July 22, 2010

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LONGSHOTS: The rule of King George in Yankeeland ends after 37 years
by Dave Long

The rule of King George in Yankeeland ends after 37 years

Since we’re in New England, the best place to start when the subject is George Steinbrenner is — no one, not Carlton Fisk, Thurman Munson, Reggie Jackson, A-Rod, Billy Martin, 1978, 2003, Pedro Martinez or Don Zimmer is as responsible for the passion, bitterness, downright hatred at times or duration of the Red Sox–Yankees rivalry as George.

Yes, the passions of Fisk and Munson rekindled it, Martin was as easy to hate as anyone ever at Fenway and A-Rod brings his own issues, but George was there when it got rolling in the ’70s and has been the only constant right up until last week. He gave it a face for 37 years and his spending forced Red Sox owners to spend to keep up. So, in a perverse way, George had a role in helping the Sox stay good and The Nation united against him during most of his reign.

As you’re probably aware, The Boss died last week at 80 after arguably being more famous in Boston during his time than anyone who owned any Boston sports team. OK, infamous is more accurate, but you know what I mean. People KNEW who he was and had an opinion about him, like no other owner besides, maybe, Al Davis.

After a week of mostly tributes I’m not sure I can even add anything new — but I’ll try, as I come from a unique perspective. Prior to George and long after he took over I was as ardent a Yankees fan as there was on the planet. Loved the tradition, the history and the stars of sports’ longest-running dynasty. But as time went on he eventually drove me to disown my Yankees — which was as likely then as it would be for Rush Limbaugh to renounce conservatism today.

But I’m not here to kick dirt on George as I already pardoned him last Thanksgiving for his crimes against humanity after a 20-year sentence. I reasoned he’d been a good boy for the last 10 and since he was in fading health it seemed time. But that doesn’t mean I forgot what he did.

That’s why many of the tributes seemed on the revisionist side. There was a lot about George the guy who did so many nice things and how much he’d done to make the Yankees so successful. I’m sure the first part is true, though I do know enough about PR to know how some well-placed charity dollars can put a shine onto the image.

His acumen in running the baseball end of the team and his behavior while doing it is something else, though not what stood out most to me about George. It was his sheer domination of every situation. Back page of the Post. The lurking figure during free agent time. Breaking his hand after allegedly punching an elevator wall after losing the 1981 Series. And most of all, his bluster in firing manager after manager after manager. He was bigger than life and that’s why he’s one of those people, like with John Lennon — even though they’re dead it’s still hard to believe they actually are. That’s how BIG George was to me.

The stuff you can’t dispute was his success in the business of running the Yanks. When you turn a $10 million ($168,000 out of pocket) asset into $1.5 BILLION you hit more than a grand slam. Although enough already with his brilliance in forming the YES Network. It’s from the blueprint of NESN that came 15 years earlier. He also took back New York from the Mets, who drew 3 million as the Yanks drew under a million the year before he took control. And the Yankees brand is back at the top of the heap of all sports brands as well.

But on the field it’s mixed. People either have short memories to forget many horrendous free agents signing, or are suck-ups willing to justify his behavior as an owner with true passion to win, or they came on the scene in mellower times as they became the YANKEES again in the mid-’90s — after his world record SECOND suspension from baseball.

The reason I refused to root for Steinbrenner’s Yankees was his bullying and crazy impatience — which if he were a doctor would have gotten him sued for malpractice. He had 24 managers in his first 21 years. He hired and fired Billy Martin five times. Lou Piniella, Bob Lemon and Gene Michael each managed the Yanks twice. He fired Dick Howser after winning 103 games in 1980 in part because he refused to fire third base coach Mike Ferraro, who George blamed for Willie Randolph’s tripping over his own feet before he got thrown out at the plate at a crucial time in their ALCS loss to KC. He fired Yogi Berra 16 games into the 1985 season. In the strike year of 1982 he started the year with Gene Michael and fired him to bring back Lemon, who was at the helm after replacing Martin during the great comeback of 1978. But he lasted just 14 games into the next season before being replaced by — who else — the guy he replaced the previous year — Gene Michael.

