Yankees ‘Boss’ Steinbrenner dies at 80

Accolades stretch from New York to California’s All-Star Game

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“I think George Steinbrenner represented the best and worst of the game during his tumultuous reign of the Yankees,” said Chris Epting, baseball historian and author. “Despite the controversies surrounding his being banned from the game, he understood the business of baseball as well as anyone and was still enough of a fan that he tried to truly enhance the baseball experience for people.

“He was bigger than life but could still poke fun at himself, and his ferocious will to win is what I believe he will be most remembered for. He was truly historic.”

During his rule as Yankees boss, Mr. Steinbrenner proved himself to be a pioneer of modern sports ownership. Although initially against the advent of free agency, he would come to embrace the concept of signing big names on the open market at salaries that many other teams couldn’t match.

Indeed, he would be the driving force behind some of the best-rewarded transactions in baseball’s history, including the landmark signings of pitcher Jim “Catfish” Hunter and slugger Reggie Jackson. Mr. Steinbrenner soon became notorious for manipulating the free-agent market like a finely tuned instrument.

Other high-profile free-agent signings included a then-record deal for outfielder Dave Winfield, the capture of former Boston Red Sox star Johnny Damon, and the addition of Oakland Athletics slugger Jason Giambi. He also acquired stars Roger Clemens from the Toronto Blue Jays and Alex Rodriguez from the Texas Rangers in separate trades.

In contrast to previous sports owners, who tended to stay behind the spotlight and let general managers and managers be the faces of the team, Mr. Steinbrenner cultivated a larger-than-life public profile, proudly boasting “The Boss” moniker. When the Yankees won their 27th World Series last year, the team hoisted the trophy under a banner that read, “This one’s for you, Boss.”

A feisty and mercurial owner, he was infamous for public feuds with his managers. Mr. Steinbrenner set a Major League Baseball record with 17 managerial changes in his first 17 seasons, highlighted by the saga of his relationship with Billy Martin, whom he hired and fired five times. Because of this personnel revolving door and some public fights between Mr. Martin and some of his players, the Yankees of the late 1970s and ‘80s were dubbed the “Bronx Zoo.”

Mr. Steinbrenner’s star so transcended sports fans and Yankees fans that tributes came in Tuesday from current and former New York mayors, the mayor of Tampa, the governor of Florida, and the Obama administration.

His death was the overall lead story for much of Tuesday at such news and aggregation sites as CNN, Yahoo and Google News. By 5 p.m., less than eight hours after his death was first reported, the MLB.com obituary had drawn more than 1,200 comments, and the same number of comments were at the Associated Press obituary on the Yahoo Sports site.

His team’s rivals on the field paid tribute also.

“His name is as synonymous with that franchise as any of the legendary athletes who have played in pinstripes,” said Peter Angelos, owner of the American League East rival Baltimore Orioles. An official statement from the Washington Nationals called him “a one of a kind owner, sports figure, and man” who “will be missed.”

Even the arch-rival Red Sox organization put a statement on its site “deeply” mourning Mr. Steinbrenner. Owner John W. Henry called him “both partner and friend.” Team President Larry Lucchino praised his “giant heart, often well hidden from public view,” specifically mentioning the Red Sox’s children’s cancer charity, to which Mr. Steinbrenner was a contributor.

Despite the teams’ bitter on-the-field rivalry, some Red Sox fans remember a kinder side to Mr. Steinbrenner, who ordered the lights at Yankee Stadium to be left on so the Red Sox players could celebrate their historic comeback from a 3-0 deficit after Game 7 of the 2004 American League Championship Series.

One of the tributes from “Red Sox Nation” came from Phil David of Raynham, Mass.

“The NY Yankees have just lost one of, if not the greatest owner in sports history. What he’s done with that franchise is incredible, & all sports fans should understand that (let’s put aside our hatred for the Yankees). I am actually saddened by the news and feel for the Yankee fans out there, as hard as it is for me to say,” the diehard Sox fan said in a status update on Facebook.

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