The Empire That George Built

And while his endless pocketbook made other franchise owners and managers angry and envious, Steinbrenner inadvertently helped other teams make more money. The Yankees drew in one of the biggest crowds in baseball, even when they were on the road. According to Forbes, more than 25 percent of MLB licensed merchandise sold is Yankee-related, and this profit gets split evenly among baseball’s 30 teams. The Yankees also paid $25.7 million in luxury tax from their high payroll in 2009.

Steinbrenner also revolutionized the business of baseball by being the first owner to sell TV cable rights to Madison Square Garden Network and started his own television network, YES, and ballpark food company. Between television deals and attendance records, Steinbrenner escalated the New York Yankees to the status of the highest-valued sports franchise in North America.

“Some guys can lead through real, genuine respect, but I’m not that kind of a leader.” 1974

Steinbrenner was known for doing three things—winning, yelling, and firing. If he wasn’t doing the first thing, the other two came along very shortly afterwards. The former Cleveland shipbuilding tycoon famously said back in 1973, when he and a team assumed ownership of the Yankees, “We’re not going to pretend we’re something we’re not. I’ll stick to building ships.” That mentality quickly changed. “Nothing is as limited as being a limited partner of George’s,” John McMullen had said.

Long before Donald Trump coined, “You’re fired,” Steinbrenner was notorious for firing managers, rehiring them, and firing them again. The team cycled management 20 times (Billy Martin alone was fired and rehired five times) during The Boss’s tumultuous tenure. Steinbrenner assured Berra, who was named team manager for the 1985 season, he wouldn’t fire him. After the 16th game of the season, he did. Berra didn’t speak to him again until Steinbrenner apologized 14 years later.

Yes, Steinbrenner was the bombastic dictator, but he never apologized for his effrontery, even if it cost him. He was suspended for two years for making illegal campaign contributions to Nixon’s re-election fund and was fined $20,000. He was suspended and fined again, this time for $50,000, when he made public statements about the integrity of an umpire. In 1990, Baseball Commissioner Fay T. Vincent banned Steinbrenner for almost three years for paying a gambler to dig up dirt on Yankees’ outfielder Dave Winfield, because Winfield sued Steinbrenner for failing to contribute $300,000 to his foundation.

“I care about New York dearly. I like every cab driver, every guy that stops the car and honks, every truck driver. I feed on that.” 2004

Though Steinbrenner lived in Tampa, he embodied the true New Yorker and took the empire state of mind to heart. “Maybe the silk stocking guys don’t like the way I run this ball club, but the little guy—the bartender, the guy pushing a cart, the cab drivers—they’re the ones who need the Yankees. My involvement is not sipping cocktails in all the fashionable places. My involvement is in the roots of the city,” he said in 1977.