The year was 1962. The Yankees had just beaten the San Francisco Giants in seven games in the World Series. Mickey Mantle batted a mere .120 and Roger Maris followed with .174 with five RBI. The next year, the Los Angeles Dodgers swept the Yankees in the 1963 World Series.
After the sweep to the Dodgers, the Yankees struggled for most of the 1960s. Only having two winning seasons in 1964 and 1968. In 1966, Roger Maris played his last year in the Bronx. Maris was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals and where he won the 1967 World Series.
Mickey Mantle on the other hand continued his dominance with the Yankees. Hitting well over .250 until his final season in 1968.
The Yankees as the world knew them were slowly falling apart. With a plethora of losing seasons. Going 13-years without a World Series appearance, something had to change.
In 1973, the Columbia Broadcasting System sold the Yankees for $8.7 million. Michael Burke who was the owner president of the team sat down with a group of investors. George Steinbrenner, a 42-year old businessman and part-owner of the Chicago Bulls was among those involved. On Jan. 11, Steinbrenner and his group bought the Yankees.
“It’s the best buy in sports,” Steinbrenner told reporters.
At first, Steinbrenner said he wouldn’t have an active role in the team. However, a month after the sale, Burke resigned. This gave Steinbrenner the control he didn’t ask for when he came on.
In 1973, his first year as fulltime owner, the Yankees went 80-82, giving Steinbrenner his first losing-season. However, for the next five years, they went on a surge of winning-seasons.
Steinbrenner went to work in 1975, signing starting pitcher, Catfish Hunter to a five-year, $3.75M. In his first year in pinstripes, Hunter went 23-14, with a 2.58 ERA.
The Hunter signing showed Major League Baseball that Steinbrenner wasn’t afraid to break the bank to win. That was his claim to fame, and what made the Yankees the most hated team in baseball.
After the firing of then manager, Bill Virdon, Steinbrenner hired former Yankees player, Billy Martin to manage his ball club. Martin played with the Yankees from 1950-1956, winning four championships with the Bombers. Martin’s first year as manager, he lead the Yankees to an 83-77 season, finishing 3rdin the American League East.
A year later in 1976, the Yankees made it back to the World Series. After a 12-year drought, they were back to the promise land. However, Pete Rose and the Cincinnati Reds had something to say about it. The Reds, like the Dodgers in ’63, swept New York.
Steinbrenner needed more than just Catfish Hunter to win. The same year they brought on Hunter, they traded for a young second baseman from the Pittsburgh Pirates named, Willie Randolph. Randolph was coming into his second year in the big leagues. But to George, it wasn’t enough to win.
Nov. 29, 1976, would change the landscape for sports forever and cemented Steinbrenner’s legacy. Reggie Jackson, the former right fielder and three-time World Series champ from the Oakland Athletics was set to hit free agency. Steinbrenner signed the coveted free agent for five-years, $3.5M.
The Yankees won it all again in 1978 against the Dodgers. This time Bucky Dent took him the MVP.
In today’s world sports, we see these “super teams,” it makes you think, did Steinbrenner start this trend? Pay to win. We see players like Mike Trout or Bryce Harper making well over $300-million. Steinbrenner was ahead of his time, giving the athletes what they asked for. Emptying the checkbook every off-season just for another crack at a championship.
Steinbrenner set a very high standard for owners and general managers today. Not only was he a massive spender, but also he was a drill sergeant. He’d fire managers and then bring them back a year later. Billy Martin was Yankees manager eight-times because of Steinbrenner. He and Martin had a tumultuous relationship.
Reggie Jackson’s first year in the Bronx was explosive. Batting .286, 110 RBI and 32 home runs. Jackson earned his paycheck. But his most defining moment came in the 1977 World Series against the Dodgers.
In-game six at Yankee Stadium, Jackson went deep. Then he did it again. And one more time, for good measure. Jackson’s three-home run game is one of the most legendary performances in the history of sports. He was honored World Series MVP, giving him his second career World Series MVP. He earned his first in 1973 with the A’s.
Jackson was money well spent in the eyes of Steinbrenner. However, not everything was hunky-dory in Yankees-land. Constant arguments between coaches and players sabotaged the team. Steinbrenner was getting into with manager Billy Martin quite often. But, that was George, take it or leave it.
George’s “his way or the highway” way of business was his biggest downfall. But, players still wanted to play in the Bronx. Steinbrenner fired Billy Martin eight times throughout his managerial career. But again, that was George.
In later years, George’s reign of the team was quiet, yet was still there lurking. Especially in 1996 when he hired Joe Torre to manage the team. Torre was already on thin ice when it came to his managerial status. However, Torre delivered, four times in fact. Once, again it took a small-name manager to break the Yankees World Series drought.
To the world, Steinbrenner was just another owner of a sports team. But to those who knew him, he was relentless. It wasn’t about winning anymore, it was about power.
Although Steinbrenner would fire someone if they blinked the wrong way, he still had a job to do. Run the New York Yankees. And he did just that, winning six championships, over 30-years at the helm. George Steinbrenner was more than an owner; he set the tone for the future of sports. One of the most controversial and polarizing figures in sports. He created the super-team; he was the first to play the game with his checkbook.
And he won.
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