Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Boss Man

Since he passed away yesterday morning, there have been myriad articles, blog posts, photo galleries, obituaries, numerical synopses, quote collections, timelines, video compilations, fan reaction pieces, rapper's reflections, and other various attempts at capturing the legacy of George Steinbrenner written by everyone from Fay Vincent to TMZ to Megan McArdle to Deadspin to Joe Posnanski to Maureen Dowd.

There was a moment of silence at the All-Star game last night, impromptu tributes at Yankee Stadium and there will many more attempts at remembrance when the MLB regular season resumes, from some sort of public memorial service that Yankee fans can attend to a moment of silence at Fenway Park to the patches the Yanks will wear on their uniform in honor of him (and Bob Sheppard) for the rest of the season.

As was the case with Sheppard, we knew the passing of Mr. Steinbrenner was on the horizon. He had been shielded from the public eye for quite some time and when he did make appearances, it was only for a moment, behind dark sunglasses and without any communication beyond perhaps a wave to the crowd. Even behind his shades, he looked alternatively sad, confused and lost. The man who seemed to do everything purposefully and with great vigor was now vacant and adrift.

Control over the team had officially been transferred to his sons in 2007. Howard Rubenstein would release statements on his behalf, but they lacked any of the customary bite that had been the trademark of his heyday. In a lot of ways he was already gone.

It's not uncommon for someone in their late-70's to lose their mental faculties, but for Steinbrenner, who enjoyed the spotlight and demanded attention so forcefully, his fade into oblivion was hardly inconspicuous. Because of who The Boss was in his prime it was impossible not to notice his absence in recent years.

We've all had an employer at some point in our lives that was capable of being so overbearing, so demanding, so demeaning and such a mega-alpha male that they inspired incredibly fierce emotions in you and your co-workers on a daily, if not hourly basis. You probably talked about them and their tyrannical ways endlessly with your fellow corporate captives when they weren't around. You likely rejoiced when they left the office early or took a Friday off so you could breathe easy and do your work without them stopping by to meddle and micromanage.

But every so often, perhaps during a one-on-one meeting or during some downtime on a business trip, the conversation would slip into something beyond the daily grind of business and you'd crack the surface. Usually, a person that maniacally-driven and focused at their given profession also contains something intensely likable and endearing about them, if you ever get close enough to catch a glimpse of it.

Of course, without fail, the following week, they'd make a decision or a comment or send an email that would make you want to leap over their desk or through the computer and fucking strangle them to death with the cord of their office phone. And then you'd forget all about those fleeting moments when they seemed somewhat compassionate and human and go back to thanking your lucky stars you were just their employee and not their child.

Yes, I'm shrouding my personal experiences with a previous boss in a flurry of impersonal pronouns, but I'm guessing most of you can relate on some level. I'm quite sure plenty of people who worked for the Yankees over the years can. In a lot of ways, what made Steinbrenner such an unbearable asshole also made him a good boss. As employees, we point to those that we like as people as our best bosses, but in reality, it might be those who can inspire fear in us who get their workers to perform at the highest level possible.

He was alternatively responsible for some of the Yankees' best and worst years but in the end, George was driven by his uncontrollable selfish desires, most notably a World Champion baseball team as soon as possible, always. Sometimes it backfired, but certainly not for a lack of trying.

As evidenced by his abundant charitable work and the frequent good deeds he did for his employees, there was obviously a sensitive part of him that cared deeply about the people who helped him get what he desperately wanted, but it wasn't big enough to keep him from treating them with disrespect whenever he pleased. That will be forever part of his legacy, but will always be mentioned as a side note to his numerous personal accomplishments and considerable impact not just on Major League Baseball but on American sports and popular culture. And because of the amount of success he attained, I suspect he'd probably be alright with that.