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Steinbrenner, New York Yankees' longtime 'Boss,' dies at 80

July 13, 2010
  • New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner talks to reporters in 1999. Steinbrenner died July 13 at age 80.
Associated Press,

NEW YORK (AP) -- George Steinbrenner, whose big wallet and win-at-all-cost attitude whipped the New York Yankees into a billion-dollar sports empire, died Tuesday. He had just celebrated his 80th birthday July 4.

Steinbrenner had a heart attack, was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, Fla., and died at about 6:30 a.m, a person close to the owner told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the team had not disclosed those details.

"George was 'The Boss,' make no mistake," Hall of Famer Yogi Berra said. "He built the Yankees into champions, and that's something nobody can ever deny. He was a very generous, caring, passionate man. George and I had our differences, but who didn't? We became great friends over the last decade and I will miss him very much."

In 37-plus seasons as owner, Steinbrenner led the Yankees to seven World Series championships, 11 American League pennants and 16 AL East titles.

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"He was and always will be as much of a New York Yankee as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and all of the other Yankee legends," baseball commissioner Bud Selig said. "Although we would have disagreements over the years, they never interfered with our friendship and commitment to each other. Our friendship was built on loyalty and trust and it never wavered."

Steinbrenner's death on the day of the All-Star game was the second in three days to rock the Yankees. Bob Sheppard, the team's revered public address announcer from 1951-07, died Sunday at 99.

New York was 11 years removed from its last championship when Steinbrenner headed a group that bought the team from CBS Inc. on Jan. 3, 1973, for about $10 million.

He revolutionized the franchise -- and sports -- by starting his own television network and ballpark food company. Forbes now values the Yankees at $1.6 billion, trailing only Manchester United ($1.8 billion) and the Dallas Cowboys ($1.65 billion).

"He was an incredible and charitable man," his family said in a statement. "He was a visionary and a giant in the world of sports. He took a great but struggling franchise and turned it into a champion again."

He ruled with obsessive dedication to detail, overseeing everything from trades to the airblowers that kept his ballparks spotless. He admittedly was overbearing, screaming at all from commissioners to managers to secretaries.

His reign was interrupted for suspensions, including a 15-month ban in 1974 after his guilty plea to conspiring to make illegal contributions to President Richard Nixon's re-election campaign. He was pardoned 15 years later by President Ronald Reagan.

The son of a shipping magnate, Steinbrenner lived up to his billing as "the Boss," a nickname he earned and clearly enjoyed as he ruled with an iron fist. While he lived in Tampa he was a staple on the front pages of New York newspapers.

"He was truly the most influential and innovative owner in all of sports," former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said. "He made the Yankees a source of great pride in being a New Yorker."

Steinbrenner's mansion, on a leafy street in an older neighborhood of south Tampa, was quiet Tuesday. Private security guards milled around on the empty circular driveway inside the gates. A police officer turned away reporters along the narrow street. News vehicles lined the other side of the street.

"The passing of George Steinbrenner marks the end of an era in New York City baseball history," rival Mets owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon and Saul Katz said. "George was a larger than life figure and a force in the industry."

Steinbrenner was known for feuds, clashing with Berra and hiring manager Billy Martin five times while repeatedly fighting with him. But as his health declined, Steinbrenner let sons Hal and Hank run more of the family business.

Steinbrenner was in fragile health for years, resulting in fewer public appearances and pronouncements. Yet dressed in his trademark navy blue blazer and white turtleneck, he was the model of success.

"Few people have had a bigger impact on New York over the past four decades than George Steinbrenner," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. "George had a deep love for New York, and his steely determination to succeed combined with his deep respect and appreciation for talent and hard work made him a quintessential New Yorker."

He appeared at the new $1.5 billion Yankee Stadium just four times: the 2009 opener, the first two games of last year's World Series and this year's homer opener, when captain Derek Jeter and manager Joe Girardi went to his suite and personally delivered his seventh World Series ring.

"He was very emotional," said Hal Steinbrenner, his father's successor as managing general partner.

Till the end, Steinbrenner demanded championships. He barbed Joe Torre during the 2007 AL playoffs, then let the popular manager leave after another loss in the opening round. The team responded last year by winning another title.

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