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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Basic Biittner: Why George is George

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

It's no secret that I am a life-long, die hard fan of the World Champion New York Yankees. And when I say "life-long," I'm not exaggerating by much. I will be 60 years old in a few months, and I've been a Yankee fan since I was five years old.

The reasons that I became I Yankee fan, even though I grew up far from the Bronx, are quite simple.

Number one - From the time I was 5 years old until I turned 15 - my so-called formative years - the Yankees won the A.L. pennant nine of eleven years. In four of those nine pennant-winning seasons, they also won the World Series, and four of their five World Series losses went the seven-game limit.

Number two - Because they won (almost) all the time, they were very often one of the teams on television's Saturday Game Of the Week (yes, there was only one network on which to catch one game per week in the "olden" days). And one of those televised games was inevitably the annual Yankees "Old Timer's Game," at which we young pups were regaled with glimpses of, and stories about, the many Yankee legends of yesteryear, like Tommy Henrich, Red Ruffing,Lefty Gomez and, of course, the Yankee Clipper, Joltin' Joe DiMaggio. And of course, the widows of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were in the stands.

On top of all that, some of the games' most interesting and/or exciting players were Yankees - Casey Stengel, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, and, of course, "The Mick." It was hard NOT to become a Yankee fan. In fact, the result of all this "Yankee this, Yankee that" stuff was that if you were a baseball fan, you either became a Yankee lover or Yankee hater. And it's still that way today, even though the Yankees have gone through a couple of fairly long "low" periods, from 1965 - 1975 and then again from 1982 - 1996.

The 1965 - 1975 period came to an end after George Steinbrenner, a shipping magnate from Cleveland, bought controlling interest in the struggling franchise from CBS in 1973. It didn't take long for the gung-ho, blustering Steinbrenner to take charge, spend money, and put the Yankees back where they belonged - in the World Series. George was everywhere in those days, but in recent years he's been in ill health and seldom leaves his Tampa home to travel to New York and watch his beloved Yankees. A few years ago, he turned over the day-to-day handling of the Yankees to his sons, Hank and Hal.

Where is all this going, you may ask? Well, in my usual roundabout way, I'm here to announce to all you readers that I may have accidentally discovered the reason behind George Steinbrenner's seeming need to "win at all costs," and accept nothing less than a World Championship - anything else is unacceptable to George.

Here's what I discovered recently ,,, and it MAY have played some role in George Steinbrenner's "win or else" lifestyle. Please note, though, that the following is just a (half-baked) theory I have.

While looking through a book about the 1975 wreck of the freighter Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior (also known as Gitchee Guumee), I discovered that the Fitzgerald (immortalized in song the next year by Gordon Lightfoot) was the first ship to sink on (in?) Lake Superior since May 11,1953, when the 427-foot iron ore carrier Henry Steinbrenner went down, with seventeen lives lost. Unlike the Fitzgerald, where all 29 sailors aboard perished,there were 14 crewman rescued in the Steinbrenner wreck.

If you've been following along, you'll remember that I wrote that George Steinbrenner was in the shipping business in Cleveland. Cleveland is located on Lake Erie, the southernmost of the Great Lakes. Lake Superior is the northernmost of the Great Lakes. It stands to reason, I figured, that the Steinbrenners may have been involved in the shipping industry on those Great Lakes. In fact, The American Ship Building Company, purchased by the Steinbrenner family in the early 1960s. was the dominant shipbuilder on the Great Lakes before the Second World War.

Since building ships was what the Steinbrenner family did (they owned another shipbuilding company before American), it stands to reason that they were probably responsible for naming some of the ships, too. George's father was Henry Steinbrenner II (an Olympic hurdler in 1928, by the way), so I am guessing that his father was most likely also named Henry, and is probably the man for whom the ill-fated ship Henry Steinbrenner was named.

My theory is that young George was embarrassed by the fact that a ship named after his grandfather (and possibly built by the family company) might end up being known as the last ship to sink on Lake Superior, and was determined that he was not going to "sink" in his professional life, and that he would be the best at whatever he did - no matter what it took - and thus salvage the family name and pride.

There you have my half-baked theory. Throw in the fact that current Yankee executive Hank Steinbrenner's given name is Henry, and the Steinbrenner story may have come full circle, following the Bronx Bombers' first World Championship in ten years last season.

Oh, by the way, the Steinbrenner - owned Yankees won their first pennant in 1976 - the first baseball season after the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

I'm generally not a proponent of "Conspiracy Theory," but ...

Dan Whitney
Basic Biittner