Where is Reggie Jackson? We need a Mr. October or a Mr. September. Winfield is Mr. May. My big guys are not coming through. The guys who are supposed to carry the team are not carrying the team. They aren't producing. If I don't get big performances out of Winfield, Griffey and Baylor, we can't win.— Steinbrenner to New York Times sportswriter Murray Chass.
Steinbrenner was born in Rocky River, Ohio, the only son of Rita (née Haley) and Henry George Steinbrenner II. His mother was an Irish immigrant who had changed her name from O'Haley to Haley. His Father was of German descent, and had been a world-class track and field Hurdler while at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, from which he graduated in engineering in 1927, first in his class and a distinguished scholar in Naval Architecture. The elder Steinbrenner later became a wealthy shipping magnate who ran the family firm operating freight ships hauling ore and grain on the Great Lakes. George III was named after his paternal grandfather, George Michael Steinbrenner II. Steinbrenner had two younger sisters, Susan and Judy. At age nine, the elder Steinbrenner staked George to a couple of hundred chickens, and he peddled hens and their eggs door to door. "I learned a lot about Business from raising chickens," he told Sports Illustrated. "Half of my customers began buying because they were afraid of me."
Steinbrenner entered Culver Military Academy, in Northern Indiana, in 1944, and graduated in 1948. He received his B.A. from Williams College in 1952. While at Williams, George was an average student who led an active extracurricular life. He was a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity. He was an accomplished Hurdler on the varsity track and field team, and served as Sports Editor of The Williams Record, played piano in the band, and played halfback on the football team in his senior year. He joined the United States Air Force after graduation, was commissioned a second lieutenant and was stationed at Lockbourne Air Force Base in Columbus, Ohio. Following honorable discharge in 1954, he did post-graduate study at The Ohio State University (1954–55), earning his master's degree in physical education.
While studying at Ohio State, he served as a graduate assistant to legendary Buckeye football coach Woody Hayes. The Buckeyes were undefeated national champions that year, and won the Rose Bowl. Steinbrenner served as an assistant football coach at Northwestern University in 1955, and at Purdue University from 1956 to 1957.
He met his wife-to-be, Elizabeth Joan (pronounced Jo-Ann) Zieg, in Columbus, and married her on May 12, 1956. The couple had two sons, Hank and Hal, and two daughters, Jessica Steinbrenner and Jennifer Steinbrenner-Swindal.
Steinbrenner joined Kinsman Marine Transit Company in 1957, the Great Lakes shipping company that his great-grandfather Henry had purchased in 1901 from The Minch Transit Company, which was owned by a family relation, and renamed. Steinbrenner worked hard to successfully revitalize the company, which was suffering hardship during difficult market conditions. In its return to profitability, Kinsman emphasized grain shipments over ore. A few years later, with the help of a loan from a New York bank, Steinbrenner purchased the company from his family. He later became part of a group that purchased the American Shipbuilding Company, and, in 1967, he became its chairman and chief executive officer. By 1972, the company's gross sales were more than $100 million annually.
In 1960, against his father's wishes, Steinbrenner entered the Sports franchise Business for the first time with basketball's Cleveland Pipers, of the American Basketball League (ABL). Steinbrenner had hired John McClendon, who became the first African American coach in professional basketball and persuaded Jerry Lucas to join his team instead of the rival National Basketball Association. The Pipers switched to the new professional ABL in 1961; the new circuit was founded by Abe Saperstein, owner of the Harlem Globetrotters. The league and its teams experienced financial problems, and McClendon resigned in protest halfway through the season; however, the Pipers had won the first half of a split season. Steinbrenner replaced McClendon with former Boston Celtics star Bill Sharman, and the Pipers won the ABL championship in 1961-62. The ABL folded in December 1962, just months into its second season. Steinbrenner and his partners lost significant money on the venture, but Steinbrenner paid off all of his creditors and partners over the next few years.
The Yankees had been struggling during their years under CBS ownership, which had acquired the team in 1965. In 1972, CBS Chairman william S. Paley told team President E. Michael Burke the media company intended to sell the club. As Burke later told Writer Roger Kahn, Paley offered to sell the franchise to Burke if he could find financial backing. Steinbrenner, who had participated in a failed attempt to buy the Cleveland Indians from Vernon Stouffer one year earlier, was brought together with Burke by veteran baseball executive Gabe Paul.
