tampa area youth, schools, and
parks. Because of his generosity, the Hillsborough County Commission
and Tampa City Council have renamed Legends Field, the baseball
facility where the Yankees hold spring training sessions, to
Steinbrenner Field. Steinbrenner is also being honored as a namesake
for a new Tampa area High School to be opened in 2009. The NCAA has
award Steinbrenner, one of only ten recipients in history, with The
Flying Wedge Award for his outstanding leadership and contributions
made to the NCAA. The entrance to the new Bryson Stadium at Boshamer
Stadium at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has also
been named for Steinbrenner and his family.

The only honor left for
Steinbrenner following his retirement, and the passing of the reigns to
his sons, Hank and Hal Steinbrenner, is for his name to be immortalized
in the Baseball Hall of Fame. This is one honor, however, that “The
Boss” is not so eager to embrace. In an interview with Tom Verducci for
Sports Illustrated, Steinbrenner said:

“I don’t want to
be in the Hall of Fame. I don’t think owners should be. Maybe Connie
Mack. But not George Steinbrenner. No way. It’s for players. If they
have an owners Hall of Fame, I’ll consider it, but believe me, I don’t
want to be in the Hall of Fame. I don’t belong there.”

However, this is one call that The
Boss may not be privileged enough to make. Every two years, Cooperstown
forms a committee of from members of the media, current Hall of Fame
members, and Cooperstown executives. That committee develops a list of
10 members eligible for the recognition and votes. Steinbrenner fulfills
all requirements, despite his storied past – especially because of his
storied past.

With his philanthropic
contributions, his pioneering in revenue generation, and his flagrant
use of the free agency system, and generosity to the Hall of Fame
throughout the years, in addition to the collection of ten American
League Championships and six World Series Championships during his
tenure as commander in chief of America’s baseball team, Steinbrenner
is a lock, or should be, for inclusion in the National Baseball Hall of
Fame.

Boasting a value of $1.3B, Forbes
Magazine lists Steinbrenner is ranked as the 387th richest man in
America from a monetary standpoint. But Steinbrenner is also rich in
history. His legacy will live for generations to come as a man who
embodies both the best, and the worst, of what baseball ownership has
to offer.

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