Nightly News   |  July 13, 2010

Steinbrenner: Remembering an American original

For more than three decades, George Steinbrenner was as much a story as the storied Yankees franchise he restored to glory. NBC's Mike Taibbi reports.

Share This:

This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: He was born on the Fourth of July . He brought the -- he bought the New York Yankees for a bargain price and spent a fortune building it into the most prosperous franchise in sports. Eleven pennants, seven World Series Championships later, George Steinbrenner , who was feared and reviled and admired and respected all in the same lifetime, died today at the age of 90. Tonight our own Mike Taibbi has our look back at his life.

MIKE TAIBBI reporting: He was an Ohio kid who always needed to win.

Mr. GEORGE STEINBRENNER: Because I came from a very competitive father that wanted to see his son very competitive.

TAIBBI: When he moved from the family shipping business to run the then struggling Yankees , he was competing on the most visible stage imaginable and he loved it.

Mr. STEINBRENNER: Everybody that owns a team anywhere has an ego, and they're in it partly because of ego, and I would dispute anybody who would say differently.

TAIBBI: On the day Steinbrenner took over the Yankees in 1973 , one of the first questions to him was what his plans were for running the team. His

answer: `I'll leave that to the professionals.' It didn't quote work out that way. In fact, it was the boss behind every move. Yes, the Yankees won again, seven rings and 11 pennants in his time. But in one losing year, 1982 , he went through three managers, five pitching coaches, three batting coaches and 47 players. When the Yankees feuded, it was Steinbrenner 's Bronx Zoo . And though Billy Martin said working for the boss was driving him crazy...

Mr. BILLY MARTIN: I owe it to my health and my mental well-being to resign.

TAIBBI: ... Steinbrenner hired and fired him as manager five separate times. And when baseball twice suspended Steinbrenner himself, once for making illegal campaign contributions, he couldn't wait to get back in.

Mr. STEINBRENNER: My desire to win, my total dedication to winning for the Yankees and for New York fans, that will not change.

Mr. DAVE ANDERSON (The New York Times): Well, his eventual verdict is if he'll be in the Baseball Hall of Fame , as he should be. You know, politeness is not part of the ingredients to be in the hall of fame.

TAIBBI: Just winning?

Mr. ANDERSON: Winning.

TAIBBI: Was there ever an owner more identified with his team than George Steinbrenner ?

Mr. KEN BURNS (Historian): He is this phenomenon, like a tornado is a phenomenon. He blows in and does his work on the game of baseball, good and bad.

TAIBBI: In his later years, he allowed his own outsized image to be spoofed, as in sitcoms like " Seinfeld ."

TAIBBI: Along the way he donated money and facilities for football programs at black colleges like Grambling . And as vice president of the USOC , he helped America 's Olympians to their best efforts. But today it was his former Yankees who remembered him with the keenest affection.

Mr. DEREK JETER (New York Yankees): I think he's a father figure to everyone that was in our organization, you know, past or present, because he really took care of his players.

Mr. JOE TORRE (Dodgers Manager): There certainly was a much softer side than a lot people know.

Mr. ANDY PETTITTE (New York Yankees): You know, he was tough, but he was always there to support you, also.

TAIBBI: An American original who for more than 30 years was as much a story as the storied franchise he restored to glory. Mike Taibbi , NBC News, New York .