Book review: Steinbrenner – The Last Lion of Baseball

In 1990, baseball commissioner Fay Vincent booted Steinbrenner out of baseball for two years.

There was a recent Daily Double on the game show JEOPARDY, in the category PARDONER: Ronald Reagan pardoned this owner for illegal campaign contributions in 1989–the Gipper a Yankees fan?

The contestant guessed George Steinbrenner and was, of course, correct. What other owner of that American League franchise could many people name? And which other owner would be in need of Presidential absolution?

Steinbrenner – The Last Lion of Baseball was written by Bill Madden, a well-regarded writer who had a “mostly pleasant working relationship with George in his “capacity as a baseball writer” for UPI and then the New York Daily News. But Madden was furious when he had been fed some bogus story by Steinbrenner about how Lou Pinella, a manager George fired, was trying to steal the furniture.

Steinbrenner was always firing managers, publicity directors, and general managers, who presumably run the day-to-day operations of a team. But it was difficult for all of them because he was a hands-on owner, luring or aggravating the players.

George grew up in Ohio and made his wealth first by reviving the family-owned Kinsman Marine Transit Company, then purchasing it from his family. He later was a co-owner of the American Shipbuilding Company, and, in 1967, he became its chairman and chief executive officer. By 1972, the company’s gross sales were more than $100 million annually.

CBS bought the New York Yankees in 1965, but it was not a good fit. Early in 1973, Steinbrenner, who had tried and failed to buy the Cleveland Indians in 1971, led a group of investors in purchasing the Yankees for $10 million. However, part of the price was two parking garages that CBS bought back the garages for $1.2 million, so the net cost was $8.8 million.

One of my friends recently told me that, though he grew up as a Yankees fan, he changed allegiances, and it was entirely because of the massive amounts Steinbrenner spent in trying to buy championships. I get that. During his 37-year ownership from 1973 to his death in July 2010, the Yankees did earn seven World Series titles and 11 American League pennants.

Madden’s book was exceedingly thorough and obviously well researched. I was feeling a bit exhausted, though, about three-quarters of the way through the 430-page book. Oh, yeah, ANOTHER manager fired – he hired and fired former Yankee infielder Billy Martin FIVE times as manager!

Or dissing one of his players; in 1990, baseball commissioner Fay Vincent booted Steinbrenner out of baseball “for having paid a two-bit gambler to dig up dirt on the Dave Winfield Foundation.” George once dubbed Winfield Mr. May for a poor post-season.

In many ways, George Steinbrenner was a loud, pompous, opinionated, stubborn rich fellow who reminded me of a current part-time DC resident. At least George could play the stadium organ. Oh, yeah, Reagan pardoned Steinbrenner for his really minor financial role in the Watergate scandal.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

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