Yesterday George Steinbrenner died at the age of eighty. Steinbrenner was majority owner of the Yankees for over thirty-seven years. During that time, the Yankees won eleven American League championships and seven World Series. A controversial and commanding personality, Steinbrenner was probably one of two great Yankee owners. He also contributed greatly to the growth and commercial success of baseball through his ownership of the YES cable network.
I have been a Yankee fan since the early1970s and for many of the years I disliked Steinbrenner and his antics with managers and players. However, more recently I watched “The Bronx is Burning”, the ESPN series about the Yankees during the 1977 season. Oliver Platt’s portrayal of Steinbrenner was nuanced and empathetic. I appreciate the dedication and commitment Steinbrenner provided to making the Yankees the great team they are.
The other great Yankee owner was Jacob Ruppert. Ruppert created the Yankees through his purchase of Babe Ruth and building of Yankee Stadium. He was also a major figure in the brewing industry. Here is an excerpt from Brewing Battles about Ruppert’s death:
“On January 14, 1939, Jacob Rupert died at the age of 71. He had been sick since April, and his death was front-page news in New York. Besides Rupert’s family, Babe Ruth was the last person to see the Colonel.
When Ruth arrived at the Rupert apartment, the Colonel was in an oxygen tent, in which he had been placed at 4:30 o’clock. He was removed from his tent at 7:15 P.M., and the first thing he said, according to his nurse Ann McGill, was:
“I want to see the Babe.”
“Here he is, right beside you,” she said.
The dying man opened his eyes and reached out his hand to Ruth, but was
too weak to speak. Ruth patted his hand.
“Colonel,” he said, “you are going to snap out of this, and you and I are going to the opening game of the season.”
The Colonel smiled faintly but still could not talk. Ruth turned away and started to leave the room, but the Colonel summoned up his strength and called to him weakly. Ruth returned to the bedside, and the Colonel again held out his hand and murmured the one word “Babe.”
“It was the only time in his life he ever called me Babe to my face,” Ruth said after he heard the news of the Colonel’s death. “I couldn’t help crying when I went out. (New York Times January 14, 1939)
At the time of his death Ruppert had a wealth of more than $100 million. Descended from German immigrants, he had risen to the upper echelons of New York society. Much of his fortune was in real estate. His brewery holdings included Hell Gate brewery which he had purchased from the heirs of George Ehret in1935. Under his leadership the Yankees won ten American League pennants and seven World Series. After purchasing Babe Ruth from the Red Sox for $100,000 in 1919, he made him the highest paid baseball player for many years. Prominent honorary pallbearers at the funeral included Joe McCarthy, manager of the Yankees, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, former Governor Alfred E. Smith, Senator Robert F. Wagner, Julius Leibmann, President of Leibmann Brewery, Babe Ruth,Edward J. Schmidt, Philadelphia brewer, C.D. Williams, Secretary of the USBA, Lou Gehrig, representing the Yankees, and Rudolph J. Schaefer, President of F. & M. Schaefer Brewing Company.
Over 15,000 people attended the services at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. Among the mourners was a delegation of beer distributors from New England. Lou Gehrig expressed his condolences as follows, “His loss is a great one. He was one of the outstanding sportsmen of the era, and a most loyal friend.” Seven months later, the talented and durable first basemen would ceasse playing, a victim of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The Iron Horse declared himself “the luckiest man on the face of this earth.”