Guests: Rick Steiner, Dr. Corey Hebert, Ezra Klein, Joe Torre, Ken Burns
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? Hell or high water, day 85 - and it‘s either the start of the solution or the exponential explosion of the disaster. If the stack-cap fails, a geologist insists it‘ll be a train running into a brick wall.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Even if we contain the well and even if the well is capped in mid-August, there‘s still a significant amount of oil out there. And the oil recovery and the impacts of this oil will probably extend well into the fall.
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OLBERMANN: The human health impacts will extend indefinitely.
Tonight, Dr. Corey Hebert and the hidden epidemic of the Gulf Coast post-traumatic stress disorder, and how you can help. It is, again, free health clinic time.
Nearly two-thirds of all Americans want jobless benefits extended.
Even 43 percent of Republicans say they do, and still the GOP blocks them.
The hair may be different but the hair-brainedness is still the same.
Rand Paul‘s past strikes again.
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RAND PAUL, REPUBLICAN SEANTE CANDIDATE: The fundamental reason why Medicare is failing is why the Soviet Union failed: Socialism doesn‘t work.
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OLBERBANN: And the death of George Steinbrenner.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yogi, will you miss him?
YOGI BERRA: Yeah. Darn right I will.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: A singular figure in sports history - a singular figure in American history - is gone. With the man who managed twice as long with him as any other, Joe Torre. And baseball documentarian, Ken Burns. And my 37 years with George Steinbrenner.
All the news and commentary now on COUNTDOWN.
Good evening from New York. Day 85 of the crisis in the Gulf and we‘ve reached a point one mile under water where things are about to go very well or possibly very, very unwell - jeopardizing even the success of the relief wells now underway.
Our fifth story tonight, the director of professional geosciences programs at the University of Houston comparing the worst-case scenario to, quote, “A train running into a brick wall.” The train is oil gushing out under the unimaginable pressures of miles of earth above it. The brick wall is potentially three valves inside the new cap, known as a stack cap - valves which BP is beginning to slowly shut off tonight - as well as shutting off the flow to the Q4000, which is burning about 8,000 gallons of oil a day, and the Helix Producer, collecting about 12,000 gallons.
The goal is to test the pressure inside the cap, which if it increases during shut-off would indicate there are no other leaks, clearing the way for the relief well now less than 40 feet away to intercept and begin pumping in drilling mud and cement to cork the well entirely.
The fear is that the stacking cap, which at one point seemed to be leaning, or a weaker apparatus beneath it crumples or blows, or that the oil is simply squeezed up through the seabed instead of through the well.
And while the White House announced today that President Obama will soon return to the Gulf, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Republican, saw his pet project toward saving the Gulf drift away like so many sand castles.
Pictures allegedly taken by a federal employee, obtained by lacoastpost.com, show one berm from June 25th that wound up considerably smaller by July 7th. Even the equipment used to build it swallowed by the Gulf by July 8th.
On shore, members of the Presidential commission on the spill found itself baffled by the EPA‘s claim that aerial disbursements are not toxic but need to be restricted.
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WILLIAM REILLY, SPILL COMMISSION CO-CHAIR: A lot of fishermen, fishermen I met with in Gulf Port a couple of day ago, have very strong reservations about disbursements. They think that it hides the oil, it puts it into the water column and makes it unavoidable for the fish. And that was our experience up in Prince William Sound with the Exxon Valdez. I guess one of the major questions I had about dispersions is: we had the argument about toxicity after the spill. And it strikes me that that‘s something that we might have expected to have tested, and been a little more clear on before it was necessitated to make a decision to use it.
MATHY STANISLAUS, EPA ASSISTANT ADMIN.: In terms of EPA‘s role prior to the event: EPA evaluates and places disbursements on its product schedule based on a demonstration of effectiveness and toxicity. And as the administrator has testified, and I have stated, that needs to be changed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: We have with us once again tonight, veteran of the Valdez spill, consultant and marine conservationist Rick Steiner. Rick, thanks for some more of your time tonight.
RICK STEINER, MARINE CONSERVATIONIST: Sure Keith.
OLBERMANN: Explain, if you would, why BP says it wants to cut off all the collection on the surface.
STEINER: Well, this is a little like watching the first lunar landing
there‘s a lot of excitement and a lot of anxiety about what could go wrong, certainly. We‘ll know shortly whether this was a smart idea to do this or a spectacular mistake. One of the decisions they‘ll have to make is whether or not to leave all the valves shut, and shut in the well. Or whether or not to leave them open and pump the oil up to surface vessels. That decision is going to be made based, apparently, on the pressure readings. And once they start closing the valves. If it looks like the pressure can hold and it‘s not bleeding out somewhere down on the seabed, then they‘re going to leave it shut in. One of the advantages of that, I understand from one of the engineers, is that doing the bottom-kill then is much less probably that it‘s going to blow out the well head, which is what happened in the top-kill attempt.
