The book: “George: The Poor Little Rich Boy Who Built the Yankee Empire”
The author: Peter Golenbock
How to find it: Wiley, John and Sons, 384 pages, $26.95
The scoop: If only to read up on what kind of stuff Joe Torre had to put up with during his days as the Yankees manager — including the insertion of Derek Jeter as the opening day shortstop in 1996 over the Boss’ objections — then here’s the latest, and probably last, book written on King George.
Granted, it’s a lot of things that are rehashed a bit from previous books on Steinbrenner, including one last year we reviewed, “The Ballad of Billy and George: The Tempestuous Baseball Marriage of Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner” by Phil Pepe. Although that book isn’t one of the 21 books that are in the bibliography of material on page 353.
Goldenbock’s approach is almost with a language that tries to match Steinbrenner’s rough and ready personna. Yet he also tries to put a more human side on the egomanical owner, something maybe other books or ESPN docudramas weren’t so generous in trying to spin.
Goldenbock, in fact, spends five pages in Chapter 24 reviewing all the eposides of “Seinfeld” when George Costanza (Jason Alexander) decided to go work for Steinbrenner, which ended in a lot of spoofing during a time when the Steinbrenner image took a beating after his suspension for the Howie Spira mess.
“Yankees fans laughed so hard their sides split,” Goldenbock said of those “Seinfeld” episodes. “…The real George Steinbrenner took such a lampooning and was made to look so ridiculous and crazy that viewers began to think that the real George Steinbrenner must be a pretty good guy after all to be able to take all that abuse in good spirits.”
Did he? We don’t know from reading this.
We do know that Steinbrenner did have more “Seinfeld” moments, such as the spring of ’96, when he tried to move a college game on field 1 of the Yankees’ spring complex in Tampa over to field 2.
“George, seeing the game was on the wrong diamond, ordered one of his executives to go down to field 1 and move the game over to field 2, even though the game was in the fourth inning. When the executive demurred, George said, ‘I don’t want to hear that bullshit. I own this f–ing complex, and it’s my field and I’m telling you to get them off the field.’
” ‘But Mr. Steinbrenner,’ the executive said, ‘you got parents out there and scouts …’
” ‘Well, since you don’t have the guts to do it, I will.’
“And he did. George walked with the executive to the field. The first college kid he confronted was warming up in the bullpen.
” ‘Hey you,’ George yelled. The kid just looked around. ‘Hey,’ George yelled, ‘get the f— off my pitcher’s mound.’
” ‘I’m sorry, sir,’ said the player, ‘but my coach told me to warm up here.’
” ‘Do you know who I am?’
” ‘ No, sir, I don’t.’
” ‘You don’t know who I am?’
“Not being recognized was enough to drive Steinbrenner over the bend.
” ‘You don’t know who the f— I am?’ he screamed. ‘I’ll tell you who the f— I am, you snot-nosed little f—. I’m George f—ing Steinbrenner, and I own this place, and I want you to get the f— off my mound.’
“Everyone, meanwhile — the parents, scouts, players, coaches, fans — was watching. George then ordered the executive to walk over to the Hillsborough College coach, who explained to them that field 2 was being seeded and that he had been asked by the grounds crew to play on field 1. When the executive told that to George, he lost it completely.
“Steinbrenner marched right into the grounds crew room, where four guys were playing cards and having coffee, waiting for the game to end so they could get diamond 1 ready again.
” ‘Who’s in charge here?’ George asked.
” I am, sir,’ one of them said.
” ‘Then you … are f—ing fired. Get the f— out of here.’
“George turned to the executive and said, ‘See, that’s how it’s done.’ “
Meanwhile, Steinbrenner’s track record for helping things such as Junior Olympics, the Police Athletic League, the Catholic Youth Organization … foundations, charity events, picking those less fortunate off the street and giving them jobs. It’s phenomenal as well.
Goldenbock uses the last three full pages of the book allowing Dick Greco, a four-term mayor of Tampa, Fla., to wax on about Steinbrenner’s accomplishments, starting on page 343 and ending with this on 346: “He’s a many faceted person and a very good friend. You can’t mention the game of baseball without mentioning George Steinbrenner. He created a persona for baseball and probably helped make baseball what it is. People expect him to be out front, making noise, raising hell, whether you win or lose. You don’t see that a lot. There will probably never be someone like George Steinbrenner ever again.”
Maybe that’s good.
How it goes down in the scorebook: It doesn’t matter. Steinbrenner would change it to whatever he wanted anyway.
Further reading: How about “101 Reasons to Hate George Steinbrenner,” written back in 1997 by Brandon Toropov (linked here). It’s not in Goldenbock’s biblography, either. Amazon.com says you can find nine used versions of this as low as 1 penny.