The Steinbrenner Plaque 9-22-10

In today’s NY Times there is an article on the size of the new Steinbrenner plaque that now dominates the Yankees’ Monument Memorial Park in centerfield. One can read the article by opening the below attachment:


It was Jacob Ruppert, who really created the modern Yankees, and it was he who was the driving force behind their dynasty. In fact, in his 24 years ownership of the Yankees, they won eight World Series. (During the Webb-Topping 20 year ownership from 1945 through 1964, the Yanks won 10 World Series rings). He brought Babe Ruth, and maybe equally as importantly, his new General Manager, Edward Barrow, from the Boston Red Sox. It was Barrow, who never played a minute of major league baseball, and other than possibly Branch Rickey, he became the most famous and successful executive in baseball’s long history. It was Barrow who set the standards for Yankee excellence.


The modern Yankees are really traced to the leadership of (NY National Guard honorary) Colonel Jacob Ruppert, who owned the Rupert Breweries. He was a former four-term Congressman and reputedly worth $75 million, at the time he teamed up with one (retired Army Corp of Engineers) Colonel Tillinghast l’Hommedieu “Til” Huston to buy the team. Huston, a construction millionaire and Rupert bought the Yankees in 1915 for the astronomical sum of $460,000 from Big Bill Devery and Frank Farrell, who had paid just $18,000 for the Baltimore franchise in 1903 before moving it to New York. Of course it was the innovative Ruppert who supposedly designed the team’s brand new pinstriped uniform in the 1920’s. He thought pinstripes would make the Babe, who had a tendency to expand his belt-size to look slimmer.


Ruppert hired Miller Huggins in 1918, while his partner Til Huston was in France during WWI. Huggins who was nicknamed, the “Mighty Mite,” remained at the helm of the “Murderer’s Row” Yankees until his untimely death in 1929. The hiring of Miller Huggins was always a bone of contention between the more aggressive Ruppert and the affable Huston. After the Yankees lost to the Giants in the 1922 World Series, this disagreement over Huggins’ leadership came to a boiling point and Ruppert bought out his partner for $1.5 million dollars in cash and notes.


After a few years of searching for a replacement for Huggins, Ruppert hired Joseph “Marse Joe” McCarthy, in 1931, who led the “Bronx Bomber” Yankee era until 1946. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1957, and his winning percentages during the regular season and the World Series, of .615 and .698, are still unsurpassed.

At Ruppert’s death in 1939, and because he had no heirs, Ed Barrow, the General Manager and President of the team, took sole control of the reigns of the Yankees until 1946. At age 79, he was ousted as a result of the forced sale of the Yankees from Ruppert’s estate to the triumvirate of new owners; Del Webb, Dan Topping and the mercurial Larry “The Red Head” MacPhail. The “Red Head”, as he was called, had been fired from the Dodgers by Branch Rickey, had famous tempestuous fights with their then manager Leo Durocher, and was a bad drunk. He made life unbearable for Joe McCarthy who eventually resigned in the middle of the 1945 season. Eventually, Webb and Topping would also grow weary of MacPhail’s antics, drinking and inconsistency. His departure would open up the next era of Yankee success under the general management of George Weiss and the field leadership of Casey Stengel. Therefore, the Yankee continuity was sustained, except for two short periods in the early 1930’s and the late 1940’s.

From 1918 until 1960, the year of Stengel’s departure, the Yankees, other than a period of five years, had the continuity of three long and successful managerial reigns and two unprecedented periods of front office management under the auspices of Barrow and Weiss.


Of course, that all changed with George Steinbrenner, whose ego and compulsive personality made working conditions for almost all of his employees impossible. Next to Jacob Ruppert, George Steinbrenner had the greatest influence on the Yankees. General Managers George Barrow, George Weiss, and owners Dan Topping and his quiet partner Del Webb had an important role in the continued success of the Yankees, but they never had the profile of Ruppert or Steinbrenner. After the disastrous sale to CBS, under the management of Michael Burke, the Yankees wallowed in the “horse latitudes” of mediocrity. The aging of the Yankees in the middle sixties, (boy that is a long time ago) was not properly prepared for by management The decline of Mantle and Maris because of injuries, the retirement of Ford, Kubek and Richardson, along with the aging of Elston Howard and others, who had made the Yankees champs in the early 60’s, was either not anticipated or just ignored. In the years following their collapse, they had made some abortive runs at the AL flag, but in the era of the “amateur draft” the Yankees had made some poor choices, their farm system was not producing, and other teams were not desperate to make ill-advised trades.


Steinbrenner was able to muscle into the new world of free agency and with aggressiveness he was able to re-build the Yankees in 3 years. Unfortunately, power went to his head, and the years from 1978 through the late 1980’s were fraught with silliness, irrationality and bad sportsmanship. Steinbrenner became bigger than his team, and successes of the Bronx Zoo Era turned into the period of wandering in the arid desert of loss from 1982 though the Torre-Jeter Era. Much of the recent success, which started in 1993, could be attributed to Steinbrenner’s suspension, and the influence of Gene Michael. With success again, and the tragedy of 9/11, the character of Steinbrenner seemed to change. He was always generous, he always blustered, he was always a split-personality, and he finally learned that ballplayers are still human, and they were the show, not him. If he would have been driven out of baseball because of his second suspension, the team may have continued to develop and he would have been probably forgotten or remembered as another aberrational personality.