OLBERMANN: This description of the train hitting the wall here - this prospect of the stack-cap failing. What are the risks specifically? What are the worst possible outcomes?
STEINER: The biggest risk, of course, is just that - that if they pressure this thing too much and too quickly, that it could actually cause a blowout between the seabed and the oil reservoir. Meaning that the bottom-kill from the relief well would be much less probably, or at least more difficult. They don‘t want to do anything that‘s going to compromise the integrity of the well bore and make the bottom kill more difficult, if not eliminate the possibility altogether. So that‘s the nightmare scenario they really need to avoid, which calls into question whether or not they should even be attempting this when they‘re only a few weeks away from the bottom kill with the relief well.
OLBERMANN: Well, to that point: If they need to shut all the openings for the relief well, mud and cement to go in to seal this thing off permanently, why not just wait until they‘re at least almost ready to do that? If not wait until after to do this?
STEINER: People have suggested that, apparently. Some of the engineers I‘ve spoken with have said that they could certainly leave everything open, collect the oil out of the stacking cap up to the surface vessels until they‘re ready to try the bottom kill with the relief well until they‘re intersected there. And then if the kill fluid - the muds and cement - are blowing out the well head, then slowly start closing the valves and the sheer rams on the stacking cap. But not until then. It‘s sort of like that would be the last-ditch resolution to this thing. But hopefully the relief wells will get down there within the next couple of weeks, shoot this stuff in - the kill fluid and the cement - and kill this thing once and for all. We‘ll see.
OLBERMANN: Why couldn‘t they have mounted flow-rate monitors on the open chimney that we see? Why could they not have had the stack cap ready to go weeks ago?
STEINER: Great question. They certainly should have, could have and may have put flow-rate monitors on this thing. For all we know they did and they haven‘t told us. I‘m hearing some more accurate figures coming out right now, but I‘m not certain. But they certainly could have. On the second part of your question - that‘s the big one. And they certainly should have had this stacking cap designed not just weeks ago, but even before they were doing the drilling operation in the first place. They shouldn‘t have been out there drilling, and nor should any of the deep-water off-shore rigs be drilling unless they have a very, very clear blowout risk assessment, prevention plan, response plan, and a better oil spill response plan off shore. None of the companies, to my understanding, have any of those. So they really have no business being out there drilling in this high-risk, high-pressure reservoir situation without that. So, I don‘t know. It would be gross negligence on behalf of the federal government to permit that risky behavior to continue right now.
OLBERMANN: Did you say you‘ve been hearing more accurate figures in terms of flow?
STEINER: I had heard two-and-a-half million gallons a day was the more accurate figure. So that‘s a little bit above the 60,000-barrel upper limit. And that would mean, if it is two-and-a-half million gallons a day since April 20th or 22nd, that would be close to 200 million gallons that has already gone out into the Gulf.
OLBERMANN: Goodness. Marine conservationist Rick Steiner. As always, great. Thanks for your time tonight Rick.
STEINER: Thanks Keith.
OLBERMANN: Capped or not, this spill has already done enormous damage. And much of it is invisible. In a region already battered by Katrina and abandoned for a time by Washington, this spill is proving more insidious - destroying lives slowly over weeks and months.
The term is post-traumatic stress disorder. And the venue, the Gulf, already had an epidemic of it nearly five years ago. An Alabama fisherman killed himself last month, and help lines and clinics and charities are reporting more calls for help and more families suffering - this on top of, and exacerbated by, the physical health effects. Whether coming from exposure to toxic elements in the disbursements, or from breathing oil all day - or if only, as OSHA has said, from the heat.
Joining us tonight on this issue, Dr. Corey Hebert, medical editor of WDSU, host of “Doctor for the People” on KMEZ radio and who as a physician has been treating some of these responders. Dr. Hebert, thanks for your time tonight.
DR. COREY HEBERT, WDSU MEDICAL EDITOR: Thank you very much for having me.
OLBERMANN: Give us the big picture in terms of the health profile - physical health and mental health - right now on the Gulf Coast.
HEBERT: I‘ll tell you this Keith, if you can imagine a table with three legs, and all of a sudden you‘re about to hammer in that last leg and then someone comes with a chainsaw and cuts off the other two. People in the Gulf are basically worn out. We‘ve gone through so much after this hurricane and now with this oil spill - it‘s a cumulative effect because people are really having lots of post-traumatic stress because now they‘ve lost their homes and they‘ve rebuilt them but now they‘ve lost their livelihood. Men that are out there every day fishing for a living now aren‘t able to feed their families. When you have that type of thing on top of losing your home and just rebuilding it. This is a real, real big issue, and that‘s not going anywhere anytime soon.
