Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Steinbrenner admired grudgingly
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When famous people die, most of us first try to remember the good stuff, the positive qualities that made this man or woman a prominent figure.
It's the classy thing to do. None of us wants our buddies, or even our adversaries, to spend the maiden day of mourning trading tales about our bad habits and most embarrassing moments.
The problem with George Steinbrenner -- who died of a heart attack Tuesday at age 80 -- is that most of the good stuff is also the bad stuff. Outside of his charity work, which nobody considers negative, the Yankees owner made friends and enemies by doing things his way. Whether you liked or disliked his actions depended largely on which camp you were in.
I spent my formative years as an Orioles fan developing a grudging admiration for Steinbrenner. I did not care that he was bombastic or that his reckless spending could potentially ruin baseball. All I knew was that he wanted to beat my team -- and the others in the American League -- more than any man who ever graced my TV set.
He proved that through hirings, firings, public admonishments of players and managers. Most of all, though, he proved it by opening his wallet and fetching the stars he thought would help him win.
Steinbrenner wasn't always the most prudent talent evaluator or contract drafter. We all know that. But he was trying. And he used the tools he had, that limitless power and cash, in a fervent attempt to make Yankees fans happy.
I always thought that if I'd been a Yankees fan, I would have liked that.
So rather than paint this man in black or white, let's try the zebra technique: Look at the good and bad of some of his more controversial actions. Ultimately, the choice of how to remember The Boss is up to you.
Action: Fired manager Billy Martin five times.
Bad: This isn't the best technique to lure top dugout talent. The quick hook showed Steinbrenner lacked patience, which is so vital in a sport that plays 162 games. The re-hirings revealed an alarming level of indecisiveness.
Good: The re-hirings also showed Steinbrenner had a willingness to swallow his pride, even if you knew he'd eventually cough it back up again. And the simple fact that Martin kept taking the job meant Steinbrenner couldn't have been a total monster.
Action: Derogatorily called Dave Winfield "Mr. May."
Bad: Just what a team needs: One of its biggest stars squeezing the bat in a death grip come playoff time because he's trying so hard to shed an anti-clutch label.
Good: Know what? These guys are grown men. Hit the ball in October a little and you won't have to hear this. Winfield was a career .206 hitter in 26 postseason games.
Action: Instituted strict grooming policy.
Bad: What is this, boot camp? Players need to feel comfortable to play their best. If that means they wear a beard, big deal.
Good: What is this, a hippie convention? Heck no. It's a baseball team. The world's most storied baseball team. Look like a pro.
Action: Ran Joe Torre out of town.
Bad: Torre, who steered the Yankees to four World Series titles, deserved a much better ending in New York than the insulting offer George gave him in 2007.
Good: Torre got to prove himself somewhere else -- and did, leading the Dodgers to the NL's best record in 2009. Meanwhile, Joe Girardi guided the Yankees to a title that same year.
Rest in peace, George. Everybody else's path to the playoffs just got a little easier Tuesday.
But for some reason, I don't feel like celebrating that.