He was smart enough to realize that the game had started to change, right under him and other owners, in other sports, like Jerry Jones and Mark Cuban could act as boorish. Why he was driven, we may never know, but there will be many amateur and professional sport’s psychologists who will pick over his life and motives in the coming years.

Certainly, one side of him was quite charitable and unlike other owners, he re-invested a great deal of his profits back into the club. Steinbrenner was obsessed with winning, and in a way, he was quite lucky on two counts: he went out a winner, and he died in a year, the first since 1916, that there is no inheritance tax. Looking forward, I guess there will not be another dominant personality in sports like George Steinbrenner to emerge for many, many years, or in the decades to follow. He certainly was one of a kind!


Ironically, in the same week, the fate that will happen to all of us claimed a real icon of Yankee and NY sports lore. Bob Sheppard, who preceded the Steinbrenner Era by 22 years also passed into the portals of history. Sheppard was as dissimilar from Steinbrenner as one could imagine. He was stately, infinitely polite, universally well-respected, and an elocutionist of the highest order. If any one symbolized the character of the Yankees, first established by Jacob Rupert, reinforced by Joe McCarthy and embodied by Lou Gehrig, it was Sheppard. The Yankees of the McCarthy Era had dramatically changed from the Ruth dominated halcyon days of 1920’s led by ill-fated Miller Huggins.


Bob Sheppard, who was a lifetime educator, earned a regal position in the panoply of Yankee immortals. Like Mel Allen, Pete Sheehy, Bill Dickey, Frank Crosetti, and Phil Rizzuto, he was able to transcend the decades and become an important bridge between multiple generations of New Yorkers. In direct contrast, Steinbrenner was a brutish bully, who in his later years attempted to buy a place in heaven with his charitable largess. He was crass, rude, often inarticulate, and craved the spotlight, not unlike an addict who craves his next fix. He eventually obtained status as a cartoon-like character on the back pages of the local tabloids. After the eulogies have petered out, and the public gets bored with the repetition of his name, the average person, and sport’s loving public, will quickly move on to other issues.


As to memorial plaques, the Yankees erected relatively modest ones for Ruppert in 1940 and Barrow in 1954, the years following their deaths. As important as Ruppert and Barrow were, most fans understood that it is the men on the field who really count. It was their heroics that should always be honored. We all come out to see the Ruths, Gehrigs, DiMaggios, Mantles, Jacksons, Mattinglys and Jeters.

But, let us not forget the unique management style of “The Boss.” In the early 1960s, the American Shipbuilding Company acquired Kinsman Marine Transit Company, which was owned by the Steinbrenner family. As a result of the transaction, the Steinbrenner family acquired a controlling interest in American Shipbuilding. Frustrated after years of fighting with stubborn unions that balked at cost-saving work changes, the Steinbrenner's closed the Lorain shipyard in December 1983 and moved all operations to Tampa, Florida. The company began having difficulties in the 1980s, going through a bankruptcy in 1993. The company was sold in 1995.

As to baseball, “The Boss” hired and fired 12 managers, who served 19 different seasons before Joe Torre was hired. This list included Billy Martin 5 times, Bob Lemon, Lou Piniella, and Gene Michael twice. Other notables that went through the Yankee revolving turn style were; Yogi Berra, Bill Virdon, Dick Howser, Clyde King, Dallas Green, Bucky Dent, Stump Merrill, and Buck Showalter.

Not to be outdone, “The Boss” went through 18 general managers before Brian Cashman. Some of us remember names like; Cedric Tallis, Gene Michael, Lou Saban (a football coach), Bill Bergesch, Gene McHale, Murray Cook, Leonard Kleinman, Mike Luczkovich, Joe Molloy (his former son-in-law)  Clyde King, Bob Quinn, Rick Bay, Syd Thrift (he wasn’t) George Bradley, Woody Woodward Bob Watson (who was quite good and who he drove nuts!), Lou Piniella, and Pete Petersen.

Meanwhile, the new Yankee Stadium, which replaced, “The House that Ruth Built,” now is the home to a gigantic bronze plaque that weighs in at more than 700 pounds. I thought the “Bronze Age” had passed forever. Meanwhile the Steinbrenner heirs, most grateful for the loophole in the inheritance tax, and their management team, have made sure that George’s visage will be eternally looking down on the new Yankee Stadium field as long as this edifice stands. Unfortunately, during game time, it has to be covered because the reflection of the plaques distracts all of the hitters. We, therefore will always to be reminded that the blustering character, known as “The Boss,” will be vigilantly watching, but not during the action on the field.



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