I grew up a Yankee fan. I was born and raised in Boulder, until I was 13—and though we had a great minor league team at the time, the Denver Zephyrs, we had no “real” team to root for. And my dad was a real baseball fan, he took me out playing catch, teaching me how to hit, all that. He and his family were all from New York going way back, and he’d gone to games at Yankee Stadium back in the day: seeing Mickey Mangle and Roger Maris and all.
I loved the Yankees ’cause they were all about class, about grace, about exertion and dirty and blood and heart and charm…especially back in the day: Lou Gehrig, Mr. Pride of the Yankees.
Joe DiMaggio. And the charming, peerless, blustery, egotistical, charming, kindly Babe Ruth, and American original.
I collected baseball cards. I played Little League. I dreamed of writing about baseball when I grew up, like Roger Angell.
I liked the Yankee star, Don Mattingly, but I loved Dave Winfield, the hulking tall fierce big sideburned handsome long-armed homerun and RBI star.
He was my hero. He was bad ass. He was drama. He was charisma. I remember praying in front of the TV when he was at bat (particularly one game, when he hit for 6 RBI).
And Dave Winfield and George Steinbrenner hated each other, so I hated George. Well, everyone hated and/or feared the cold-hearted, hot-headed owner. He fired manager after manager after manager after manager after manager after manager after manager after manager after manager after manager after manager…until he ran into Joe Torre, the greatest manager in the right place at the right time. Torre knew how to coddle and babysit George’s temper tantrums, which despite many World Series victories around 2000, were still frequent. Winning was the only thing that was enough for George, and though he spent money hand over first, and corrupted the game we loved, he couldn’t buy victories. It wasn’t until Torree brought strategy and groundedness, leadership and kindness to the mostly-farm-system talent Yankees of the late 90s and early 00s that George finally got his victories. And then he went right back to trying to buy victories, purchasing a host of overinflated big bats and, after a few great but not great-enough seasons, he finally fired Torre.
And that’s when I stopped, finally, rooting for the Yankees. My last act: I went onto ebay, searched “torre” “yankees,” and bought a jersey.
George was about winning, not about class. George was about money, not about history. He even renamed Legends Field Steinbrenner Field. That America would eulogize him is a testament to our suckerhood for winning. George was a jerk. Not someone to look up to or regard as a success. That he gained some sense of humor and gentleness in his last years, I don’t deny, or want to. But I won’t miss him. I’ll miss the days when baseball was about the little boys and girls who loved it, not A-Rod and steroids and free-agency and million-dollar contracts.
He dulled my love of baseball, the once-American Pastime.