The Boss was all about winning…or else. It was the “or else” part that brought out the worst in him as he ruled by fear, intimidation and humiliation. It is impossible for me to forget–let alone forgive–his cruelty in the pursuit of success (though it’s easy to laugh at some of his antics now, “hey, remember the time he got into that ‘fight’ in the elevator in L.A…”). But the Boss is an appealing figure because he was more than that. Vicious and generous, an ogre and a sentimental slob, an earnest patriot. Oh, and he was funny too.
I watched most of the George Steinbrenner special on YES last night and thought they did a nice job. I especially liked hearing some of John Sterling’s stories (and it made me reconsider Sterling again; how do I ever let a guy who is this funny get me upset?). The thing I noticed most was Yankee players–from Derek Jeter to retired players like Paul O’Neill–talking about Steinbrenner’s generosity. Financial generosity, that is. David Cone was candid in a phone interview and said that the Boss helped Ron Guidry out of financial problems after Gator retired.
Once you took his money, you were open to his abuse. But for the most part, no matter how ugly things got, once a player retired or left the Yankees, Steinbrenner usually invited them back, wanted them “part of the family.” He brought them back with money and attention. Guys who hated the Boss when they played for him, Nettles, Gossage, Gamble, they all hang around the Yankees these days, go to fantasy camps, they get paid.
Money equals love, or something close to it. And speaking of which, because of a tax-law, the Steinbrenner family gets off easy in George’s death. If not for this bit of fortunate timing, who knows, perhaps they’d have to sell a part of the team.
Up in Boston, as usual, Charlie Pierce nails it.
[Drawing by Larry Roibal]