George Steinbrenner: architect of the multimillion-dollar athlete
George Steinbrenner, who passed away Tuesday, resuscitated the Yankees by the force of his will and checkbook. He was a trailblazer in the commercialization of baseball.
To New Yorkers, George Steinbrenner – who passed away Tuesday – was simply “The Boss.”Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures George Steinbrenner through the years
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Around New York there was almost immediate reaction to his passing. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, declaring few people have had a bigger impact on the city than Mr. Steinbrenner, ordered the flags at City Hall plaza to be lowered to half staff in Steinbrenner’s honor. “George was a larger than life New York figure whose passion and drive to succeed will forever be missed,” said Mr. Bloomberg in a statement.
IN PICTURES: George Steinbrenner through the years
Steinbrenner’s influence went beyond New York. He was, in many respects, the first owner to embrace free agency, offering top players unheard of sums of money to join the Yankees. In the process, he revolutionized professional sports, ushering in the current era of multimillionaire athletes.
“He came into baseball a few years before free agency and was one of the first owners to realize the opportunities it presented," says Andrew Zimbalist, a professor at Smith College and the author of "Circling the Bases: the Future of the Sports Business," which will be published this fall. "
By exploiting those opportunities in the world's largest entertainment market, Steinbrenner was a trailblazer in the commercialization of baseball, followed by the other pro sports in the United States," he adds. “He spent money not only on the players but also on the front office, promotion and advertising.”
After buying the Yankees from CBS in 1973 for $8.7 million as the majority owner of an investor group, his impact on the franchise was enormous and immediate. “Those CBS teams were awful,” recalls Doug Muzzio, a political commentator at Baruch College and a long-time Yankee fan. “He brought back the premier sports franchise and he did it in a swashbuckling way.”
In 1974, he signed free agent pitcher Catfish Hunter to a $750,000-a-year contract. At the time, most of baseball's top players were making little more than $100,000 a year. Two years later, Steinbrenner signed outfielder Reggie Jackson.
In subsequent years, the trend only accelerated. Today, the Yankees pay third baseman Alex Rodriguez $33 million a year, the highest salary in baseball.