Hello, my name is Christopher and I’m a Red Sox fan. Which makes what I’m about to say so difficult.
I could not have written this years ago. In October 2003, we Sox faithful had once again suffered another devastating defeat to our arch-rival and overall evil-doers, the New York Yankees. This time, the blow came from the bat of Aaron Boone in the American League Championship Series. Game Seven, extra innings, another loss to the Yankees, could things get any worse?
Numbness ensued. Another crushing loss meant yet another year of ribbing from Yankee fans everywhere who were, and had always been, our daddies. However, six years, two World Series titles and one Ruthian exorcism later, Red Sox fans can put all that behind them.
Growing up, I hated the Yankees. I hated absolutely everything about them. The pinstripes, the fans, Graig Nettles catching Yastrzemski’s foul pop-up in the 1978 playoff game, the endlessly, obnoxious Reggie chants, Yankee Stadium and of course the Boss, George Steinbrenner. He is the Yankees epitomized. His tirades were legendary, his temper that of a scorned Latin lover. His passion for the game and his desire, if not need, to win were unrivaled. Indirectly, he made me a better fan, for he made me care more about the Red Sox, and beating the Yankees.
Steinbrenner bought the Yankees in 1973 for $10 million, not a bad investment. Before finally settling on Joe Torre in 1996, Steinbrenner hired and fired over twenty managers. That’s nearly one a year, folks. Several of them he recycled including Billy Martin, Gene Michael and Bob Lemon. The Yankee skipper post saw more traffic than a New York subway turnstile.
Seeing Steinbrenner manage from afar, one would guess him to be the type of boss that struck fear into the hearts of his employees, the kind of man you avoided as you walked down the hallway for fear of saying the wrong thing in passing. Mark Cuban could never be him, too obnoxious. Dan Snyder could never be him, too sniveling. Ted Turner could never be him, too Jane Fonda. Only Jerry Jones might be able to hold a candle, but still… no. Not even close. As an owner, George was one of a kind. Oliver Platt did an outstanding job playing the fiery Steinbrenner in the mini-series “The Bronx Is Burning,” but even he would admit he couldn’t do George justice.
After tallying several World Series titles between 1996 and 2000, we slowly began to see a kinder, gentler Steinbrenner. It was even rumored that he enjoyed the Seinfeld parodies of his character. I guess winning 125 games in a season can put a smile on anyone’s face. The enlightened Steinbrenner was, dare I say, likeable. His charitable contributions in his home town of Tampa Bay are too numerous to mention.
Steinbrenner’s passing touches even this Red Sox fan. It serves as a reminder of how fragile life is. Steinbrenner was a figure you never imagined would grow old, never one you’d see in a weakened state. After all, he was the boss.
The bottom line is George Steinbrenner pulled the Red Sox fan out of me, made me care about the game more. He may very well be the most hated Yankee ever. Bucky Dent and Don Mattingly, Chris Chambliss and Dave Righetti all came and went, but big George was a mainstay, ultimately orchestrating every Yankee move. His shrewd ownership and heavy handed decision-making made the Yankees perfectly hate-able. In fact, hate isn’t a strong enough word. But we felt that way because they were the best, and to be the best, you had to beat the best, which we could never do. Steinbrenner was no camera hog, he just wanted to win, wanted what was best or his team. For this, I salute him. While most Red Sox fans would likely not be able to pick the Yawkeys out of a lineup, everyone knew Steinbrenner. The Yankees won six World Series under his ownership and were ALWAYS competitive. He saw to that.
Due to his declining health, George relinquished control of his franchise to his son, Hank, years ago. Hank can only hope to follow in his father’s footsteps, for they are big bossy shoes to fill. As a Red Sox fan, I can only hope Hank fails miserably. But in doing so, I must acknowledge the kind of man George Steinbrenner was and the sports fan he ultimately made out of me.
Yankee, Red Sox and baseball fans nationwide owe him a debt of gratitude.