OLBERMANN: And something about post-traumatic stress disorder that a lot of people I don‘t think appreciate, this is one of those instances where one-plus-one-equals three, correct? Because not only do you have what is new that is happening to you, but you‘re also reliving, in a very real and practical sense, what happened before. Plus you have the fact of what happened before. So there‘s three traumas in one here.
HEBERT: Absolutely. If you can imagine basically when the Vietnam vets came home, they were in a very war-torn area and they came back to their very suburban areas and still had post-traumatic stress. The people in the Gulf South, what they realize is that they have to walk through the war-torn areas every day. And the cumulative effect just gets worse and worse and worse. When we talk about you don‘t have the money to take care of the things that you need to take care of, this is going to be a psychological disaster that just continues because it affects the family, it affects the family unit, the extended family, and it affects every part of the business of the gulf south, it affects every part of the education of the gulf south. This is a very socially charged issue as well as medically.
OLBERMANN: Given that mental health - whether we like it or not, the issues of people with the most normal human reactions to a mental reaction to a normal crisis in life, these things are still looked on askance in this country. Do we have any accurate way to quantify how badly the PTSD issue is, or the other mental health issues are in the gulf south?
HEBERT: Well actually we do have a lot of models and tools we can use to screen people to see if they‘re having different types of psychological issues. But the most important thing we see is that the suicide rate, the murder rate, these things go up precipitously. And when they drop precipitously, rather, we see that things start to rise and rise and rise and rise. So we‘re looking at 100 percent increase in Plackerman‘s Perish in people that committing suicide. This dropped precipitously right after Hurricane Katrina and things were very, very calm. But now it‘s getting worse and worse and worse. So, like you said, it‘s very cumulative.
OLBERMANN: What happens if or when they contain the spill, or cap it? Does it mean at least the end of the worsening of the collective health problems of the area?
HEBERT: Absolutely not. We know that urban areas and rural areas throughout the United States all have the same problems. Oil and hurricanes, those things exacerbate pre-existing problems. They make it so that people with cameras can see them. But these things are not just unique to the Gulf South, they‘re unique to Chicago, the Bronx, L.A. So these things are going to get worse and worse and worse after the cameras leave because the things we were already having problems in those areas before any of this started. So this is a long process. But boots on the ground here in New Orleans, here in the Gulf Coast - we have boots on the ground. We are intervening and trying to prevent some of these things before they happen.
OLBERMANN: Dr. Corey Hebert of WDSU. Great, thanks for your time. And great thanks and good luck with your efforts there.
And on this note, announcements tonight on two more free health clinics. The first already funded with the support of COUNTDOWN viewers will come on August fourth in Washington D.C. You can register to be seen by going to freeclinics.us or to donate your services and time, medical or otherwise, please do so as well.
And in light of our discussion just now on the health problems in the gulf, we are pleased to be able to announce tonight a two-day clinic in New Orleans coinciding with the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Taking place on August 31st and September first.
Volunteers, medical and otherwise - and because we‘re just announcing it today, money, your money - both very much in need for this free clinic, which like the one in D.C., we should note, is to serve those who have no health insurance - a problem of particular urgency in the gulf right now.
Freeclinics.us. As always, we thank you for even thinking about it.
Becoming uninsured going hand-in-hand with becoming unemployed. New poling tonight suggesting more than six-in-10 Americans and more than four-in-10 Republicans believe that cancelled extension of jobless benefits should be reinstated. Yet the Republican party is still blocking and filibustering and obfuscating. And what on earth could their heartless end game be? Ezra Klein joins me next.
OLBERMANN: Why are he and other Senate Republicans stonewalling the extension of healthcare benefits if new poling says 62 percent of all Americans want it and even 43 percent of all Republicans do. This Republican Senator has just joined the Birther Movement. Of course, compared to its veterans, Mr. Vitter is metaphorically still in diapers.
And the man who may have represented better than any other the dichotomies of the American character: generosity and greed, kindness and cruelty - the death of New York Yankees‘ owner George Steinbrenner. My special guests: longtime Yankees‘ manager Joe Torre, and baseball documentarian Ken Burns.
OLBERMANN: In opposing the extension of unemployment benefits to the hardest hit Americans, the GOP disconnect has reached its seemingly boundless limit.
In our fourth story tonight, there are still about five unemployed people for each job opening, according to the Labor Department. But tonight in a new poll, the vast majority of Americans still support the further extension of jobless benefits. And an unexpectedly large number of Republicans do.
In fact, 62 percent of all Americans support, according to the Washington Post survey, even when the question is prefaced with the statement that congress had already previously extended those very benefits. And the same poll reveals that even 43 percent of Republicans support the extension of jobless benefits - although 60 percent of self-identified conservative Republicans oppose it. Perhaps further evidence that the kind of split within the GOP that the tea party crowd only exacerbates.
