Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Yankee Doodle Dandy

This World Series had the feeling of the last act in George Steinbrenner's very long running play. Filled with emotion and drama, it was interpreted as a fitting tribute to the man. When the triumph was complete, he was treated like a present day George Gipp. "Win one for the old man" had become the rallying cry for his troops. In truth, he was more like an early version of Donald Trump. Yet, Steinbrenner, in his declining years, had become venerable.

He was the face of the group of investors who purchased the team in 1973 for less than what he paid his designated hitter this year. He was a born-on-the-4th-of-July patriot, and he was full of bluster.

He attacked his foes, and often his allies, with relentless fervor. In one memorable beer commercial, he argued with his on again-off again manager Billy Martin about the reason the beer they were drinking was so well liked. In a self-parody, the spat ended with a pre-Trumpian "you're fired" of Martin.

In 1974, he pled guilty to making illegal contributions to Nixon's re-election campaign, and was suspended from baseball for 2 years (subsequently reduced to 15 months) by then Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. In 1989, President Reagan (who coincidentally had portrayed George Gipp in the movies) pardoned him for this transgression. By 1990, Steinbrenner was banned from baseball for life for having paid a small time loser $40,000 to dig up dirt on a star player (Dave Winfield) who had the audacity to sue him for failing to make a promised contribution to a charitable foundation the player had set up. In 1993, the ban was lifted.

He angered his star players, Reggie Jackson and Winfield, most notable among them. He treated his managers with little respect. He benched Don Mattingly for failing to cut his hair, during a time when Steinbrenner was himself suspended from the game for the Winfield incident. He claimed to have injured his hand in a fight with 2 Dodger fans during the 1981 World Series.

Yet, with the passage of time, the gruffness of the "Boss" seemed somewhat less menacing, a little less maniacal. The commercials with Martin, and later the bumbling fool lampooning of him in "Seinfeld" softened his image.

Ultimately, as the effects of old age took away most of the bravado and diminished his capacity to rule with an iron fist, all that remained was an open pocketbook, a passion to succeed, and a somewhat vacant stare of an old man about to lose his way.

What is now left is our own Yankee Doodle Dandy. While the first King George (Herman Ruth) built his home here in 1923, our King George now had his own shiny new house and a championship trophy to proudly display inside. For a man who had invested in theater productions early in his career, this is a culmination of a 36 year running hit in New York. He certainly has put on a great show.

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