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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Yankee Owner George Steinbrenner Dead at 80

"The Boss" suffered a massive heart attack and died Tuesday morning



George Steinbrenner, the controversial but beloved "Boss" who turned around the Yankees franchise in 37 years of ownership, died this morning in Tampa, Fla., after suffering a massive heart attack.

Steinbrenner's family mourned the loss of a man they called "a visionary and a giant in the world of sports," who just celebrated his 80th birthday on July 4.

"He took a great but struggling franchise and turned it into a champion again," the family said in a statement released by spokesman Howard Rubenstein. "He was an incredible and charitable man. First and foremost he was devoted to his entire familygrandchildren."

Steinbrenner's micromanaging on the field and penchant for pursuing high-priced free agents -- and later taking a key role in escalating their salaries -- earned him a reputation as one of the most controversial figures in sports and made him beloved yet polarizing New York City legend.

For more than 30 years, Steinbrenner lived up to his billing as "the Boss," a nickname he earned and clearly enjoyed as he ruled with an iron fist. During Steinbrenner's 37-year ownership of the club, the longest tenure in Bronx Bombers' history, the Yankees won 7 World Series titles and 11 penants.

He was known for feuds, clashing with Yankees great Yogi Berra, and firing manager Billy Martin twice. But as his health declined, Steinbrenner let sons Hal and Hank run more of the family business.

Steinbrenner was in fragile health for years, resulting in fewer public appearances and pronouncements. Yet dressed in his trademark navy blue blazer and white turtleneck, he was the model of success: The Yankees won seven World Series titles after his reign began in 1973.

Steinbrenner’s tenure of more than 37 years exceeded that of any other New York Yankees owner by 13 years (Colonel Jacob Ruppert purchased the Yankees with Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston in January 1915, bought out Huston in 1922, and maintained sole ownership in the club until his death in January 1939—a total of 24 years). Since Steinbrenner became principal owner, the other 29 Major League clubs had more than 100 owners or ownership groups while the Yankees had just one.

He appeared at the new Yankee Stadium just four times: for the opener in April 2009, for the first two games of last year's World Series and for this year's homer opener, when captain Derek Jeter and manager Joe Girardi went to his suite and personally delivered his seventh World Series ring.

"He was very emotional," said Hal Steinbrenner, his father's successor as managing general partner.

Until the end, he demanded championships. He criticized Joe Torre during the 2007 playoffs, then let the popular manager leave after another loss in the opening round. The team responded last year by winning another title.

In addition to the team’s on-field success, the Yankees have consistently shattered franchise and league attendance records at home and on the road. In 2009, they drew 3,719,358 fans in their first season of play in Yankee Stadium, topping the American League in attendance for the seventh straight season (2003-09). Currently, the Yankees remain the only franchise in baseball history to draw more than 4 million fans at home in four consecutive seasons (2005-08).

Steinbrenner's death was the second in three days to rock the Yankees. Bob Sheppard, the team's revered public address announcer from 1951-07, died on Sunday at 99.

The Ohio-born executive leaves behind his wife of 54 years, Elizabeth Joan Zieg, and their four children -- Hank, Hal, Jessica and Jennifer.