Doesn‘t help matters when Senators like John Kyl believe that any increase in spending must be offset with a spending cut elsewhere in the budget. While tax cuts for the rich do not require such an offset. With Congress back in session, senate majority leader Harry Reid says he will focus on jobless benefits as well as a small business package before the next recess next month. But even if he finds a few Republicans to support the extension of unemployment benefits, it would do nothing to help those who have suffered the longest. Nearly one-and-a-half million Americans have been unemployed for at least 99 weeks, and there is no further extension planned for them.
Let‘s turn now to Washington Post staff writer, Newsweek magazine columnist, MSNBC contributor, Ezra Klein. Ezra, good evening.
EZRA KLEIN, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Good evening Keith.
OLBERMANN: Even with concern about rising debt, and even after the previous extension of these jobless benefits, the public broadly supports an additional extension. So why have the Republicans gone into a bunker about this?
KLEIN: They would tell you it‘s because of the deficit, but that‘s a bit of a difficult excuse to give credence to now that they‘re saying that you don‘t have to pay for the Bush tax cuts, which are many, many, many, many, many times larger than unemployment benefits. Something that‘s very important here: There are a couple of things that unemployment benefits do. One is that they help the unemployed.
The other thing, though, is that they boost local economies. When you give people in an economy - a local town with 15 or 20 percent unemployment - unemployment checks to spend, that keeps other people from losing their jobs. They can still pay their rent, they can go to the coffee shop. When you take that away, those people lose their jobs as well. That means that there are more unemployed people and fewer jobs.
So we‘re not just dealing with the a problem for the unemployed, we‘re dealing with a kind of counter-pro-cyclical measure that will make the recession actually worse.
OLBERMANN: Hasn‘t the jobless benefits package - the proposed additional extension - already been slashed in hopes of getting some Republican votes as well as the votes from some of the more timid Democratic senators?
KLEIN: It‘s been slashed many times. And one thing that‘s important, and some people cottoned on to this type of argument about it: That unemployment benefits keep people from looking for work. Now there are two ways in which that is not true.
One, as you mentioned in your introduction here, five people out of work for every job that‘s open. So you have many, many, many more people who need work than the labor force can currently absorb.
But number two, the structure of unemployment benefits, which most people don‘t understand that well, is that the very long unemployment extensions - the 99 weeks and what we hope would go beyond - are only in states that have unemployment rates of higher-than 8.5 percent.
So they‘re targeted only to states where you have a lot more labor force that needs a job than you have jobs that can support them. So these are really designed to have the best possible impact. Even David Burke says that if you want to start cutting the deficit, this would be - and this is his word - an “insane” place to begin.
OLBERMANN: There‘s been a great deal of analysis of the Democrats challenge in trying to rally their base for the mid-terms. But are the Republicans really intending to go into November on something that can either be thrown against them, or they might even campaign this way: “We voted against Wall Street reform. We voted against jobless benefits. And by the way, more tax cuts for the wealthy without any offsets”?
KLEIN: It appears that way. Their argument here is based on convincing people that stimulus doesn‘t work. They would say that if you pay for unemployment benefits, we would vote for it. Now this is from the perspective of getting the economy moving again. A terrible idea if you‘re cutting somewhere else or raising taxes somewhere else to pay for these, what you‘re doing is bailing water out from one part of the boat into another part of the boat. But that will be the effort here.
And right now we have a pretty schizophrenic voter population. You mentioned the Washington Post poll. What the poll found is that people trust Democrats to make better decisions for the country and for the economy, but they plan to vote for Republicans. That is the electorate we‘re dealing with right now. They think Democrats will do a better job, but they think they may vote for Republicans anyway.
OLBERMANN: There‘s a contrariness built into the equation at this point that defies everything else. But one thing on a related front here - Wall Street reform, final passage this week maybe based on where Olympia Snow is going?
KLEIN: Yeah. Looks quite likely. Looks like we‘ll have that done probably by the weekend. At that point you‘ll see they‘ll have done healthcare reform, they‘ll have done stimulus, they‘ll have done Wall Street reform. Congress feels very, very slow and very obstructive, but the fact of the matter is this will probably go down as the most productive legislative periods in generations.
OLBERMANN: Ezra Klein of the Washington Post and Newsweek and MSNBC. As always Ezra, many thanks. Meantime, another Republican senator has joined the Birther club, but is it a campaign issue? On that point, David Vitter says, “It depends.”
OLBERMANN: Rush Limbaugh makes a race-hating joke at the expense of the newly-dead George Steinbrenner. First the tweet-of-the-day from a Jeff in Atlanta.
“I wonder why Keith Olbermann defends the new Black Panthers. Guy, you are as pale as I am. They hate u and want your butt dead too.”
