Greatest Owner in Sports History, Yankees George Steinbrenner Dies

| by Alex Groberman

The greatest owner in sports history died Tuesday, a little more than a week after celebrating his 80th birthday.

New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner suffered a heart attack and was taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa, Fla. He is said to have passed away at about 6:30 a.m. EDT.

"It is with profound sadness that the family of George M. Steinbrenner III announces his passing. He passed away this morning in Tampa, Fla., at age 80," the Steinbrenner family said in a statement.

"He was an incredible and charitable man. First and foremost he was devoted to his entire family -- his beloved wife, Joan; his sisters, Susan Norpell and Judy Kamm, his children, Hank, Jennifer Jessica and Hal; and all of his grandchildren.

"He was a visionary and a giant in the world of sports. He took a great but struggling franchise and turned it into a champion again."

When Steinbrenner headed a group to purchase the Yankees in 1973, he promised one and all an absentee ownership. His reign as "The Boss" was been anything but.

“The Boss” was a nickname he earned because of his unquestionable, undeniable desire to win at any cost (literally) -- and his decisions to hire and fire managers after short periods of time. The only language he spoke was results, and whoever could not bring him wins would be replaced by someone that could.

The Yankees won seven World Series titles and 11 American League pennants after his rule began in 1973.

At times it felt like Steinbrenner had almost as many feuds as he did championships. Epic battles between him and Yankees great, Yogi Berra, were the subject of many literary works. Legendary disputes between him and manager Billy Martin resulted in Martin being hired and fired five different times throughout his career with the Yanks.

Yet even when his health was declining, “The Boss” knew what call needed to be made. Slowly but surely, he began to control the team from a distance. He allowed his sons Hank and Hal to run more of the family business, all the while still observing and pulling the strings on his puppets whenever he felt the need to do so.

Despite his waning health, “The Boss” demanded nothing but championships. After former Yankees manager, Joe Torre, got to the point where he could not bring championships to New York, he was allowed to leave. Then, the team came back to win another title last year.

The first public signs of Steinbrenner’s fragile health came when he fainted at a memorial service for NFL star Otto Graham in 2003. He also appeared weak at the 2006 groundbreaking of the new Yankee Stadium, and later became ill watching his granddaughter in college play.

And yet, despite all these things, Steinbrenner would not admit weakness.

"No, I did not have a stroke. I am not ill. I work out daily," Steinbrenner said in 2006. "I'd like to see people who are saying that to come down here and do the workout that I do."

His tough personality aside, Steinbrenner had a lighter side. He hosted a “Saturday Night Live,” and poked fun at himself and his many former managers. He gave millions to charity, with the only stipulation being that no one was to know about it. He was as caring and gracious as he was demanding and gruff.

And the Yankees rewarded him by increasing the franchise’s worth more than 100-fold from the $8.7 million that Steinbrenner bought it for.

As easily as the money came in, it went out even faster. He spent far more than any other owner in professional sports during his ownership, and felt nothing was too good for him or his fans. For years, he overpaid the likes of Derek Jeter, Reggie Jackson and Alex Rodriguez in hopes of enhancing his chances for a championship.

"Winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing," Steinbrenner was fond of saying. "Breathing first, winning next."

His detractors may have blamed him for “wrecking baseball’s comparative balance” and the increasingly outrageous salaries in the sport, but his spending habits were simply the byproduct of a desire to win.

For Steinbrenner it was never about money or recognition, it was simply about winning.

"I haven't always done a good job, and I haven't always been successful," Steinbrenner said in 2005. "But I know that I have tried."

The Steinbrenner family said that funeral arrangements would be made in private. However, details about a public service would be announced at a later date.