Longtime New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner died Tuesday morning at the age of 80, the result of a massive heart attack.
Steinbrenner was the architect of the Yankees for over three decades after buying the team in 1973, winning seven World Series and turning the Yankees into a multi-billion dollar entity. But equally important was what Steinbrenner did for the way contemporary fans view ownership in professional sports.
Jones and Steinbrenner were friends, business associates and, without exaggeration, one could make the case that they will forever be linked in the minds of those close to the American sports landscape.
Steinbrenner was a figure as noteworthy as his players, sometimes more so, and his brash manner of operating--and certainly his staunch refusal to apologize for it--made him at once loved and hated. Yet, his modus operandi of fiery, hands-on ownership, combined with a little bit of hubris, worked far more often than not.
Steinbrenner had well documented spats with players and coaches, which spangled a highly successful and thoroughly controversial tenure as owner. But for all the controversy, there was never any doubt that the polarizing Steinbrenner loved winning, loved New York and loved the Yankees. Replace the words "New York" and "Yankees" with "Dallas" and "Cowboys," and you have a fitting description of Jones.
Make no mistake, Steinbrenner paved the way for Jones and those like him, for good and ill. But as is the case with everything else, we are obliged to take the sour with the sweet.
Every criticism of Jones, of Steinbrenner--whether justified or not--must be tempered with the knowledge that the losses hurt them as much as they hurt us, and sometimes more. As sports fans, this is easy to forget at times--for the Yankees, the late-1980s come to mind; for Dallas, the late-1990s through early 2000s. Or, for that matter, the entire 2008 season. It was terrible.
But, as with Jones, what made Steinbrenner great as an owner was simply that he always cared about winning--singularly, invariably, and at times, surely, to a fault. And that's more than you can say about many professional sports owners, who will never be described as controversial, or great.
"I admired his willingness to promote and support all sports at all levels," said Jones. "I appreciated his understanding of the invaluable asset of involving his family in the management of the Yankees. I took pride in calling him a friend, an advisor, an inspiration and later, a business partner.
"We have lost a true leader in sports - someone who not only saw the big picture but helped create the scene on the canvas."
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