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July 14, 2010

On the Beat

Remembering George Steinbrenner

by John Perrotto

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ANAHEIM—George Steinbrenner and Bud Selig had a friendship that lasted almost 40 years. And it was positive proof that opposites really do attract.

Steinbrenner and Selig seemingly had little in common. Steinbrenner was the owner of the Yankees, the biggest of the major leagues' big-market franchises. Selig was the owner of the Brewers, the smallest of the small-market franchises.

Yet the two became fast friends in 1973 when Steinbrenner bought the Yankees from the Columbia Broadcasting System and went on to become the most famous owner in baseball history. Selig was in his fourth year of owning the Brewers, having bought the Pilots out of bankruptcy court following their expansion season and moving them from Seattle to his hometown of Milwaukee.

Their friendship became so strong that it was Steinbrenner who pushed for Selig, along with Twins owner Carl Pohlad and Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams, to become commissioner in 1992 when Fay Vincent was pushed out of office.

"George and I obviously had very different situations, but he was for some of the major changes that have occurred in our sport," Selig said Tuesday prior to the All-Star Game at Angel Stadium. "However, we formed a great friendship, and what I'll always remember about George is that he was always a good friend. We might disagree on some things, but in the end, he always went along with what was good for the game."

Steinbrenner was often seen as a tyrant, especially in his early days as an owner when he would routinely fire managers and general managers while bullying lower-level employees, particularly public relations directors. However, Selig said that Steinbrenner had a softer side that manifested itself in private. One of those times came in 1992, when Selig became commissioner and ceded control of the Brewers to his daughter, Wendy Selig Preib.

"Within a half-hour of Wendy taking over, a floral arrangement came to her office from George," Selig said. "The card read, 'I'm always with you.'"

Selig also recalled Steinbrenner's sharp sense of humor. Not long after becoming commissioner, Selig jokingly told his wife, Sue, that he no longer had to take out the garbage at their West Allis, Wisconsin, home on Tuesday mornings. Right after that exchange, Steinbrenner happened to call. Sue answered the phone and told The Boss about her husband's new stance on trash removal.

"For three straight months, George would call every Tuesday morning to make sure I took out the garbage," Selig said with a smile.

Selig wasn't the only one at the All-Star Game who was reminiscing about Steinbrenner. The American League team was managed by the Yankees' Joe Giradi, who had eight of his players on the squad. Shortstop and team captain Derek Jeter, who has been in the organization since he was the Yankees' first-round draft pick in 1992 following his senior year of high school in Kalamazoo, Michigan, was clearly saddened by the news and not yet ready to refer to Steinbrenner in the past tense.

"I've known him since I was 18 years old," Jeter said. "Obviously there's a respect factor because he's the owner and I work for him, but we were more friends than anything. I'd go visit him in the offseason because we both live in Tampa. We would have bets on the Ohio State-Michigan football games. We've filmed commercials with him dancing. It's tough, because he's more than just an owner to me. He's a friend of mine. He will be deeply missed."

While Steinbrenner's mentality of winning at all costs rankled some, Jeter said it helped spur the Yankees on to great heights. The franchise won seven World Series titles during Steinbrenner's reign.

"The thing with The Boss is he's an old football coach," Jeter said. "So he sort of looked at the baseball season like we played 12 games and we had to win every single day. He really expected to win every night, every day. I remember my first or second year, I was on third base and got doubled off on a line drive in the infield. We won the game, and after the game he was yelling at me, telling me 'don’t ever get doubled off again.' We won the game, but he expected perfection and that rubbed off, whether it was on the players, the front office, the people working at the stadium, it didn't make a difference. He expected perfection."

---

The Marlins were literally called out during the last offseason for not properly spending the money they receive through revenue sharing. Major League Baseball, the Major League Baseball Players Association, and the Marlins issued a joint statement saying that owner Jeffrey Loria would begin to properly utilize the funds for the on-field product. A few days later, the Marlins singed right-hander Josh Johnson to a four-year, $39 million contract extension.

Rumors persisted throughout the winter that the MLBPA was also scrutinizing the Pirates, Athletics, and Padres to see if they were using their revenue-sharing dollars to improve their teams, which is written into the collective bargaining agreement between the union and owners. No other teams were publicly censured, but new MLBPA executive director Michael Weiner said there are some still under close scrutiny.

"There have been times where we've come close," Weiner said of public rebukes. "It has only happened in the Marlins' case, but there have been other instances where the situation has been resolved without needing to go public with it. Revenue sharing is something we're always concerned about."

Weiner was asked if he felt all 30 teams were trying to field winning teams since some are assured of making a profit for the fiscal year because of their revenue-sharing money and did not need to sell a ticket to finish in the black.

"My answer, in general, is yes," Weiner said. "However, some teams are trying harder to win than others."