With his burgeoning Sports aspirations put on hold, Steinbrenner turned his attention to the theatre. His involvement with Broadway began with a short-lived 1967 play, The Ninety Day Mistress, in which he partnered with another rookie Producer, James Nederlander. Whereas Nederlander threw himself into his family's Business full-time, Steinbrenner invested in a mere half-dozen shows, including the 1974 Tony Award nominee for Best Musical, Seesaw, and the 1988 Peter Allen flop, Legs Diamond.
George Steinbrenner was involved with thoroughbred horse racing from the early 1970s. He owned Kinsman Stud Farm in Ocala, Florida and raced under the name Kinsman Stable.
Steinbrenner had a reputation as a domineering boss. Only three Yankee employees were continuously employed from the start of Steinbrenner's ownership in 1973 until the end of his tenure. One of those is long time Head Athletic Trainer Gene Monahan, who in 2010 missed his first spring training in 48 years after being diagnosed with cancer.
The "convicted" part of Billy Martin's famous 1978 "liar and convicted" comment referred to Steinbrenner's connection to Richard Nixon; in 1974, Steinbrenner pleaded guilty to making illegal contributions to Nixon's re-election campaign, and to a felony charge of obstruction of justice. He was personally fined $15,000 and his company was assessed an additional $20,000. On November 27 of that year, MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn suspended him for two years, but later commuted it to fifteen months. Ronald Reagan pardoned Steinbrenner in January 1989, one of the final acts of his presidency.
After the 1980 season, Steinbrenner made headlines by signing Dave Winfield to a 10-year, $23 million contract, making Winfield baseball's highest-paid player. In 1985, Steinbrenner derided Winfield's poor performance in a key September series against the Toronto Blue Jays:
This criticism eventually became somewhat of an anachronism, as many believed Steinbrenner made the statement following the 1981 World Series. Part of that comment later led Ken Griffey Jr. to list the Yankees as one team for which he would never play.
Steinbrenner gave to many charitable causes. In 1982, George, "while attending the funeral of a police officer killed in the line of duty, was deeply moved by the ceremony in which the American flag was folded military-style and presented to the officer's surviving spouse and young children". "He was concerned about their education and who would help with the cost, so he established the Silver Shield Foundation," said Foundation's Co-Founder James E. Fuchs, a close friend of Mr. Steinbrenner's. He often donated to the families of fallen police officers in the Tampa Police Department and the New York City Police Department in addition to college scholarships for many poor children.
In 1983, at Steinbrenner's behest, Yankee coach Yogi Berra ordered Goose Gossage to remove a beard he was growing. Gossage responded by shaving away the beard but leaving a thick exaggerated mustache extending down the upper lip to the jaw line, a look Gossage still Sports to this day.
Harvey Greene, the Yankees' Director of Media Relations from 1986–1989, talked about the experience of working under Steinbrenner:
He hosted Saturday Night Live on October 20, 1990 at the same time his former outfielder and Yankee manager, Lou Piniella, led the Cincinnati Reds to a World Championship. In the opening Sketch, he dreamt of a Yankees team managed, coached, and entirely played by himself. In other sketches, he chews out the SNL "writing staff" (notably including Al Franken) for featuring him in a mock Slim Fast commercial with other ruthless Leaders such as Saddam Hussein and Idi Amin and plays a folksy convenience store manager whose Business ethic is virtually the complete opposite of that of the real Steinbrenner.
He appeared as himself in the Albert Brooks comedy The Scout. In 1991, he played himself in Sports, with Farrah Fawcett and Ryan O'Neal.on YouTube of Good
During the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, Steinbrenner comforted United States Olympic Swimming medalist Ron Karnaugh through his father's death and maintained a relationship with him until his death. At his residence in Tampa, Steinbrenner supported numerous individuals and charities including the Boys and Girls Club as well as the Salvation Army. Mel Stottlemyre recalled that during his myeloma cancer treatment at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital he had mentioned in passing to Steinbrenner how he regretted not being able to watch Yankee games from his room. Stottlemyre heard that Steinbrenner went all the way to Mayor Rudy Giuliani to ensure he was able to watch the broadcasts from his room. Steinbrenner had also donated $1 million to St. Joseph's Children's Hospital where a wing was named in his honor.
Steinbrenner was reinstated in 1993. Unlike past years, he was somewhat less inclined to interfere in the Yankees' baseball operations. He left day-to-day baseball matters in the hands of Gene Michael and other executives, and allowed promising farm-system players such as Bernie Williams to develop instead of trading them for established players. Steinbrenner's having "got religion" (in the words of New York Daily News reporter Bill Madden) paid off. After contending only briefly two years earlier, the 1993 Yankees were in the American League East race with the eventual champion Toronto Blue Jays until September.
