Steinbrenner: A Winner

Inner Toobin

"May I take your coat?" the genial Harvard Business School official asked the Yankee owner.

"Shit, naw. I'll just throw it on a chair," Steinbrenner responded.

George M. Steinbrenner III--one of the boys.

All owners of professional sports franchises share two characteristics. First, they are wealthy--some are richer than others but all lead comfortable to luxurious lives. Second, they all like sports and usually hold strong opinions on the subject.

In his visit to the Business School last Wednesday, Steinbrenner showed why he is now the country's pre-eminent sports executive. He is like the other owners, only more so. Opinionated, glib, self-serving, and ferociously self-righteous, Steinbrenner loves sports and he loves business, but most of all, he loves to win.


The man seems to have an almost physical need for triumph, and his views on subjects other than baseball reflect this. Those opinions positively swirl in quixotic logic and contradictions, but it doesn't seem to matter to Steinbrenner. He is a winner.

"I'm not isolated. I drive my car through Harlem a couple of times a week coming back from the ballpark--and this is at night. Well, I got the 'NY' on the side of my car and the special plates so they're my friends," said the Regular Guy.

"You know we have these dinners in New York for charity--just about every night--a guy could go broke going to all those dinners," he said.

Steinbrenner prescribed "one-on-one" benevolence as an answer to many of this country's problems. And he heartily described his own contribution.

It seems Steinbrenner was sitting in his car one day last year when his driver (do all Regular Guys have drivers?) pointed out a story in the newspaper about a young girl who needed an operation, but couldn't afford it. So Steinbrenner gave her $13,000. Just like that. Just a nice guy.

Steinbrenner knows all about solving problems with money.

Back in the early 70's, the American Shipbuilding Company, Steinbrenner's vocation, had some problems with the government. A longtime contributor to the Democratic Party, Steinbrenner knew about political finance, so when Herbert Kalmbach asked for a little help for his boss, the meaning was clear. So Steinbrenner generously opened his wallet for Richard Nixon in 1972. Illegally. And he got caught.

But he has put that behind him, preferring to moralize on the state of our collective national soul. "I worry in this country when we don't go out of our way to help people less fortunate....We give away billions of dollars every year, and yet we have millions in our own country living below the poverty level," he says.

Steinbrenner now enjoys that peculiarly American brand of celebrity, which transcends a man's profession and allow a sports executive to pontificate on such issues as poverty and foreign aid. He even speaks like one of this country's manufactured celebrities. With an insincerity that would do a Las Vegas opening act proud, he called people "great guys" or "good friends of mine" at least five times.

With the help of "great guys" like Billy Martin and free agents like Reggie Jackson made himself a hero and the Yankees winners.

Steinbrenner's team won the World Series last year and the year before, vindicating his capricious rule of the turbulent Yankees. In 1973, he pleaded nolo contendre to a felony chargeand started from scratch with a moribund franchise. He's still a felon--but a winner.

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