I don‘t defend them. However, I think the New Black Panthers, all three of them, pose only slightly more of a risk to anyone than does spontaneous human combustion. Come back to this planet Jeff.
Let‘s play Oddball.
We begin in Texas where these police cadets are learning the benefits of getting their ducks in a row. Three web-footed recruits have decided to join Houston‘s finest. The ducks do everything the recruits do, from marching to standing at attention. Though oddly enough they have yet to venture over to the shooting range. Once their training is complete they will be in charge of protecting the ponds and teaching kids that crack is whack.
And we jump across the pond for the oddball pseudo-sport of the day. This is the bi-annual British Pedal Car Grand Prix. Teams of four compete to see who can turn left the most. The participants range from the ultra-competitive to the not-so-competitive . in the keg. Is it filled? But that is not to say that the coverage has not been serious. It has everything that motor racing should have, including a dashboard cam. Yeah, I don‘t really need to see that buddy. Racers ride for over two hours. Eventually the team from Rugby, England was victorious. And it now takes control over the Greek Council from the tri-lambs.
Ken Burns, and long-time New York Yankees‘ manager Joe Torre, on the death today of George Steinbrenner, ahead on the COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Ken Burns and Joe Torre on the late George Steinbrenner. That‘s next, but first, get out your pitchforks and torches, time for tonight‘s Worst Persons in the World.
The bronze to Tea Party and Republican Senate nominee Rand Paul, Kentucky. Hair might be temporary, but videotape is forever. Dr. Paul, just 13 years ago, talking about the evil socialism that is Social Security.
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DR. RAND PAUL ®, SENATE CANDIDATE IN KENTUCKY: The fundamental reason why Medicare is failing is why the Soviet Union failed. Socialism doesn‘t work. When she calls it a successful, inter-generational program, what that means is it‘s a Ponzi scheme.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Basically, the federal government would contract with each state to collect the sales tax.
RAND: Could we just close the federal government down then maybe and just have state government then?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Anti-Medicare, anti-Social Security? Nice, Rand. Bye.
The runner-up, the senator from Louisiana, David Vitter, Birther. Questioned by a constituent about lawsuits claiming the president of the United States is not an actual born citizen.
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SEN. DAVID VITTER ®, LOUISIANA: I support conservative legal organizations and others who would bring that to court. I think that is a valid and most possibly effective way to do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: So you‘re looking for photos of one hour old President Obama in America in a diaper? Which is worse for a sitting senator, by the way, you‘re a Birther or a diaper fetishist?
But our winner, Rush Limbaugh. This speaks eloquently and sadly for itself.
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RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: George Steinbrenner has passed away at age 80. That cracker made a lot of African-American millionaires. George Steinbrenner, the classic capitalist. Everybody around him became wealthy. And like most successful capitalists, he made the people around him wealthy, and a lot of African-American millionaires along the way. And at the same time, he fired a bunch of white guys as managers, left and right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: There is a time and a place for everything. And Rush Limbaugh knows neither. Rush Limbaugh, today‘s Worst Person in the World.
OLBERMANN: On January 3rd, 1973, a virtually unknown ship building executive from Cleveland, whose only past connections to sports were as an assistant coach on a winless college football team, and the owner of a team in a basketball league that went bankrupt in the middle of its second season, stood up at the closet turned into a cheesy restaurant, inside dilapidated Yankee Stadium, announced he and a group of investors had bought the near moribund New York Yankees franchise and declared “I intend to be an absentee owner.”
Thirty seven years, six months and ten day later he died as the least absentee owner in sports history, a man who changed his team, his city, his sport, and his business. Our number two story tonight, George Michael Steinbrenner III dead at the age of 80. I‘ll be joined presently by baseball documentarian Ken Burns and by 12-season Yankee manager Joe Torre.
It is hard to envision in the ever packed New Yankee Stadium, after a world‘s championship, after seven World Series appearances in the last 13 years, and tickets costing 1,500 dollars a piece. But when CBS sold George Steinbrenner the franchise, the top ticket price was four dollars. And part of the deal was that the new owner had to pretend he was paying just about as much as CBS had a decade earlier, 13 million dollars, when, in fact, he was paying and his group was paying only 10 million. The franchise is now worth about 1.5 billion. The television network George Steinbrenner created around it, two billion more.
Steinbrenner‘s original personal investment, 168,000 dollars. Within two years, he would be spending more on players than he had on the team. His exploitation of the new system of free agency rebuilt the Yankees almost overnight. That which others thought would destroy the sport, a player‘s right to work for the employer of his choice, instead amplified the game to unimaginable heights. And George Steinbrenner primed the pump that became the money making machine.
But, incredibly, he did not do it just for the money. This was a man who, from the beginning, insisted on controlling, not just control of a process, but trying to control all outcomes. The belief that if his players just tried harder, they really could win every game. And 21 managerial firings in 34 years resulted. This was me interviewing him after one of them in 1982.
