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George Steinbrenner, an appreciation (sort of)

Speaking ill of the dead is frowned upon in most enlightened cultures, but this is America in the age of Sarah Palin, and this is baseball. So let me first say that George Steinbrenner, who died of a heart attack early this morning at the age of 80, was a bully, an ingrate, a narcissist, a man who really didn't know baseball and, yes, Billy Martin, a liar.

I say the latter because George once said this: "I won't be active in the day-to-day operations of the Yankees."

He said this on Jan. 3, 1973, shortly after buying the Yankees and not very much longer before he became involved in the day-to-day operations of the Yankees to a degree that set a standard for owner meddling that has sometimes been matched but seldom if ever exceeded.

Now, having said all that ...

Without George Steinbrenner, baseball would have been a hell of a lot less interesting these past 37 years.

His legacy is hardly a good one, except within the confines of Yankee Stadium. His profligate spending for players who could barely pronounce "profligate," much less make contact with it at the plate or throw a baseball past it, set baseball on a path of spiraling inflation that continues to ruin it to this day for everyone but the Yankees, the Red Sox and the occasional Angels. And yet ... if the Boss hadn't fired Billy Martin five times and Lou Piniella twice and Gene Michaels and the kid hawking peanuts in saection 125, would the game been quite as much fun?

The pinstripes were once a symbol of austere elegance and, let's face it, coma-inducing boredom. Then George came along, and suddenly the pinstripes came with giant clown shoes and a corsage that squirts water. George fighting with Billy. Billy fighting with Reggie. Reggie fighting with Thurman. The entire nation roaring with laughter at the entire thing.

It was as if Lou Gehrig had stepped to the microphone on that heart-wrenching day in Yankee Stadium, and Soupy Sales had caught him with a pie in the face just as Gehrig was saying, "I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of th-"

So here's to ya, Boss, for making the Yankees interesting. You'll always have that at least.

Ben Smith's blog.