George Steinbrenner, the guiding and often autocratic force behind the New York Yankees since the early 1970s and an architect of the YES Network, died Tuesday morning of a heart attack. He was 80.
Steinbrenner, who was part of a group that purchased the Yankees from CBS Corp. for $8.8 million in1973, invested heavily in the club, playing the free agency game like no other owner in Major League Baseball. Those hundreds of millions of dollars in outlays, which saw the Yankees routinely dwarf the sport's payroll list by wide margins, helped the club capture 16 division titles (plus three other playoff appearances), 11 pennants and seven World Series, including the 2009 crown, during 'The Boss's tenure.
Under Steinbrenner, arguably the most famous owner in all of sports the Yankees set the pace financially as well. This April, Forbes estimated the Yankees' value at some $1.6 billion, almost double that of their rival the Boston Red Sox's $870 million.
Back in 1988, the Bronx Bombers connected on a 12-year, $486 million TV deal with the Madison Square Garden Network through the 2001 season. With that contract expiring and the success of the club on the field, the team, which had won the World Series four of five times from 1996-2000, including a three-peat over those final years, sought a six-fold increase in rights for MSGN from parent Cablevision.
When those plans didn't materialize, the Yankees instead launched the YES Network in 2002, sans Cablevision as an affiliate. The most-watched RSN, YES also headed the revenue list for such sports services with $417.1 million in 2009, according to SNL Kagan data. The Steinbrenner family owns an estimated 37% of the RSN, which has been valued by some at $2 billion and as high as $3 billion.
"We at YES are saddened by the passing of George M. Steinbrenner. He was a New York icon and a sports icon, a true visionary who will be greatly missed. His vision of a team-owned regional sports network for the Yankees, resulting in the formation of the YES Network, revolutionized the sports business," said YES president and CEO Tracy Dolgin in a statement. "Mr. Steinbrenner's influence on the world of sports is tremendous, and will be felt long after he's gone. Our prayers and thoughts go out to the Steinbrenner family and the Yankees organization."
A new Yankees Stadium, referred to some as "The House that George Built," opened across the street from its iconic predecessor (since torn down) in time for the 2009 MLB season.
Steinbrenner will be remembered tonight in Anaheim, where MLB is hosting its All-Star Game. There, Yankees' shortstop Derek Jeter will be introduced by a tape recording from Bob Sheppard, the team's longtime pu blic address announcer, who passed on July 11 at age 99.
Well known for his bluster and penchant for dismissing managers and players in his younger days, Steinbrenner appeared in commercials and on Saturday Night Live and was famously portrayed by Larry David on Seinfeld.
But his health had been deteriorating for some time. Stepping back after the 2007 season, Steinbrenner named sons Hank and Hal co-chairmen of Yankee Global Enterprises LLC, the holding company of the team and YES.
"He was an incredible and charitable man," the family said in a statement. "He was a visionary and a giant in the world of sports. He took a great but struggling franchise and turned it into a champion again."
In addition to his wife, Joan, his sons Hal and Hank, and his daughter Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal, Steinbrenner is survived by his daughter Jessica Steinbrenner and grandchildren.