Is George Steinbrenner a Hall of Famer?

With the passing of the Yankee ownership torch from George to Hal Steinbrenner, George is effectively in retirement and therefore, a candidate for the Baseball Hall of Fame in five years.  Just how strong a candidate is “The Big Stein?”

First off, George M. Steinbrenner III purchased the Yankees from CBS in 1973 for somewhere between $8-$9 million.  Since then, Steinbrenner has been suspended from baseball, banned for life (and subsequently reinstated), and has seen the team win six championships.  Most Yankee fans, at this point anyway, respect and honor Steinbrenner, who always did what he could to ensure the Yanks would be competitive.

This wasn’t always the case, however.  During the Presidency of Richard Nixon, Steinbrenner actually pled guilty to making illegal contributions to Nixon’s re-election campaign and felony obstruction of justice.  Getting away form the government with a fine, Steinbrenner was suspended from baseball for two years, with a reduction granting Steinbrenner re admittance to the game after 15 months.  He was eventually pardoned by President Reagan in 1989.  In 1990 Steinbrenner was thrown out of baseball for life for hiring some seedy character to dig up dirt on Dave Winfield after Winfield accused The Boss of not paying $300K to Winfield’s foundation, which was part of his contract.  News of his ban was greeted by a standing ovation at Yankee Stadium.  The ban for life lasted three years and Steinbrenner was reinstated in 1993.

The Boss also got on fans’ nerves when he would hire and fire managers (including fan favorites and Yankee legends in their own right Yogi Berra and Billy Martin) at an astounding rate.  He would even rip team employees and broadcasters in public.

So aside from these ever-so-minor problems with Steinbrenner’s candidacy for Cooperstown, he did help the game develop in new ways.  He was the first owner to sell TV cable rights when he sold the Yankees’ rights to the MSG Network.  Despite his ~$9 million purchase price, Steinbrenner helped the Yankees build their brand to surpass the $1 billion mark for franchise valuation by Forbes in 2005, the first franchise to be valued that high.  His 10 year deal with ADIDAS in 1997 was ground-breaking and brought the club $97 million.  The creation of the YES Network was a masterful move to build the brand to new levels as the Yankee product could be consumed in a new way.  Since then, other teams have followed suit (see: NY Mets) and even leagues have ventured into creating networks (NFL Network, MLB Network debuts in 2009).  Maybe he had something to do with player salaries skyrocketing…  Steinbrenner, however, definitely did things differently and was an innovator.

I will say that, at least in terms of “contributors/pioneers,” the Baseball Hall of Fame does have other figures that promoted controversy.  Former Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey faced charges of racism as he passed up opportunities to sign Jackie Robinson and Wilie Mays and his Sox were the last team to integrate and did so in the embarassing year of 1959.  Former Comissioner Bowie Kuhn had a minor problem when the baseball writers tried to put Negro League players in the Hall of Fame by saying there were no accurate records for the players; he did offer to build the Negro Leaguers their own wing.  When the writers threatened to boycott Hall elections, he gave in.  Perhaps the most staunch opponent of racial integration was former commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis who prolonged integration for 24 years, according to his successor Happy Chandler.

So does George Steinbrenner belong in Cooperstown?  The Nixon thing shouldn’t matter too much because it really didn’t have anything to do with the game.  The Dave Winfield situation is troublesome, but is it as serious as threatening racial integration?  I’m not sure.  Realistically, in five years, will the baseball writers remember The Boss for the controversy?  Honestly, I doubt it because that will have happened so long ago.  Steinbrenner will be remembered for stirring the pot, his contributions to free agency, franchise valuation, and for the Yankee run in the late 1990s.  Maybe his legacy will be as an often polarizing figure, but I think Steinbrenner’s personality and his contributions to the game will be unforgettable and for that reason, he belongs in Cooperstown.

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2 Responses to “Is George Steinbrenner a Hall of Famer?”

  1. Tom Stanley Says:

    I was on Yahoo and found your blog. Read a few of your other posts. Good work. I am looking forward to reading more from you in the future.

    Tom Stanley

  2. Chris Ross Says:

    Excellent post, it was a very good read for me! It is a sad time for the baseball world especially with the all star game being played on the same day, but I am also surprised at the amount of praise that the man who was once known as the most hated man in baseball. He definitely did do a lot for the New York Yankees and I’m sure the city is very grateful for it. I also kind of like/hate the fact that I have a team to hate for in the Yankees because they just buy all their players. Also you think you could take a quick look at my blog cuz I really want to know what you think. http://chrisross91.wordpress.com/2010/07/14/greatest-owner-ever-hardly/

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