- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Owning the New York Yankees, George Steinbrenner liked to say, was a lot like owning the Mona Lisa.

Not that he always treated his team like a piece of fine art. Some of the things “The Boss” did would have wiped the smile right off the famous model’s face.

This was a man who belittled players, infuriated fellow owners and drove managers to the depths of despair. Twice he received lengthy bans from baseball, and many in the game would have been happy had it been for good.

Steinbrenner threw money at weak-armed pitchers and changed managers almost as often as he changed ties. He gave “Mr. October” a stage to shine and mocked “Mr. May” when he didn’t.

Newsweek featured him on its Aug. 6, 1990, cover when he was suspended from baseball for more than two years as “The Most Hated Man in Baseball.” Sports Illustrated put him on its March 1, 1993, cover in his return, dressed as Napoleon and posing on a white horse.

“The Boss” always seemed larger than life. That might be even more true now that he’s dead.

His death, fittingly enough, came on the day of the All-Star game, with the usual complement of Yankees in the American League lineup. It wasn’t long before friends and former foes began swapping tales of all things George.

Most, of course, were about the legendary feuds and the clubhouse rants. The times he fired Billy Martin and the times he kept hiring him back.

The phantom punch he claimed he threw at a couple of boisterous Dodger fans at the 1981 World Series.

Even the day at Yankee Stadium when fans erupted in a standing ovation when his suspension from baseball was announced in 1990.

His character became a regular on the most popular comedy show in the country. On “Seinfeld,” the actor portraying Steinbrenner once threatened to move the Yankees to New Jersey just to make people mad.

There’s so much material his obit could be turned into a book. The book could become a movie.

Lost in it all, though, is this: For all his bluster and all his blunders, Steinbrenner was always a man ahead of his time.

He rescued the pinstripes and restored a once proud franchise to greatness. Not afraid to spend money to make money, he changed forever how baseball did business.

In the process, he probably helped save the game itself.

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