Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Goodbye, George Steinbrenner...
Goodbye, Excellence

I just got off the phone with a friend in New York, and he was complaining about the George Steinbrenner media saturation in the wake of the Yankees owner's death Monday morning. "They're deifying the guy," he told me. "Enough already!"

Not enough, I say.

I'm not advocating the deification of entertainers in the least bit, but at a time when LeBron James can turn the shunning of his hometown into a prime-time, worldwide spectacle, Tiger Woods can act indignant and cavalier about sinking his putz into more strippers than golf holes, and Michael Vick can torture and kill dogs in cold blood and still be rewarded a multi-million dollar NFL contract, can we really over-saturate the passing of a man who celebrated excellence in a world that can't spell the word?

Cynics say George Steinbrenner did little more than ruin baseball with his exorbitant spending, brash firings and ostentatious demeanor, but they live in a world where ignorance is bliss, Miller High Life is truly the "champagne of beers," and everything is black or white.

But we live in a grey world, and not only did George Steinbrenner give it color, he did it with zest, elevating accountability to a pedestal while others just embraced excuses.

George Steinbrenner had pride, and he transformed it into a legacy of Yankee Pride.

Sports is entertainment, and George Steinbrenner understood that reality better than anyone. He knew fans were paying their hard-earned cash to watch his product, and he believed in giving them nothing less than the best product his money could buy. But Steinbrenner didn't stop at paying top dollar for stars like Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield and Alex Rodriguez - he expected nothing short of top-dollar performances, as well as top-dollar images.

If you wanted to play with a raggedy beard or scraggy hair, go play ball in bohemian Boston. In a day-and-age where mediocrity has not only become the norm, it is also rewarded, George Steinbrenner represented the last bastion of capitalism at its finest - he rewarded premium players with premium contracts, and accepted nothing less than premium results.

And if he didn't get them, he wasn't afraid to be vocal.

Working as a Sr. Editor at one of the largest internet companies in the world, I had to hire a new Editor to join my team. When our human resources representative handed me a stack of a dozen resumes and started to walk away, I told her to stick around - and in less than a minute, handed her my three choices. "What?" she asked me, a confused look on her face. "Those are the people I'm interested in talking to," I said nonchalantly. "Those are all good resumes, and you never even looked at them," she countered, pointing to the stack of paper I still held. "I don't have to," I told her, "they're applying for a job as an Editor, and they have typos in their cover letters than an eighth grader could catch - I'm not interested." "You're not being realistic," she said, "you need to lower your expectations."

George Steinbrenner never lowered his expectations, and he helped teach me that I shouldn't need to lower mine.

In the 37 years he owned the New York Yankees, George Steinbrenner's team won seven World Series trophies and 11 American League pennants. They were one of the Top 5 winning teams in the American League every year since 1993, and in the Top 3 all but two of those years. In his four decades as owner, the team only finished in the bottom half of the American League standings seven times - one was the year he bought the team, and five were the rebuilding years, from 1988-92.

The passing of George Steinbrenner is more than the passing of an iconic figure in sports, it is yet another nail in the coffins of excellence, pride and accountability in a nation that rewards people for doing barely enough to get by.

George Steinbrenner has died. Mediocrity is alive and well.

Rest in peace, Boss - you'll be missed.

Thank you.

1 comment:

Belgie said...

George Steinbrenner in his professional life has, on occasion, exhibited rage, narcissism, and greed. He has been accused of being a coward and a bully. He could also be creative, persuasive, sentimental, and spectacularly generous, and is indisputably one of the most financially successful sports businessmen in history. Thus, his biography - told straight up - makes for compelling reading. And this is what is delivered by the author, Bill Madden, an award-winning sportswriter who covered the NY Yankees beat for decades during the George Steinbrenner era.