George Steinbrenner has been the single most notorious sports franchise owner of this generation.
None in sports have been more divisive than The Boss. Guys like Jerry Jones come close, but we aren’t talking about horseshoes or hand-grenades. There simply is no middle ground when it came to Steinbrenner – you either loved him, or you hated him.
I found the arguments by Babe Ruthless and Loyal Homer both to be very entertaining, because they were emotionally charged from those very opposite ends of the spectrum. In addition to being very entertaining, though, they were both also very accurate depictions of how Steinbrenner’s legacy is perceived across baseball.
Yes, Steinbrenner’s approach to ownership greatly impacted Major League Baseball. And yes, his actions greatly widened the gap between big and small market baseball. But to say that his actions and/or his legacy were bad for baseball is an unfair criticism of how he ran his organization. As such, I am awarding this verdict to Babe Ruthless.
As pointed out by Babe Ruthless, it is easy to blame Steinbrenner for the condition of baseball in cities like Pittsburgh, Kansas City, or Cleveland today because Steinbrenner was successful. However, each and every team in the league had the exact same opportunity for that success that the Yankees had under Steinbrenner.
George Steinbrenner did not manufacture the financial climate of Major League Baseball today. All he did was turn the heat up on all the other owners in the league. He didn’t prevent those owners from getting the most talented players, he just told them what they would have to sacrifice. Some were willing to play his game, others weren’t. It was THOSE owners’ decisions not to spend money that set them back.
The owners of the “have-not” franchises are just as responsible as Steinbrenner for the current division in baseball.
Look at the Cleveland Indians and owner Larry Dolan. The Indians are clearly a part of the have-nots. However, it is not because the city of Cleveland is a small market, and it is not because the people in Cleveland cannot afford to go watch the Indians play. Dolan, who is one of the worst owners in all of sports, has aggressively cut his payroll whenever possible. The result is that he will not pay his star talent the same amount of money they could get elsewhere, and so they leave town. He CAN pay them, but chooses not to.
The fans in Cleveland have proven that they will greatly reward success on the field with financial success. During the mid to late 1990s, when the Indians were successful on the field, the fans rewarded that success by selling out 455 consecutive home games, a record total at the time.
Fans in Cleveland (and other so-called small market cities) aren’t poor, and the franchises don’t suffer because of the environment they play in. Those fans are just discriminating. Why pay Major League ticket prices to watch a team that can only compete at a minor league level? If Larry Dolan paid up and brought in some talent of his own, the Indians would find success on the field, and the fans would flock to the stadium. The value of the Indians organization would skyrocket, too.
LeBron James proved that. If Cleveland as a city could not sustain a viable sports franchise and keep them financially successful, the Cavaliers would not have sold out any games even with LeBron. Instead, when LeBron played for the Cavaliers the team won games, games sold out, and the value of the franchise increased exponentially.
Attacking Steinbrenner for the condition of baseball in those so-called small market cities is little more than jealousy rearing its ugly head.
Further proof that Steinbrenner’s philosophy was not bad for baseball is the fact that being a so-called big market franchise is not a guarantee for success. Two of the top five payrolls in the league are owned by the Chicago Cubs and the New York Mets, and neither team has even won a pennant, let alone the World Series, in the last ten years.
As far as Loyal Homer’s argument that there is a lack of parity in baseball as a result of Steinbrenner’s actions, look to the list of postseason participants to find out that parity is alive and well in baseball.
Here’s a fact for you – NINE different teams have played in the World Series in the last five years alone. If you go back over the past decade, that number increases to 15 different teams with a World Series appearance. That is HALF of the league.
Once again, the perception is that Steinbrenner’s success has somehow corrupted the game of baseball. But when you look at the numbers objectively, you find that he did very little (if any) harm to the game.
As for what he did that was “good” for the league, Babe Ruthless sums that up very nicely.
His work on developing the YES Network to broadcast Yankees games led to copycat networks across the league, a great source of financial revenue for many teams regardless of market size. Additionally, the greatest source of revenues that are shared across the entire MLB are generated by the Yankees, also providing a benefit to the entire league.
George Steinbrenner will forever be remembered as an integral figure in baseball’s history. His attitude and approach as an owner helped sustain the league’s relevance in spite of the rise of football as America’s new favorite sport. He has been vital to driving the financial success (as well as fan interest) for the entire league, and his passing is a loss that will be felt by the entire baseball world.