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OLBERMANN: For George Steinbrenner, his ninth managerial change in nine years of running the ball club.
GEORGE STEINBRENNER, FORMER YANKEES OWNER: I made the move because I felt, in my inner gut reaction, that I had to do something or we weren‘t going to be able to take a shot at it. Now, we hope that we‘ll be able to. If we don‘t, then I‘ve got to come to the realization that maybe we misjudged some people. Maybe there are some guys that aren‘t as good as we thought they were, and definitely aren‘t as good as they thought they were.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Thus, the atmosphere of the ‘70s and ‘80s was almost war-like, and the manager in his famous endgame fight, Billy Martin, was hired and fired five times. By the third time, it had already turned into a comedy act.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILLY MARTIN, FORMER YANKEES MANAGER: I‘ll be handling all the trades.
STEINBRENNER: What do you mean?
MARTIN: There will be no phone calls in the dugout.
STEINBRENNER: What do you mean? That‘s not right. I‘m handling the trades.
MARTIN: That isn‘t the way we said it, George.
STEINBRENNER: Damn right it is. If you don‘t like it, you‘re fired.
MARTIN: You haven‘t hired me yet!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And yet there was another George Steinbrenner. He signed ex-Met greats Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden, largely because he could thumb his nose at his cross-town rivals. But even when drugs interfered in their lives, he kept giving them chance after chance to rebuild those lives. We may now only know the barest of outlines of the charitable George Steinbrenner, who anonymously donated everything from ball fields to school books to a million dollars for tsunami relief to, when he concluded the American training system short changed would-be Olympians, his own time and money to make it world class.
I met him when I was 14 years old. I interviewed him first when I was about 20, criticized him first when I was 22, and I never heard a cross word from him. Instead, he wrote fan letters to my bosses about me, inquired after my mother‘s health for the five years after she was hit by that throw at Yankee Stadium, tried to hire me once, and once spent several minutes telling a guest of his, reviewing each occasion over the 30 years in which he and I had interacted, as I stood there in astonishment. That guest was President Clinton.
Then there was this from October, 2000.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: I can only imagine that they are all emotional and wonderful, but you have had tears in your eyes since that ball was popped up in the bottom of the ninth inning.
JOE TORRE, FORMER YANKEES MANAGER: Popped up?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: What you could not see during that was, during the commercial, in the moments before he received that last of his World Series trophies, was George Steinbrenner weeping on to my shoulder while he asked if my mom happened to be in the stands. George M. Steinbrenner III, who had so much going on inside him that he might have been five or six different people crowded into one body, died this morning at the age of 80 of a heart attack, following a seven-year battle with a form of inconsistent dementia.
The following is meant with astonishment and respect. It is symbolic of his life that he died the morning of and thus completely overshadowed the baseball All-Star Game.
I‘m honored now to be joined on the phone by an old friend, the man who won four world titles with George Steinbrenner, manager Joe Torre of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Joe, thanks for your time tonight.
TORRE: A pleasure, Keith. I wish I could be talking to you under different circumstances.
OLBERMANN: Indeed. Is there, in your assessment, any way to sum up George Steinbrenner?
TORRE: Well, he was—you know, he was bigger than life. We‘ve all heard that before. But he always cast such a huge shadow that, whether you loved him or hated him, you certainly paid attention to him. And he did make Major League Baseball better because of the money he spent. And everybody hated him for it, but they all jumped in.
OLBERMANN: Clearly, he had mellowed to some degree by the time you got to New York, Joe—back to New York, I should say. But he hadn‘t mellowed all that much. What about him enabled you to interact so well with him?
TORRE: Well, I think, Keith, was the fact that I was ready to do it. You know, I think we all knew George Steinbrenner, the bully. We all watched it. Got to know him a little bit when I managed the Mets. In fact, he was instrumental in getting me Super Bowl tickets on a regular basis. He never said no. Of course, I had never worked for him.
So when I went in there, I just felt that whatever price I had to pay was certainly worth it, because I knew he was going to give me the opportunity to find out if I could manage or not. And, you know, he did that and certainly the results have been far more than I ever expected it to be, and I stayed there, you know, much longer than I expected to be with the Yankees.
And it was a great experience. The fact that I knew, Keith, that he was the boss and didn‘t try to fight that when he would tell you what to do, or demand you do this, or demand you do that, you know, I—the ability to be able to talk to him one-on-one, I think, helped, you know, my situation and, you know, I certainly appreciated that.
OLBERMANN: Joe, do you think, having been there so long, that he was satisfied with what he achieved in baseball, or what he achieved in life? I mean, not to get too pop psychology on you here, but what‘s your thought about that?
