Thursday, July 2, 2009

Happy Birthday King George III

Not that King George III; George M. Steinbrenner, III. The Boss turns 79 Saturday, but since we've declared today the Fourth at Fack Youk, we're cutting the cake now. Poor George probably wouldn't know the difference anyway.

Steinbrenner is a polarizing and fascinating figure. He purchased the Yankees more than 36 years ago. In that time the team has made the post-season eighteen times, won its division fifteen times, won ten AL pennants, and six World Series. He's twice been suspended from the game. He's been a bully and philanthropist. He's been a hero and scourge to the organization, sometimes doing whatever it takes to give the team what it needs to win, and other times incapable of staying out of his own way.

But there's never been a dull moment with Steinbrenner. I think history will judge his reign more on its unmatched successes than on its unparalleled madness. He's been a phenomenon - the rare owner who's as well known as his players, crossing into mainstream society as an SNL guest host and the inspiration for a Larry David voiced Seinfeld character.

He's been a sportsman throughout his life. He was a member of his track and field team at Williams College, served as a graduate assistant at Ohio St., as an assistant football coach at Purdue and Northwestern in the 1950s, owned a team in the American Basketball League, served for several years on the United States Olympic Committee, and has long been involved in thoroughbred horse racing.

Steinbrenner has faded from the organization and the public eye. His sons Hank, and mainly Hal, have taken control of the team. Outside of brief apperances at spring training and the All-Star Game last year, he's hardly been seen in public in recent years. It's generally accepted that he's in poor health.

But there was nothing quite like King George in heyday. So Happy Birthday George. I hope you enjoy it.

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