Born in Ohio in 1930, George Steinbrenner became one of the most notorious baseball team owners in sports history in the decades following his 1972 purchase of the New York Yankees. He was barred from baseball in 1990 due to a financial scandal but later earned reinstatement and remained involved in management of the Yankees until his death.
Entrepreneur. Born George Michael Steinbrenner III on July 4, 1930, in Rocky River, Ohio. His mother, Rita, was a devout Christian Scientist with Irish ancestry, while his father, Henry, was a strict disciplinarian. While Steinbrenner was closer to his mother emotionally, his father dominated the young man's life. Henry refused to accept failure in George or George's siblings, and pushed them to succeed at any cost. As a former track-and-field star and a Massachusetts Institute of Technology alumnus, Henry's work ethic was also unparalleled, and he constantly urged George to "always work as hard as, or harder, than anyone who works for you."
The Steinbrenner family lived a comfortable, upper-middle class lifestyle in Cleveland, thanks to Henry's job as the head of Kinsman Marine Transit Company, which managed shipping freighters in the Midwest. Yet George never coasted on his family's money. Instead of allowance, George's father paid him in chickens. At the age of 9, George started the George Company, and sold eggs door to door. Within five years, the successful business became the S & J Company, which he passed on to his sisters Susan and Judy when he headed to Culver Military Academy in 1944.
After graduating from Culver, Steinbrenner attended Williams College in Massachusetts. While he didn't quite excel academically, Steinbrenner followed in his father's footsteps as a track and field star. He also served as the sports editor of the paper, played in the band, and ran the glee club. He earned his bachelor's degree in English in 1952, and headed to the military shortly after.
Steinbrenner entered the United States Air Force, where he landed an assignment in his home state of Ohio, at Lockbourne Air Force Base. As a second lieutenant, he headed the sports program at Lockbourne and set up a coffee stand business that grew to six pick-up trucks.
Passion for Sports
After his 1954 discharge, Steinbrenner spent a year at Ohio State University studying for a master's degree in physical education. While there, he began a brief career as an assistant football coach, with stints at Northwestern and Purdue universities. But after receiving pressure from his disappointed father, Steinbrenner returned to Cleveland to work in the family shipping business.
Still passionate about sports, Steinbrenner rebelled against his father in 1960, when he bought the minor league basketball team, the Cleveland Pipers, for $125,000. The investment proved to be a poor one; in less than two years, the Pipers collapsed, losing Steinbrenner more than $25 million.
While still working for Kinsman Marine Transit in 1967, Steinbrenner bought majority shares in the American Ship Building Company, becoming its president. Under Steinbrenner's leadership, American Ship Building flourished, eventually merging with Kinsman and expanding to other parts of the country. By 1977, Steinbrenner's business acumen enabled him to buy Kinsman in its entirety, restoring it to his family.
Buying the Yankees
But Steinbrenner maintained his interest in sports ownership, and after failing to purchase the major league Cleveland Indians baseball team in 1972, he looked to another professional ball team: The New York Yankees. The Yankees had previously been a successful team with a 39-year winning streak. After the team was purchased by CBS in 1964, however, the Yankees had slowly begun losing games and fans. By the time Steinbrenner and 12 other investors purchased the Yankees in 1973, the formerly hot team was on the auction block for only $10 million. Under Steinbrenner's guidance, the franchise signed star pitcher James "Catfish" Hunter and brought manager Billy Martin to the team.
In 1972, however, Steinbrenner's dreams of helming a successful team came to a halt when he was caught using corporate funds and faking employee bonuses in order to illegal contributing money to Richard Nixon's reelection campaign. He pleaded guilty to two felony counts in 1974, and was fined $15,000—a light punishment for the millionaire. But Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn took the punishment a step further by suspending Steinbrenner from baseball for 15 months.
After the suspension was lifted, Steinbrenner helped the Yankees experience the taste of success again in 1976, when it won its first pennant in 12 years. Although the team lost to the Cincinnati Reds in that year's World Series, New Yorkers were suddenly interested in their underdog team again. Over the next few years, Steinbrenner lured dozens of talented players to his team, including Ken Griffey, Reggie Jackson and Tommy John.
As Steinbrenner's Yankees grew more and more profitable, eventually valued at more than $250 million, so did his reputation for being a tough, and sometimes erratic, boss. Steinbrenner became legendary for his frequent and lengthy locker room speeches; for calling the dugout to bark orders during games; and for publicly humiliating his players, coaches, staff. He also had a tendency to send players down to the minor leagues on a whim when their performance dissatisfied him, then bringing them back to the majors quickly afterward.
One such player who suffered under Steinbrenner's constant meddling was Dave Winfield, who landed a record-breaking contract when he signed to the Yankees in 1980. But Winfield and his boss frequently fought, among other things, over the David M. Winfield Foundation, a charity for disadvantaged children that Winfield oversaw and Steinbrenner helped fund. The two disagreed on the use of Winfield Foundation funds, and the argument turned into a lengthy court battle. In retaliation, Steinbrenner paid $40,000 to gambler and former Foundation employee Howard Spira, ordering him to find compromising information about Winfield. The incident led to Steinbrenner's permanent ban from baseball on July 13, 1990.
Steinbrenner managed to earn reinstatement in 1993, but took a more "hands off" approach upon his return to baseball, leaving management of the Yankees to other partners. Starting in 2006, George Steinbrenner spent most of his time in Tampa, Florida, leaving the Yankees to be run by his sons Hank and Hal Steinbrenner. On July 13, 2010, Steinbrenner died of a massive heart attack. He was 80 years old. He is survived by his wife, Joan; sisters Susan Norpell and Judy Kamm; children Hank, Hal, Jennifer and Jessica; and his grandchildren.
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