TORRE: No, I don‘t think so. I don‘t think he was ever satisfied. I think that‘s what we all took from it. I know I—I know talking with Don Mattingly a time or two about him, you know, a lot of the stuff that George and his tirades was certainly unfair. He certainly got everybody‘s attention and understood how important it was to win if you were going to wear that uniform.
So I don‘t think he was ever satisfied. It‘s sad. I think it was a sad life, because, you know, four children and Joann, his wife, and, you know, his life he was married to the things he did, whether it be horse racing or, for sure, the New York Yankees.
OLBERMANN: Last question, Joe. Why did so many people who had these huge breaks with him or he with them make up with him later? Do you have an idea? Yogi Berra and Reggie Jackson and Dave Winfield, explosive breakups, and they all came back and eight of his 14 ex-managers eventually went back to work for him again.
TORRE: Well, because he would reach out to them. If you were in that family, you never really—you may have gotten yelled at or made to sit in the corner for a while, but you were always part of this family. And I think that‘s what I got from him especially—well, not especially, but the last time I talked to him, which was ten days ago. I called him and wished him a happy birthday. And, you know, we talked about, you know, my time with the Yankees. And he made it very warm for me and I was very fortunate to be able to talk to him that one last time.
OLBERMANN: I‘m glad that happened for you. Joe Torre, the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers since 2008, managers of the New York Yankees from 1996 to 2007, and I‘m proudest to say, my friend since 1981. All my best, sir. Thank you.
TORRE: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Joe Torre. Ken Burns next on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: On Sunday night, October 17th, 1999, angry fans at Fenway Park in Boston began to throw plastic bottles and debris at the opposing New York Yankees players. The Yankees pulled their team off the field and my bosses at Fox ordered me, the dugout reporter, on to the field. A beefy Red Sox security officer, just as quickly, ordered me off. “Jump over this fence and sit in that seat right there or I‘ll eject you from the yard.” I jumped. I sat.
From the left came a voice, “Hi, Keith. Some night, huh?” They had put me in George Steinbrenner‘s box. I asked him if he‘d do a quick interview after the game ended. “If we get out of here alive, you got it. But I‘m warning you I won‘t have much to say.” Right. He did and our one-question interview was blame the manager of the Red Sox for inciting the crowd to riot. Thus George became the entire story of the game.
Our number one story, placing George Steinbrenner correctly in history; who better to ask about that than Ken Burns? The “Tenth Inning” update of his seminal PBS documentary “Baseball” premieres this September 28th. And there is a lot of Steinbrenner in it. Thank you for coming in.
KEN BURNS, DOCUMENTARY FILM MAKER: Thank you for having me.
OLBERMANN: Where does he fit in baseball?
BURNS: I don‘t know. Listening to all of the reports, this need to balance and put in tension this stuff is so hard to do. And with Steinbrenner, it‘s nearly impossible. There‘s the generosity that you talked about, the intense loyalty, the delivery of the victories, which is what people want.
And yet, there is a sense that baseball‘s great lesson about loss was lost on him. And the idea that money could be thrown at you, that you could fire people, could treat people this way and, on the other hand, be so generous and be so kind and so loyal to people. Torre is an amazing example.
BURNS: Somebody who rose above it, who came in. Tom Belluci (ph) says in our film playing with house‘s money. He had been a loser most of his life as a player and as manager too. And he came into this place where the price was winning or you lost your head. And he kept his head and was able to somehow form this wonderful maybe alliance and victory team despite George Steinbrenner.
OLBERMANN: When he was banned for life the second time—he was thrown out of baseball and neither ultimately stuck. The news spread across Yankee Stadium organically. It wasn‘t announced over the P.A. system. There was spontaneous roaring applause and cheers and, in some places, a standing ovation. People couldn‘t quite figure out what it was about.
That was only 20 years ago about this time of year, if I remember correctly. Today, at least, in New York and throughout baseball, there was a genuine sense of sadness. Clearly, he is going to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
BURNS: Clearly and deservedly so.
OLBERMANN: And wherever you put him in baseball history, he is one of the most—owners with the greatest impact in the history of this or any other sport. How did he do that?
BURNS: Well, I think he threw money at it. He was in the right place
at the right time. He did all of that stuff and yet, you know, there was
something about him that drove us all crazy. Even New York Yankee fans
were driven crazy by him. And that applause goes up because it was finally
he should have had a football team. I mean, he did once. But he should have had a football team. He needed to win every single day. And the thing of baseball teaches you is you can‘t.
And Joe Torre describes to us that 1996 season, where he loses the first two games, and he says, you know, after the first game, I don‘t think I‘m going to win the second game, but we‘re going to go to Atlanta and I‘ll do it. And Torre proved him right. Steinbrenner didn‘t have that patience that I think baseball‘s all about, the patience sitting on a curve ball, the patience to work out the bugs in Spring Training and the early part of the season, the patience.
