George Steinbrenner, the poster-boy for free spending, meddling sports owners, died Tuesday of a heart attack.
In 1972 Steinbrenner led a syndicate that bought the New York Yankees from CBS for $10 million. In 2009 the Yankee player payroll topped $210 million.
Steinbrenner, known for going through managers at a faster pace than Clipper Cooper goes through Guatemalan house maids, created the template for high profile owners of high profile teams (see, Jones, Jerry).
Steinbrenner, who tried to buy the Cleveland Indians before getting the Yankees made his money as the head of the American Shipbuilding Company, promised to keep a low profile.
"I won't be active in the day-to-day operations of the club at all," he declared, "I’ll stick to building ships."
He was anything but that, opening the pocketbook when free agency came in the 70's, feuding with managers, players and fans alike. He was full of bombast, loved the spotlight -- and hated losing.
He also was an excellent businessman who fully understood that his product was dramatically undervalued when he purchased the team. He built the Yankee brand back until it is now valued at $1.6 Billion.
Steinbrenner recognized the revenue streams available through cable TV and in 1988 struck a 12-year $500 million deal with the Madison Square Garden Network. In 2002 the Yankees formed the YES network to carry many games and broadcast Yankees-related programming. YES had $257 million in revenue in 2005, making it the highest-grossing regional sports network.
The Yankees were labeled "The Evil Empire" during Steinbrenners' reign, thanks to his ability round up talent from other teams such as Alex Rodriguez, who arrived in a trade with the Texas Rangers, and high-priced playears such as Jason Giambi, Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson, but he also understood the value of a strong farm system.
The 1990's dynasty was had home-grown talents such as Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, and pitchers Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera.
Steinbrenner liked to make money -- lots of it -- but most of all he liked winning. Dave Winfield, one of his free agents that he bought and fought with, said,
"He didn't want to lose at all. A player had to come in there and want to win, know how to win, and lay it all on the line. Otherwise, they were in trouble."