George Steinbrenner's dueling legacies: Hard-driving owner with a soft heart

6:30 PM, Jul 13, 2010   |    comments
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George Steinbrenner, who bought the Yankees in 1973 after failing to purchase his hometown Cleveland Indians, was one of the most controversial owners in history, but his strong leadership restored the Yankees' prominence and helped them win 11 American League pennants and seven World Series titles between 1977 and 2009.

In the baseball world, he was The Boss, known for his iron-fist leadership, his push for perfection and his free-spending ways that upset baseball's salary structure. He was the force behind getting the new Yankee Stadium built.

Photo Gallery: George Steinbrenner 1930 - 2010

He wore his trademark blue blazers and white turtlenecks and was known for his public battles with players and managers. He labeled Dave Winfield "Mr. May'' after Winfield went 1-for-22 in the 1981 World Series.

Steinbrenner clashed with Yankees Hall of Famer Yogi Berra to the point where Berra boycotted the stadium for years, and he fired manager Billy Martin five times.

But in his hometown of Tampa, where he had lived since the early 1970s, Steinbrenner worked deftly, often behind the scenes, to aid disadvantaged children, high-school athletes and coaches, members of the military, law enforcement and firefighters.

One of his projects was to start Gold Shield, a foundation that pays college tuition for children of police officers killed in the line of duty. He also sponsored a yearly ball for high-school coaches and their spouses in the Tampa area, giving away thousands of dollars worth of prizes and trips.

And then there were the things that would go unnoticed.

One day, he walked into his favorite breakfast restaurant and announced that he was going to pay to take all the employees to New York for a weekend to see a Broadway play and Yankees game.

"He didn't like to talk about it,'' Hal Steinbrenner said in an interview in March. "He always told us that America is supposed to be the land of milk and honey, and there are too many people left behind. He taught us that if two or more people know you are doing it, you are doing it for the wrong reasons.''

He moved the Yankees' spring-training site from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Tampa and the city renamed the ballpark Steinbrenner Field in 2008. There's also a high school named for Steinbrenner - the baseball team wears pinstriped uniforms and the nickname is Warriors, Steinbrenner's favorite term for athletes - as well as a Boys and Girls Club and a pediatric emergency and trauma center at St. Joseph's Children's Hospital.

"I know how the rest of the country views him, but he's very important to our city,'' Tampa mayor Pam Iorio said in an interview in March. "He's been incredibly generous to charity, especially with children.''

Steinbrenner, born on Independence Day, was born in Bay Village, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb. According to the book, Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball, by Bill Madden, George was "scarred'' by his father Henry's lack of affection and that his mom, Rita, taught him sympathy and how to stick up for the underdog.

"People only see one side of George Steinbrenner,'' Yankees catcher Jorge Posada said in March. "But he's an amazing man with a big heart. And he's done a lot for many people.''

Mel Antonen, USA Today

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