When I worked at MSNBC Sports in Redmond, Wash., one of my first assignments was to interview George Steinbrenner by phone for an audio link to an online story. I remember him as one of those rare interview subjects whom you just kick start with a single question, and then watch race around the room. He was loquacious, informative, even funny. Of course others, chiefly Billy Martin, knew him as a prick. And he's lost quite a bit off his fastball since then, which is why, finally, he's officially released his bony grip from the tiller of the Yankees and handed over things to his sons Hal and Hank, with the emphasis on Hal. It's kind of like Mr. Burns handing over the power plant to Homer; the end of an era, with hilarity sure to ensue. Not like things weren't interesting with George in charge. Love him or hate him, you'll never duplicate him. Guys like Eddie DeBartolo and Robert Irsay have tried, but lacked the requisite churlishness, the unmitigated hutzpah, the unique Steinbrennian eau de bastard. Face it; even though he famously declined to play himself on the show, Big Stein's 35-year reign was one extended Seinfield episode. "What the hell did you trade Jay Buhner for? He had 30 home runs and over 100 RBIs last year! He has a rocket for an arm! YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT THE HELL YOU'RE DOING!" But, you know, there were those titles.
The Yankees regained their former glory under his ownership, winning six World Series titles and 10 American League pennants from 1976-2003. They also have transformed themselves into a billion-dollar business that owns a cable television network and food concession company. But the 78-year-old has been in declining health following fainting spells that required hospitalization in December 2003 and October 2006.
Some good accounts of the transfer of power here, and here. And now somewhere, Steinbrenner and Fidel Castro, weak, feeble and no longer in control of their empires, will meet on a sunny Caribbean beach and trade war stories. And Fidel will stop the conversation halfway thorough and exclaim, "Man, and I thought I was ruthless." It's Official: George Steinbrenner Hands Yankees Over To Son Hal [New York Daily News] Yankees' Control Shifts To Steinbrenner's Son Hal [New York Times]