Tuesday, July 13, 2010

"The Boss," 1930-2010

He was suspended twice by major league baseball, parodied on Seinfeld, and often loathed by those who played and worked for him. But there is no denying George Steinbrenner's impact on baseball and in a larger sense, our entire sports culture.

Yankees owner George Steinbrenner died early today at the age of 80. Ill health had forced him to the sidelines in recent years, seemingly the only way to get Steinbrenner out of the limelight. He was the most visible of sports owners, and his brash personality came to define the Yankees. You can argue with the methods but not the success--in his 37 years owning the Yankees the team won 7 World Series and 11 American League pennants.

Besides winning, and his habit of constantly hiring and firing managers, "The Boss" will also be remembered as a man who understood how to use the sports media. Steinbrenner was behind the launch of the YES (Yankees Entertainment and Sports) Network in 2002; the network became the model for other teams seeking to increase their media revenue. He was also a pioneer in sports television mega-deals, negotiating a landmark $486 million, 12-year cable television contract with Madison Square Garden Network in 1988.

For all his faults, and there were certainly many, George Steinbrenner matured in his later ownership years. As a result, he will largely be remembered as the consummate modern-day sports owner--a man who used his extensive business knowledge, including in the sports media, to build an empire.