That kind of lunacy cost the Yanks, by my count, three pennants in the ’80s. And it set the stage for my departure after he hired convicted felon Howard Spira to dig up dirt on Dave Winfield in part because his star was more popular than he was. That was it, as the ends don’t justify the means for me so I cut ties with the Yanks out of disgust for the way George did business.

It also got him suspended for life by Commissioner Faye Vincent — which was later reduced to two years. And ironically that probably was the best thing that happened to him as owner of the Yanks. It saved him from himself and more importantly the farm system from him as well. So instead of doing what he did as they went 13 years without a playoff appearance after 1981, when he impatiently dumped young guys like Willie McGee , Doug Drabek, Fred McGriff, Jay Buhner and others in bad trades for over-the-hill veterans — Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada came out of the farm system while he was out of baseball to form the backbone of a team that won five of his seven rings and created the image of George the sage team builder in the process.

So in the end what’s the bottom line? Two things. He got better toward the end. Joe Torre lasting 12 years as his manager while he enjoyed his greatest success says that. As does his relationship with Jeter, his star. Plus, what the blustering George really did was make it interesting for all of us around here and not many can say that.

Rest in Peace.

Dave Long can be reached at dlong@hippopress.com. He hosts Dave Long and Company from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.


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6/10/2010 Mood swings wildly in NBA finals
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4/8/2010 The Nation makes a pitch for having best staff in baseball
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1/28/2010 The all-decade choices — Part II
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1/7/2010 Questions abound as second season arrives for Pats
12/31/2009 Numbers tell the story for 2009 in review
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11/19/2009 Belichick's fourth-down cal lconfounds Patriot Nation
11/12/2009 the mid-year report for the NFL
11/05/2009 Ducks on the pond as Oregon drowns USC title hopes
10/29/2009 Run for the title looks in store for Celtics
10/22/2009 Mt. Rushmore of Patriots moments
10/15/2009 Changes I'd like to see happen
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10/1/2009 Bay watch on for Sox MVP
9/24/2009 Pitch count police trigger another dreamlike episode
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9/3/2009 On the shrink's couch in a near francoma
8/27/2009 Random thoughts and big refrigerator magnets
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8/6/2009 Ortiz and Manny's steroid story tests fans as well
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6/18/2009 A great experience came in the Knick of time
6/11/2009 Ripping key to Rodney's broadcast success?
6/4/2009 The Mt. Rushmores of the red Sox-Yankees rivalry
5/28/2009 First-place Sox are making the grade
5/21/2009 NBA rivalries have no rival in other team sports
5/14/2009 Lying from baseball's Pinocchio prompts questions
5/7/2009 Celtics bull their way into round two — finally!
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4/23/2009 Draft winds blow NFL teams to make interesting decisions
4/16/2009 Spring cleaning of a cluttered sports mind
4/9/2009 Red Sox Nation springs back to life
4/2/2009 Climbing sports Mt. Rushmore
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3/19/2009 B-Ball, Coach B and Baseball in the mailbag today
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1/1/2009 Predictions and wants for the year ahead
12/25/2008 A look in the rear view mirror at 2008
12/18/2008 The Pats' playoff run and new Yankees contracts make big news
12/11/2008 Random thoughts and associations
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11/27/2008 Putting the thanks in Thanksgiving
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10/16/2008 Going to the nines a thing of the past
10/9/2008 C-eeing some interesting stories unfold this week
10/2/2008 "How come?" is the main question of the day
9/25/2008 Observations on baseball in 2008
9/18/2008 If I were a QB, a DB, a stat geek or a soccer mom ...