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Home-field advantage went to the winner of the All-Star Game for the eighth straight year. The plan was hatched after the 2002 game in Milwaukee ended in a tie when the game was called after 11 innings because both teams ran out of players.

Selig likes the current setup very much. However, Weiner is not such a big fan.

"I know some people don't like 'This Time It Counts,' but I really believe it has brought a lot of luster back to the game," Selig said. "It had gotten to the point where the starters were playing three innings then coming out of the game and going home. Now, players are lined up on the top step of each dugout for the entire game. Guys are on the top step of the dugout for the whole game. They really care again and it's made the All-Star Game so much better."

Weiner, though, said most players would prefer a different system to determine home-field advantage in the World Series. The majority would like the team with the best record to be at home in Games One and Two, and Six and Seven if necessary, in the World Series. Weiner also said it will be a topic for negotiation when the CBA expires after next season.

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MLB Rumors and Rumblings: The Giants, Padres, and Rays are all interested in trading for outfielder Corey Hart, but he would prefer to stay with the Brewers. … The Padres have kicked around the idea of trading for Astros first baseman Lance Berkman and shifting him to left field but are more likely to sign free-agent outfielder Jermaine Dye. … The Cardinals are interested in trading for Blue Jays shortstop Alex Gonzalez. … The Cubs are reportedly open to trading anyone but starter Ryan Dempster, relievers Andrew Cashner and Carlos Marmol, catcher Geovany Soto, shortstop Starlin Castro, and center fielder Marlon Byrd. … The Marlins are not in selling mode despite being 10 games out in the National League East. … The Nationals are not interested in trading first baseman Adam Dunn and left fielder Josh Willingham, though both are generating interest. … Rangers left-hander Cliff Lee said a team's refusal to include a no-trade clause will be a deal breaker when he becomes a free agent in November after being dealt three times in the last year. … The Yankees are considering calling up Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre closer Jonathan Albaladejo to bolster their bullpen. … The Orioles are expected to hire Buck Showalter as manager by the beginning of next week.

---

Scouts' takes on various major-league players:

Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton: "No one ever seems to mention him in the conversation, but he is one of the most intimidating pitchers in the game with his size and the way he can overpower hitters. I just worry Joe Torre is going to blow him out because he doesn't trust anyone else in his bullpen."

Rangers first baseman Chris Davis: "I don't think the Rangers lose that much by trading (first baseman) Justin Smoak (to the Mariners for Lee) and playing Davis. Davis won't get on base as much as Smoak, but he'll hit more home runs."

Rockies left-hander Jeff Francis: "He hasn't looked the same after sitting out last year because of the shoulder surgery. He doesn't have command of his pitches, and he's not hitting his spots. If he doesn't have good command, he's not going to get a lot of guys out because he doesn't overpower people."

Brewers right fielder Corey Hart: "He had a nice first half, but check back with me at the end of the year. Let's see if he can do it for six months because consistency has never been his forte."

Blue Jays second baseman Aaron Hill: "It's hard to believe he could be so bad for more three months. The way he has struggled is one of the biggest surprises of the season for me. I thought he was on his way to being a star. Maybe getting some time off for the All-Star break will make a difference."

Angels left-hander Scott Kazmir: "His confidence is absolutely shot. He's pitching scared."

Red Sox outfielder Darnell McDonald: "He's finally showing why he was so highly regarded when he was coming up through the Orioles' farm system. He's got some power and good speed, and he's really saved the Red Sox with Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury hurting. Give the Red Sox credit because they've caught lightning in a bottle here."

Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia: "He's been pitching as well as he ever has over the last six weeks. He is throwing hard, real hard, and commanding all his pitches. He keeps pitching like this into October and it'll be hard not to see the Yankees winning it all again."

---

Three series to watch (all times Eastern):

Rangers (50-38) at Red Sox (51-37), Thursday-Sunday July 15-18
Tommy Hunter vs. Tim Wakefield, 7:10 p.m.; Colby Lewis vs. Clay Buchholz, 7:10 p.m.; Cliff Lee vs. John Lackey, 7:10 p.m.; C.J. Wilson vs. Jon Lester, 1:35 p.m.

Rays (54-34) at Yankees (56-32), Friday-Sunday July 16-18
James Shields vs. CC Sabathia, 7:05 p.m.; Jeff Niemann vs. A.J. Burnett, 4:10 p.m.; David Price vs. Andy Pettitte, 1:05 p.m.

Rockies (49-39) at Reds (49-41), Friday-Sunday July 16-18
Jason Hammel vs. Undecided, 7:10 p.m.; Jorge De La Rosa vs. Undecided, 7:10 p.m.; Aaron Cook vs. Undecided, 1:10 p.m.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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