Steinbrenner Coverage: Over the Top

By Michael Kaufman

For a while there I was afraid someone was going to nominate George Steinbrenner for sainthood last week, what with all the glowing tributes that followed his passing.  I wasn’t going to write more about him, either–except that I started remembering some specific things I probably should have talked about before letting Hunter Thomspon’s words about Richard Nixon speak for me. 

Confused reader Frank Manuele wondered if the post was supposed to be about Nixon.  In any case, wrote Frank, “I agree totally and you will always find hypocrites coming out of the woodwork when a famous, controversial person passes….May Nixon never rest in peace and may Billy Martin hound Steinbrener throughout eternity!”

One day he may also be hounded by Dave Winfield, who played for Steinbrenner’s Yankees from 1981 to 1990 en route to his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Winfield contributed mightily to the Yankee teams that decade, driving in 744 runs between 1982 and 1988 alone, and was named to the American League All-Star team each of those seasons. Winfield won five of his seven Gold Glove Awards for his stellar outfield play as a Yankee.

But in 1985, after the Yankees finished second in the American League East, Steinbrenner publicly derided the future Hall of Famer, referring to him as “Mr. May,” a demeaning comparison with Reggie Jackson, who was known as “Mr. October” for his clutch hitting in late-season and post-season games. Winfield, however, would have the last laugh. In 1992, at age 41, he delivered the game-winning (and World Series ending) double for the Toronto Blue Jays in the 11th inning of their game with the Atlanta Braves. The jubilant headlines in Toronto paid tribute to “Mr. Jay.”

Steinbrenner regularly leaked insulting and trumped-up stories about Winfield to the New York baseball writers. He also ordered Yankee managers to move him down in the batting order and even to bench him. But the bullying Boss was frustrated in his frequent attempts to trade Winfield. Thanks to the efforts of the Major League Players Association, Winfield could not be traded without his consent. He was a “10-and-5” player (10 years in the majors, five years with a single team).

In 1990 Steinbrenner was supposedly “banned for life” from running the Yankees because of his connections to Howie Spira, a known gambler with Mafia connections, whom he had paid $40,000 to provide embarrassing information about Winfield.  (Winfield was traded mid-season to the California Angels and went on to earn Major League Baseball’s Comeback Player of the Year Award.) The Lords of Baseball, who can make the Wise Men of Chelm look like Mensa Society material, lifted the lifetime ban on Steinbrenner after two years.

The Boss’s mistreatment of Billy Martin, Yogi Berra, Dave Winfield, and others who proudly wore the Yankees uniform are a small part of a larger picture. Steinbrenner showed similar contempt for the people of New York City, especially those who live in the Bronx neighborhood closest to Yankee Stadium. Reader Tom Karlson, who took part in that community’s efforts to keep Macombs Dam Park out of Steinbrenner’s reach submitted his recollections in verse:

The Boss (By Tom Karlson)

Ends at eighty
Silver spoon found near his moving jaws
Filled with white teeth and fleeing grey words
1952 Air Force, Ohio bound, no Korea for him

The Boss sending orders
Hiring, firing
Secretaries, managers, coaches
Church going family man

Running his old man’s business
Buys the Yankees 1973 $8.8 million

Stadium renovation, complete 1976
Strapped city shells out
200 million
Yankees, rent less with sweetheart lease
City, landlord from heaven

Extorting dough for Tricky Dick
Obstructing justice…1974 felony
Suspended from baseball 2 years
Pardoned by Ronnie 1989

Desires Macomb’s Dam Park for three decades
Play land, one thousand working class ghosts
Running, racing, catching fungoes, footballs, kicking soccer balls

Second felony
Trying to renege on a contract
Banned for life from baseball, 1990
Sanitized and reinstated 1993
Blackmails city threatens abandonment
Will run the Yanks to Jersey, Connecticut, the West Side
The braying mayor springs for another stadium
Rises up on Macomb’s 28 acres, $2.3 billion
Tickets $25 to $5000
The people’s team

Michael can be reached at


Leave a Reply