Remembering Yankees Owner George Steinbrenner

Famous for his feuds and big spending, he revolutionized baseball.

July 13, 2010— -- New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was the boss, prized by fans, pilloried by foes and even parodied by "Seinfeld."

Comedian Larry David appeared as the voice of Steinbrenner on several "Seinfeld" episodes, yelling sometimes ludicrous demands to character George Costanza who worked for the team.

Steinbrenner, known for his domineering nature in real life, was intimidating on the small screen too. The audience saw just the back of the fictional Steinbrenner's perfectly groomed silver hair as he sat in a plush office.

"Chaos does not work for the New York Yankees, not as long as I'm running the show!" yelled David, voicing the Steinbrenner character on a "Seinfeld" episode.

The real Steinbrenner, 80, died this morning in Tampa, Florida, from a heart attack. The son of a shipping magnate, Steinbrenner was born on the Fourth of July. In his younger years, he worked as an assistant football coach at Northwestern and Purdue universities. He eventually turned to business.

Revolutionized Baseball World

He redefined the New York Yankees and changed the sports world when he bought the baseball team in 1973 for just $10 million.

At that time, the House That Ruth Built was crumbling. The Yankees hadn't won a world championship in 11 years.

Today the team is worth more than $1.5 billion. Steinbrenner's ferocious desire to win helped lead the Yankees to seven World Series titles, but his ferocious temper led to the hiring and firing of 20 managers in 23 years. One manager, Billy Martin, he hired and fired five times.

"Well, you're damn right it is and if you don't like it, you're fired," Steinbrenner told Yankee manager Billy Martin upon one of his many hirings.

Steinbrenner's overbearing nature intimidated many players, too.

"There were a lot of people that did not want to come to New York because of the way he acted," former Yankees star Dave Winfield said.

Lavish Spending

Steinbrenner's lavish spending helped make baseball the big money game it is today.

He negotiated a $486 million television contract with Madison Square Garden Network and went on to launch a network exclusively about the Yankees for their 2002 season.

"If you can't make the tough decisions, you can't be the boss," Steinbrenner once said.

He drew the ire of other team owners with his big spending that made the Yankees the first team to have a $200 million payroll. Over the years he has spent millions on to lure big name free agents, from Catfish Hunter and Reggie Jackson, who helped revive the team in the late 1970s to Alex Rodriguez.

Today, Derek Jeter, who came up through the Yankee system, remembered the legendary man.

"He was more than just an owner," Jeter said. "He was a friend of mine and he'll be missed."

Suspensions and Feuds

Being the boss came with a price. Steinbrenner was suspended from the game twice, once when he was convicted for illegal donations to Richard Nixon in 1974 and once for paying a gambler to dig up dirt on one of his own players.

President Ronald Reagan pardoned Steinbrenner in 1989.

On top of the suspensions, Steinbrenner saw the team through a string of losing seasons in the 1980s.

Famous for his business dealings, Steinbrenner was equally famous for his feuds, including a 14-year feud with Yankees icon Yogi Berra, the catcher on the legendary teams of the 1950s who was a 15-time All-Star.

In 1985, Steinbrenner fired Berra as manager of the Yankees only three weeks into the season. It would be 14 years before Berra returned to the Yankee Stadium.

Lasting Imprint

He faded from view the last few years as his health declined, passing on many of his responsibilities to his two sons, Hal and Hank. However, his imprint on baseball, New York and sports will last forever.

"The most creative, adventurous, gambling, successful owner in the history of all sports," sportswriter Maury Allen said, describing Steinbrenner.

Famous for his white turtleneck and blue blazer, Steinbrenner had a softer side. He was a fixture in his South Tampa neighborhood, quietly donating to local charities under one condition: they wouldn't reveal the donor.

"They always say, 'What would you like to be on your tombstone, what you like people to say?' I just like them to say he never stopped trying, that would be good enough for me," Steinbrenner once said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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