The Empire That George Built

After the Yankees lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1981 World Series, he even apologized to the fans: “I want to sincerely apologize to the people of New York and to the fans of the New York Yankees everywhere for the performance of the Yankee team in the World Series. I also want to assure you that we will be at work immediately to prepare for 1982.”

He didn’t just rally for Yankees wins; he held high expectations for America as well. After the 1988 Winter Olympics, when the U.S. camehome with a measly six medals overall, Steinbrenner, the vice president of the U.S. Olympic Committee from 1989 to 1996, pounded his fist on a podium and talked about how “appalled” he was by stories of U.S. athletes having to scrounge for rent and training. He raised funds for the U.S. athletes, with most coming out of his own pocket, including a contribution of $10,000 to a 13-year-old Michelle Kwan, whose parents were scouring for money for her skating.

“His influence on the U.S. Olympic Movement, his devotion to sport, and the pursuit of excellence will forever be remembered,” the USOC said in a statement.

“I haven’t always done a good job, and I haven’t always been successful. But I know that I have tried.” 2005

Born on the 4th of July, Steinbrenner was the modern-day Yankee Doodle Dandy, a one-man show. Before his sovereignty with the Yankees, he served as an assistant football coach at Northwestern University and Purdue University, chairman and CEO of the American Shipbuilding Company (the company’s gross sales in 1967 were more than $100 annually), owner of the American Basketball League’s Cleveland Pipers, and he dabbled in the Kentucky Derby and Broadway, producing and investing in a few shows, including two Tony Award nominees for Best Musical.

Though Steinbrenner bullied and snarled, few saw his softer side. He gave countless contributions to charities, but did so anonymously. His own charities, the New York Yankees Tampa Foundation, Gold Shield Foundation, and Steinbrenner Family Foundation, brought in a collective $1.6 million in revenue for 2008-2009.

Sometimes, his acts of kindness were quite spontaneous. He paid the medical school expenses of Olympic swimmer Ron Karnaugh after his father died during the opening ceremony at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. And in 1991, on his way to play golf in Ocala, Fla., Steinbrenner stopped by a Boys & Girls Clubs bus broken down on the highway. He spent $200 on lunch at McDonald’s, called in another bus, and then sent the kids to Busch Gardens.

In the later years, Steinbrenner was less of a hard-ass. He cried in public on several occasions, including when West Point cadets cheered for him at the Yankee’s 2004 home opener.

In 1981, he vowed, “I’m like a fan. I live with the Yankees and I die with the Yankees.” As the executive owner of one of the greatest teams in sports history into his final days, he surely did.