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In memoriam: George Steinbrenner

George Steinbrenner, the passionate owner of the New York Yankees whose spats with players and coaches sometimes overshadowed his accomplishments in putting together winning teams and building successful businesses, passed away this morning at the age of 80. He had been ill for some time. UPDATED: Statements from Marv Goldklang, Bud Selig and other baseball notables.

George Steinbrenner, the passionate owner of the New York Yankees whose spats with players and coaches sometimes overshadowed his accomplishments in putting together winning teams and building successful businesses, passed away this morning at the age of 80. He had been ill for some time.

Steinbrenner passed away in Tampa, Fla., this morning at age 80. He is survived by wife, Joan; sisters Susan Norpell and Judy Kamm, children, Hank, Hal, Jennifer and Jessica; and his grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements will be private. There will be an additional public service with details to be announced at a later date.

At the time of his passing, Steinbrenner was celebrating his 37th anniversary as Principal Owner of the New York Yankees in 2010. Under his leadership, the Yankees became the most popular team in baseball and the most highly recognized sports brand in the world.

On January 3, 1973, a group of businessmen formed and led by Steinbrenner purchased the New York Yankees from CBS for a net price of $8.7 million. It took just five years for his aggressive leadership to turn the organization back into World Champions. In the 37 years he was Principal Owner of the club, the Yankees posted a Major League-best .566 winning percentage (3,364-2,583-3 record) while winning 11 American League pennants and seven World Championships (also the most in the majors).

In addition to the team’s on-field success, the New York 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 passion to win many times left him at odds with players and coaches; he had a love-hate relationship with Billy Martin (whom he hired five times), and superstars like Reggie Jackson and Dave Winfield. (Of Martin and Steinbrenner, Jackson had the best quote ever: “The two of them deserve each other. One’s a born liar; the other’s convicted.") That aggressive nature found its way into the political realm as well: he plead guilty to making illegal contributions to the reelection campaign of Richard M. Nixon, an offense that got him suspended from baseball for 15 months.

To deny Steinbrenner's impact on the game, though, is folly. When he bought the team from CBS, baseball was still a small-scale, family-run industry. He took advantage of the changing labor landscape in baseball by signing free agents to huge contracts, and he later created the YES Network as a way to pay for those contracts. For better or worse, Steinbrenner had a huge impact on the game of baseball.

More from The New York Times.

UPDATE: From Marv Goldklang, principal owner of four minor-league teams and a limited partner of the Yankees, said: “I am deeply saddened by the loss of my partner and friend. The game of Baseball, indeed all of sports, today lost one of its icons.  It is indeed a time for mourning and reflection, as we keep his family in our thoughts during the days ahead. While George’s name will forever be associated with the pride, tradition and success of the greatest sports organization in the world, he also was one of the most generous, sensitive and loyal people I have known. He will be greatly missed.”  

UPDATE: From MLB Commissioner Bud Selig: "On behalf of Baseball, I am very saddened by the passing this morning of George Steinbrenner. George was a giant of the game and his devotion to baseball was surpassed only by his devotion to his family and his beloved New York Yankees. He was and always will be as much of a New York Yankee as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and all of the other Yankee legends.

I have known George ever since he entered the game in 1972. He was my dear friend for nearly four decades. Although we would have disagreements over the years, they never interfered with our friendship and commitment to each other. Our friendship was built on loyalty and trust and it never wavered. We were allies and friends in the truest sense of the words.

My wife, Sue, and I pass on our deepest sympathies to the Steinbrenner family, to the New York Yankees and to all of his friends. We will miss him, especially tonight when the baseball family will be gathered at Angel Stadium for the All-Star Game."

From Fred Wilpon, Saul Katz and Jeff Wilpon of the New York Mets: "The passing of George Steinbrenner marks the end of an era in New York City baseball history. George was a larger-than-life figure and a force in the industry. The rise and success of his teams on the field and in the business marketplace under his leadership are a testament to his skill, drive and determination. All of us at the Mets send our deepest condolences to his wife Joan, his sons Hank and Hal, daughters Jennifer and Jessica, his grandchildren, and everyone at the Yankees organization."

From Cubs manager and former Yankee Lou Piniella: "George was like a father figure to me. He treated me well, he treated me fair and he gave me a wonderful opportunity to play and manage the game we all love. George will be remembered as one of the most influential and renowned owners of a franchise in sports history. He leaves a legacy of winning and an unwavering passion for success. My wife Anita and I send our heartfelt thoughts and prayers to the Steinbrenner family and the Yankees organization. George was very special to me and I loved him."

From Peter Angelos, owner of the Baltimore Orioles: "The Orioles are saddened to learn of the passing of George Steinbrenner. As an active participant in the organizational direction and operations of the New York Yankees, his name is as synonymous with that franchise as any of the legendary athletes who have played in pinstripes. On behalf of the Orioles organization, I extend my deepest condolences to his wife, Joan, and the members of his family."

From New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg: "Our hearts and prayers go out to the entire Steinbrenner family. This is a sad day not only for Yankee fans, but for our entire City, as few people have had a bigger impact on New York over the past four decades than George Steinbrenner. George had a deep love for New York, and his steely determination to succeed – combined with his deep respect and appreciation for talent and hard work – made him a quintessential New Yorker. George invested his heart and soul into the Yankees, and his competitive fire helped usher in new eras of Yankee greatness, reclaiming the team's long tradition of excellence and its position as the most successful franchise in the history of American sports. He was a champion who made New York a better place, and who always gave back to the city he loved. He has left an indelible legacy on the Yankees, on baseball, and on our city, and he leaves us in the only way that would be appropriate: as a reigning world champion. We will be lowering the flags in City Hall Plaza today in honor of his achievements. George was a larger-than-life New York figure whose passion and drive to succeed will forever be missed."

From Astros Chairman and CEO Drayton McLane: "I have known George Steinbrenner since we purchased the Astros in 1993. He was one of the few owners still involved today. He welcomed me as an owner and said that they were looking for new ideas, marketing, and leadership in Major League Baseball. Each time he was at an Owner's meeting, he went out of his way to extend his friendship, and he certainly made me feel at home."

"He built the Yankees into the preeminent team in MLB. Over the years, they have been consistently competitive and often World Champions. The new Yankee Stadium he built is one of the finest sports facilities in the world. He was truly a leader to be admired."

"We regret very much his passing, and our heartfelt condolences go out to his family and the New York Yankees. He will be missed."


From Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the White Sox: "George Steinbrenner was too complex a person to adequately describe in a short statement, but he was a great friend of mine and he will be missed. His impact on the game cannot be denied."

From Michael and Marian Ilitch (Michael Ilitch owns the Detroit Tigers and Michael and Marian Ilitch are co-owners of the Detroit Red Wings):

"We are saddened by the passing of George Steinbrenner and extend our condolences to the Steinbrenner family and the New York Yankees organization.

"George was a tremendous competitor. His passion for winning motivated all of us in baseball. When George took over the ballclub, he reinvented the Yankees. He did everything within his power to put a championship team on the field.

"George was personable, friendly and truly cared about his franchise and the fans. We always admired his drive to be the best."

From Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts: "My family and I are sad to learn of the passing of George Steinbrenner early this morning. He will be truly missed by players, fans and all of Major League Baseball. George will be remembered for the leader he was, the championships he brought into being and his many contributions to America's pastime. My family and all of Cubs Nation send our condolences to the Steinbrenner family, the Yankees and their fans." 

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