More on George

The thing is, people say, if you were a fan of the New York Yankees and you were a fan of winning, you didn’t necessarily care how George Steinbrenner treated his employees, or how George created a winner.

I’m not sure that’s true.

There was no bigger Yankee fan than me through 2001. We loved the Yankees in spite of George, and sometimes, perversely, because of George. We hated his antics. We loved his antics. I’d say losing played into how much we disliked Steinbrenner back then, but I’m not sure if winning brought us back into his fold in the late Nineties.

George’s rein from 1982 to around 1998 gave Yankee fans the rare chance to root for an underdog. Perhaps that’s why I gravitated to the Mets the last two years — except for around 1984 to 1989 when the Mets were dominant, they’ve been perennial underdogs in this two-team town.

Of course, “underdog” in the Yankees sense didn’t necessarily mean Steinbrenner had the lowest paid team. In fact, quite the opposite. And the Yankees used to be proud of pointing out that they had the highest winning percentage of any team in the Eighties (while also not pointing out that they reached one World Series in that decade, and that was because of a fluke caused by the 1981 strike).

No, my favorite Yankee teams were the ones I grew up with, the Eighties and early Nineties. Winning in 1996, and again in 1998, was like the culmination of those long (for the Yanks) dark years. After ’98, when they traded David Wells for the Texas accused-steroid meat-head, it started to become less fun. My wife and I were engaged at Yankee Stadium in July 2001. I never went to another game again. Though we gave out Yankee souvenirs (among other items) to our families at our wedding in 2002, my interest in baseball waned as my interest (and, eventually, my passion) for the Yankees waned. My interest in baseball was only reborn by two things: my son, who at a very early age, picked up on an intense interest in the sport; and my newfound rooting for the New York Mets.

Yes, George brought the winners back to the Bronx. I loved it at first in 1996 and 1998. I loved it retrospectively from 1977 and 1978. But perhaps I loved the craziness he brought with him even more.

One of my favorite books, which I know I have around the house somewhere but cannot locate, is Bill Madden’s and Moss Klein’s account of the Steinbrenner years up until around 1990 entitled Damned Yankees. It’s a recommended read for anyone who remembered those years, or who cared to remember those years, and how the good, the bad, and the ugly made for roller-coaster seasons as a fan.

One final point: for all his firings, Steinbernner had four managers in the Nineties (not including Don Zimmer’s interim stint in 1999), and only two from 1992-2007. That’s two managers in 15 years. Except for the Twins, that’s fewer managerial changes than most teams.

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