So I think it built up frustrations even with Yankee fans. But they have those rings and they have those trophies. And that‘s, unfortunately, I think, what it‘s all become, is, in the end, just about winning.
OLBERMANN: The point that Joe made when I asked him if I thought—or if he thought, having been exposed to him on a day-to-day basis for 12 years, if he was ever happy about it, if he was ever satisfied. And Joe—
I thought Joe would be—he is usually very, very diplomatic. I‘m not saying he was being unkind or anything, but he said no. I don‘t think he was happy with it.
BURNS: I think this is the human dimension to his story, that he wasn‘t happy. There is a kind of Rose Bud thing to this. His father was a difficult task master. He has admitted that he led by fear and his children have even acknowledged how difficult it was. When you live that way, where winning is everything, and you win the World Series and then the next moment is what have you done for me lately? What kind of life is that? Where do you revel?
Talking to this Red Sox fan, you know, I turned to my wife after the victory in 2004 and said, I don‘t have to worry again. That didn‘t happen. But I had a nice attenuated period. For Steinbrenner, it was you literally have to go and do it again. That‘s a football mentality, utterly American. Maybe what he did is he brought a little bit, imported a little bit of football to this game that we love, and transformed it in really important ways.
He did understand something about free agency. He did understand what he could do with it. But, in the end, the nucleus of the successful Yankee team are the home grown players. They‘re—who Stick Michael (ph) got to develop in his absence, which are the Posadas and the Riveras and the Pettittes and, of course, the Derek Jeters. That is the interesting thing, that you can adorn this structure with all the big high priced free agents that you want, but the essence of baseball has nothing to do with money. It has to do with character. It has to do with talent. It has to do with teamwork and cooperation. And I think a good deal of what George Steinbrenner was about was the antithesis of those secret ingredients, the secret sauce that‘s very much a part of winning.
OLBERMANN: I did a rough bit of research in I think 1998, when they made one of those trades for Chuck Knoblauch and they gave away seemingly the minor league store for a veteran player. I don‘t know exactly what the numbers were. But I do look at the 20 trades made in the Steinbrenner—the height of his folly, where they traded something like 200 wins by pitchers and 4,000 home runs, and got ten wins and 25 home runs. And, yet, as you say, the Yankees‘ success went from these crazy deals, the throw away future Hall of Famers for nothing. And he did finally calm down and listen to people like Gene Michaels, who said, OK, work from within.
How did he make that—obviously he was coming back from a supposed lifetime banishment. I guess you‘d be pretty cheerful. Did you figure out how he managed to control himself thereafter?
BURNS: You know, I don‘t. And I still don‘t understand it, because he got rid of Joe Torre. He said he was going to if they didn‘t get this far. And they were out in the Division Series and then Torre was gone. This was one of the greatest managers. To me, he had a lifetime job for that run in the late ‘90s. And even that spectacular 2001 season, where in some ways it didn‘t matter who won—it was all about coming together as a country, and baseball had an incredible role to play, and Torre and Jeter and the other Yankees did so well in the aftermath of 9/11 that they reminded us why we love this game so much.
OLBERMANN: So, ultimately, back to my first point, it‘s impossible to believe that the Yankees were so bad off that he was able to buy them with a personal investment of 168,000 dollars.
BURNS: I‘ll buy in.
OLBERMANN: Right. I‘m just like you. You want to go back in time and outbid him for this.
OLBERMANN: But just for that, for saving what might have been the New Jersey Yankees or the Fort Lauderdale Yankees or wherever they might have moved, did he help baseball long term or did he hurt baseball long term?
BURNS: You know, I don‘t—it‘s neither and both. And I think he obviously helped in an incredible way by what he did, by lifting this storied franchise out of all the cliche‘s you want to say. And at the same time, this notion about money and winning being the only—I just—at some point, it goes against the grain of what I know about baseball, and what I know about what draws me to baseball.
Of course, I want to my team to win every night and I‘m disappointed. Remember the lyrics, “it‘s a shame if they lose.” It‘s not, let‘s fire the manager if they lose. Let‘s tear our hair out if they lose. Let‘s say nasty things about our players. Let‘s hire a hustler to dig up dirt on my star player. It‘s just a shame, George, it‘s just a shame if they lose. I think it‘s a shame that we‘ve lost him.
OLBERMANN: I agree with you on that point, certainly. Ken Burns, his latest work “The Tenth Inning,” debuting on PBS on September 28th. As I said, it‘s great. There is a lot of Steinbrenner in it. Everybody look forward to that.
Good to see you again, my friend.
BURNS: Nice to see you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: That‘s COUNTDOWN for July 13th. It is the 2,630th day since President Bush declared mission accomplished in Iraq, the 2,219th day since he declared victory in Afghanistan, and the 85th day of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf. I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.
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