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8/28/2008 A race to the finish to take all month long
8/21/2008 National news items of interest for local folks
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8/7/2008 Manny happy returns from the Evil Empire
7/31/2008 Manny being Manny - the sequel Part XXXII
7/24/2008 Open the mail bag for some Red Sox questions
7/17/2008 Hall-worthy or not the latest question on Schilling
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3/13/2008 Comment sparks wonder over just what I did
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2/21/2008 Congressional ineptitude muscles in on steroid hearings
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2/7/2008 A giant win leaves Patriots fans feeling blue
1/31/2008 Foxboro lads earn pats on the back, and old Celtics mystique makes sense
1/24/2008 Mail bag asks about Rice, the hall and wild-eyed liberals
1/17/2008 Peyton manning the fort back home as Pats take on Chargers
1/10/2008 Grumpy old Dolphins are lost at sea on this one
1/3/2008 The primary concern is getting a clear picture
12/27/2007 The annual sports awards close out 2007
12/20/2007 Holiday gifts for the deserving and not so deserving
12/13/2007 Jets land in Foxboro as pat go number 14
12/06/2007 To include or not to include Ellsbury — that is the questione
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2/22/2007 Six degrees of Muhammed Ali
2/15/2007 Monarchs rule as streak reaches 12
2/8/2007 Talking a good game ahead on all-sports WGAM
2/1/2007 Manning the Super Bowl watch more difficult in '07
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1/18/2007 ESPN polls are fanning the flames of national lunacy
1/11/2007 Patriots marching to MIami promised land
1/4/2007 Predictions for 2007
12/28/2006 REcognizing the best on the national front
12/21/2006 Present under the tree for all
12/14/2006 Mailbag open for busines at a time filled with questions
12/07/2006 Lions and Gators and Bears, oh my
11/30/2006 Does Fenway frankness roll to the negative side?
11/23/2006 Turkeys and thanks as the big day arrives
11/16/2006 Green-around-the-gills Celts looking to earn some respect
11/9/2006 Blame game reaches new local low
11/2/2006 A week of highs and lows in sport
10/26/2006 Curses! The U is foiled again
10/19/2006 Time for a trip to the sports mailbag
10/12/2006 U turns Granite Stare around on football
10/05/2006 James' gang riding into town to face the Celtics
09/28/2006 Words to describe a lost Red Sox season
09/21/2006 Football Friday can't stack up to Saturday
09/14/2006 A lesson to be learned in remembering a somber day
09/07/2006 Usual pat choice to win AFC East questioned
08/31/2006 Whining won't yank AL East away from NY
08/24/2006 Spring forward or fall behind for Sox
08/17/2006 Trash talking abounds in the Empire over Sox and Pats
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04/20/2006 Questions and answers from the mailbag
04/13/2006 Local sports teams spring into action
04/06/2006 Predictable Red Sox season lies ahead
03/30/2006 Analyzing this and that as Pats roster shrinks
03/23/2006 A week of following the bouncing balls
03/16/2006 The beginning of four days of basketball bliss
03/09/2006 Many miss the central point of the story
03/02/2006 Better late than never to jump through local hoops
02/23/2006 Celtic green means raw, not envy as it once did
02/16/2003 An issue that is all black and white
02/09/2006 Nomar curses from the UL's Sullivan
02/02/2006 Super memories from 40 years of watching the big game
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01/19/2006 Sudden end to Pats' season leave just one thing to do
01/12/2006 Pats on the back for the football team
01/05/2006 Predictions for Manchester Sports 2031
A lesson for Leo the Lip and nice guys everywhere

Chop House opening is Berra of good news
Event-filled weekend missed en route to evil empire
Hero’s death lays to rest misuse of the word
Saint Theo ascends to new heights in The Nation
Santa sack filled to the brim with sports
Patriots march through injuries toward threepeat
Sports talk should be on the air
Stars shine brightest when winning is in the mix
The Demonization of Johnny Damon
Thirty-seven topics and so little space
Too many holes in Sox for repeat
Trip to the injured list makes it a long weekend for local scribe
Turkeys and giving thanks take center stage this week
Yanked from the edge of your seat