In the 1994 computer game Superhero League of Hoboken, one of the schemes of the primary antagonist, Dr. Entropy, is to resurrect George Steinbrenner to bring chaos to the world and rule together. The superheroes foil his plan by resurrecting Billy Martin.
In 1995 the team returned to the playoffs for the first time since 1981, and in 1996, they beat the Atlanta Braves in six games to win the World Series. They went on to Series wins in 1998, 1999, and 2000, and fell short of a fourth straight title in 2001 with a seventh-game loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
In 2001, Winfield cited the Steinbrenner animosity as a factor in his decision to enter the Hall of Fame as a representative of his first team, the San Diego Padres, rather than the team that brought him national recognition, the Yankees.
At the funeral of his long-time friend Otto Graham in December 2003, Steinbrenner fainted, leading to extensive media speculation that he was in ill health.
After a public chastising of Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter for "partying too much", the two appeared in a Visa commercial club-hopping. A 2004 Visa commercial depicted Steinbrenner in the trainer's room at Yankee Stadium, suffering from an arm injury, unable to sign any checks, including that of his then-current manager Joe Torre, who spends most of the commercial treating Steinbrenner as if he were an important player.
Steinbrenner also was a fan of professional wrestling. He wrote the foreword of the 2005 Dusty Rhodes autobiography and was a regular at old Tampa Armory cards in the 1970s and 1980s. In March 1989, he appeared in the front row of the WWF's Saturday Night's Main Event broadcast, even interacting with manager Bobby "The Brain" Heenan at one point (Heenan remarked about the guy he managed in the ring at the time to Steinbrenner "I've got a ring full of Winfield"). In December 1990, Steinbrenner made another appearance on WWF TV in the front row during a Superstars of Wrestling TV taping held in Tampa's SunDome. Once again he interacted with Heenan and the Wrestler he was managing at the time Curt Hennig. At WWF WrestleMania 7, Steinbrenner, WWF owner Vince McMahon, and NFL announcer Paul Maguire filmed a skit with the trio debating instant replay. He was also present in the front row of an edition of WCW Monday Nitro in 1996, and in the front row of another edition as well early 1998, when the event took place in Tampa.
From 2006 to his death, George Steinbrenner spent most of his time in Tampa, Florida. After the 2007 season and the decision not to bring back manager Joe Torre, Steinbrenner was in poor enough health that he officially retired and handed control of the Yankees to his sons Hank and Hal Steinbrenner. Hank in particular shows similar traits to his Father.
After ceding day-to-day control of the team, Steinbrenner made few public appearances and gave no interviews. Associates and family members refused to comment on rampant speculation concerning his declining health, specifically rumors that he was suffering from Alzheimer's disease. A 2007 interviewer said: "He doesn’t look all right. In fact, he looks dreadful. His body is bloated; his jawline has slackened into a triple chin; his skin looks as if a dry-cleaner bag has been stretched over it. Steinbrenner’s face, pale and swollen, has a curiously undefined look. His features seem frozen in a permanent rictus of careworn disbelief." The Yankees went to great lengths to prevent anyone outside Steinbrenner's immediate family and closest Business associates from speaking to him, or even getting a glimpse of him on the rare occasions when he made an appearance at Yankee Stadium. Temporary curtains were set up to block views of his entry and exit routes, and no one was allowed near the vehicles transporting him. The press elevator carrying media members downstairs to the interview areas were shut down before he arrived, and again toward the end of the game while he departed.
Steinbrenner made a rare appearance in the Bronx on the field for the 79th All-Star Game on July 15, 2008. Wearing dark glasses, he walked slowly into the stadium's media entrance with the aid of several companions, leaning upon one of them for support. He later was driven out on to the field along with his son Hal at the end of the lengthy pre-game ceremony in which the All-Stars were introduced at their fielding positions along with 49 of the 63 living Hall of Famers.
George Steinbrenner's estimated net worth was $1.15 billion in 2009 according to the Forbes 400 List in Forbes magazine issued in September 2009.
Jerry Seinfeld said after Steinbrenner's death: “Who else could be a memorable character on a television show without actually appearing on the show? You felt George even though he wasn’t there. That’s how huge a force of personality he was."