As Larry David walked into the room to prepare for an upcoming scene for HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, a murmur carried across air as the other actors observed this creature of improv perfection and the obvious. “It’s that Seinfeld guy,” an elderly woman whispered to me.
The only think that registered in my mind is “it’s George Steinbrenner!” As you may know, David played the late Yankee owner on the hit NBC sitcom Seinfeld.
Ah, no one could play The Boss like David.
Fittingly enough on the morning the greatest owner of our generation passed for bigger and more glorious ballparks in the sky at the age of 80, I was face to face with his greatest impersonator.
But the truth is, no one was George Steinbrenner like George Steinbrenner.
Perhaps one on the most controversial figures in sports history, Steinbrenner demanded perfection and that ideology transcended from baseball to the social media.
Forget Donald Trump, Steinbrenner was the first to make “you’re fired” a part of his everyday vocabulary, firing 22 managers during his tenure. Including hiring and firing Billy Martin five times.
From Saturday Night Live skits, tabloids headlines and mini series like ESPN’s The Bronx Is Burning, that covered the 1977 New York Yankees under the iron grasp of Steinbrenner, George was known as a tyrant, hard headed and the Emperor of the Evil Empire.
Essentially he’s a media dream.
But what most people don’t know is that he was a true man of baseball that went well beyond his business side but to his love of the game.
Despite his seemingly tyranny during the first two decades of his reign over sports most heralded franchise there was a softer side of Steinbrenner and his drive to perfection in fact perfected the game.
Say what you want, but George loved the New York Yankees.
How could he not?
He was New York.
He spent the last 30 plus years of his life neck deep in an organization that went from the basement of the American League back to it’s storied prominence.
Due to his failing health over the last several years, Steinbrenner’s sons Hal and Hank took over baseball operations for their father.
And it was business as usual in New York.
Since 1990 the Yankees sunk $1.8 billion dollars in free agency. Unlike the Yankee owners of the past, Steinbrenner played to pay. From Reggie Jackson to Alex Rodriguez, The Boss did whatever he had to win.
That mentality is directly linked to the Yankees success during his reign.
Since 1973 the Yankees have the highest winning percentage at .566 along with the most World Series appearances and wins than any other team in baseball.
Most importantly Steinbrenner put the Yankees so far ahead of every other team in baseball, other owners were forced to dig deep into there pockets to catch up.
Yankee’s arch rival the Boston Red Sox won there first two World Series since the Babe left Beantown.
Second tier market teams like the Phillies, White Sox and Angels became liberal in free agency spending and in return championships finally came their way.
Outside of baseball Steinbrenner wasn’t The Boss but simply a friend. No one stuck with his own like George. Ask Darryl Strawberry, Bobby Knight, Joe Torre and the Yankee Captain Derek Jeter. Steinbrenner was genuine to the game, his friends and to life.
A thousand miles away from the Big Apple Steinbrenner was also the king of his home Tampa, Florida.
If Steinbrenner was King Henry VIII in NYC he was Robin hood in Tampa, donating millions to charities, hospitals and schools.
He was as generous with his money as he was with his winning mentality.
Baseball, business and the world has lost one of it’s most unique personalities.
Quick to anger but even quicker to generosity, the spirit of Yankee George Steinbrenner will forever live on as the mold to franchise owners, an icon of businessman and Larry David’s most famous impersonation.