New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner passed away this morning at age 80. Growing up in the 1970s as a hybrid Baltimore Orioles/Oakland A's fan, I was an avid Yankees hater. Of course, when I was first old enough to follow baseball the Yankees were in the midst of a long franchise drought. Bobby Murcer was supposed to be the new Mickey Mantle (an impossible pinnacle for poor Murcer, though he was a very good player). As soon as Steinbrenner bought the Yankees in 1973 it was clear the franchise of the Bambino, the Iron Horse, Joltin' Joe and the Mick had a new attitude and was poised for a return to prominence.
As a fan of two smaller-market teams, the dawn of free agency was a curse on the game. Steinbrenner was the most adept at using the new system to augment an improving team and make them contenders. Therefore, Steinbrenner became the symbol of the destruction of the old traditions that kept teams together for a longer time.
As I got older, I remained a Yankee hater. However, I came to appreciate George Steinbrenner. He was a winner. He had a responsibility to his fans and his organization to put his team in a position to win. He was successful beyond measure. Steinbrenner was one of the game's great characters. How many other current baseball owners are household names? Steinbrenner will someday be enshrined in Cooperstown. It will be a great day for both the Yankee fans and the Yankee haters.
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