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Owner of the New York Yankees from 1972 until his death, George Steinbrenner was one of the most
notorious team owners in baseball history.
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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.
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.
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