August 1, 2014

Florida Icon

Icon: George Steinbrenner

Business man, owner, New York Yankees, 77

Amy Keller | 8/1/2007

Legends Field, spring training 2005. [Photo: Tony Gutierrez/AP]

(Steinbrenner, reportedly in ill health, would not agree to be interviewed in person. He answered questions via e-mail.)

I did play baseball as a kid. I also played football, basketball, was a member of the swim and track teams. My father was an outstanding athlete, and he encouraged me to attempt to excel at every sport. Growing up, I would say I enjoyed playing football more than any other sport.

My earliest experience in business was when my father bought a few chickens for my sisters and I to raise. We sold the eggs to neighbors and friends, and everyone loved our eggs because they were so fresh. Soon we expanded the business to selling “dressed” chickens. The “dressing” of the chickens was awful, and I knew then and there that I wouldn’t be in the chicken business. I had to keep the books and then divide and distribute the monies earned between my sisters and me. As children, we weren’t given an allowance. We always had to earn our spending money.

I was very fortunate to have been blessed with outstanding parents. I can’t say enough about their parenting skills. Seventy-seven years later, and I’m still singing their praises and applying lessons that they taught me. Unfortunately, I am also applying things they didn’t teach me. I did well because of them, and I always remembered what my father told me: “Always surround yourself with people who are a lot smarter than you are” and “always pay close attention to your losses — that is where the greatest lessons are learned.”

(On his biggest realization about managing a business): How hard it was and how volatile I would let myself become when I became frustrated.

(On his biggest realizations about managing a team): The two greatest were the extent to which I would go in order to win and the sheer scope of my loathing to lose.

The shipping business was my father and grandfather’s business. I did leave a job coaching football to return to Cleveland to run and grow the shipping business, and I was fairly successful. However, my passion for sports always lingered, and when the Yankees became available for purchase, I jumped at the opportunity to buy them, and I’ve never looked back with any hint of regret.

I would have loved to have purchased a football team, a basketball team, hockey team, etc., etc. There isn’t a sport on Earth that I don’t enjoy and wouldn’t like to own.

Naming my favorite Yankee player would be like a mother naming her favorite child. You can’t do it. It isn’t possible.

From my father I learned the value of hard work and never, ever giving up. My mother taught me to always have compassion for those less fortunate and to always give back to the community. The more you give, the more you get back.

I’m not too original. I tried to teach them (his children) the same lessons my parents taught me. I’m pleased to report that with the additional guidance of their mother, we’ve been successful.

My wife, Joan, is my best friend. She’s very intelligent and also extremely perceptive. Over the years I haven’t given her the credit she deserves for just putting up with me.

(On dealing with the New York media): You’re talking to the wrong person. You must know my past relationship with the media. However, as of late I’ve learned that “silence” is a very powerful word.

(On how he feels about the Tampa Bay Devil Rays): The who?

(On his contributions to the Boston Red Sox’s Jimmy Fund): We’re opponents in baseball; we’re allies in helping children. I have a lot of respect for what they’re doing with the Jimmy Fund, and I wouldn’t dream of not supporting such a worthy cause.

(On obligations a rich person has to a community): The list is too long. As my mother taught me — you must give back.

(On how he responds to those who say he wants to steal attention away from players on the field): That’s pure poppycock!

(On the portrayal of him on ‘Seinfeld’): I loved it. They weren’t too far from the truth. You must laugh at yourself, and believe me, I do.

You put a lot of thought, energy and money into building what you think is a great team. Over the course of a season, you begin to see the results of all your efforts. At the end of the season, it all boils down to one thing — either the best part is winning or the worst part is losing.

My career is my career, and although I’ve been fortunate to have a certain degree of success, without question, my proudest moments have come from my children — Hank, Jenny, Jessie and Hal.

Tags: Florida Icon, North Central

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