The National Baseball Hall of Fame serves to preserve the history of the game through artifacts and plaques of the best figures in baseball history. It is hard to tell the history of baseball without mentioning the name George Steinbrenner. Yet, the former owner remains out of the Hall.
A committee of 16 veteran players, executives, and others released the results of the Today’s Game Ballot on Sunday. This vote, independent of the BBWAA vote to be announced in January, voted on ten players, coaches, and executives from the period of 1988 through current day. Harold Baines and Lee Smith received induction but Steinbrenner did not, receiving less then five votes.
Results of the Today’s Game Era Ballot (12 votes needed for election): Lee Smith (16 votes, 100%); Harold Baines (12 votes, 75 percent); Lou Piniella (11 votes, 68.8%); Albert Belle, Joe Carter, Will Clark, Orel Hershiser, Davey Johnson, Charlie Manuel and George Steinbrenner < 5
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 10, 2018
It is not to say that Baines and Smith are not deserving of enshrinement in Cooperstown. Their candidacies are a separate conversation. It is bizarre, though, that such a polarizing figure in Steinbrenner will not be inducted in 2019.
George Steinbrenner Belongs in the Hall of Fame
The game of baseball, as it operates today, is heavily impacted by free agency. Steinbrenner had a profound impact in shaping the role of free agency in Major League Baseball.
Being the first owner to embrace free agency, he lured a plethora of great players to don the pinstripes. The likes of Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield, and Wade Boggs, all Hall of Fame inductees. He also brought in All-Stars such as Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield. Free agency now stands as the primary means of finishing a team that looks to take the next step competitively.
The economics of this open market has also resulted in an exponential increase in the salary of the players thanks to bidding wars or the threat thereof. Steinbrenner made Catfish Hunter the game’s first million-dollar man once he hit free agency. Since that signing, players have received long-term contracts worth $100 million and more in free agency.
This does not happen if a man like Steinbrenner does not embrace free agency. If not for his actions, the players do not earn the caliber of money which they currently do, and there would be a stark difference in terms of organizational outlook in the game.
Arguably the two highest priorities for any sports owners are winning and remaining profitable.
Since Steinbrenner bought the New York Yankees in 1973, off a prolonged stretch of futility, the Yankees have won seven World Series titles. Not only is that the most titles since he purchased the team, it is more than 25 other franchises have in history.
He bought the franchise for $8.7 million, and they were valued at $1.6 billion when he passed away in 2010. With his family still at the helm, the team is valued over $4 billion.
In an effort to grow the organization financially, Steinbrenner oversaw the launch of the YES Network, making the Yankees the first organization with their own network. Since then, many teams have followed suit in order to bring in revenue to allocate towards their players.
One qualm to Steinbrenner’s legacy is his two suspensions by Major League Baseball. His suspensions were the result of making illegal contributions to Richard Nixon’s reelection campaign and working with gamblers to spy on Dave Winfield.
The Hall of Fame likes to uphold a standard of quality human beings in their inductees. These two suspensions certainly indicate flaws in Steinbrenner’s character but they are not the end all, be all. Steinbrenner was known for his charitable efforts and looked to do good when and wherever possible.
There are also various men in the Hall of Fame with character flaws. Ty Cobb was an alleged racist. Babe Ruth was a womanizer. Mickey Mantle was an alcoholic who played ball during the day and hit the bars at night.
These men all had flaws yet were still elected due to their overwhelmingly significant impact on the game. George Steinbrenner has had the same impact, in terms of executives.
It should also be mentioned that Steinbrenner had his punishments lifted. He is not listed as one who is banned from the game for life. That, along with all the good he did during his life, should be a strong indicator that he, ultimately, was a man of good character in addition to a dynamic owner.
One other issue with Steinbrenner’s time at the helm occurred during 1982-1994. During this time, some felt he took the Yankees organization and wrecked it. His desire to win every year grew so strong that he fine tuned whenever possible, even for worse.
Steinbrenner fired 21 managers, including famously hiring and firing Billy Martin five times. Considering Joe Torre managed 12 seasons, 21 manager firings in 37 seasons prior to his death is remarkable. As a result, the Yankees did not make the playoffs during that stretch.
While this looks bad, there is a silver lining to it all. The Yankees always had great players and they won more games in the 1980s than any other franchise. The playoff format at the time only called for two playoff teams in each league. In today’s format, the Yankees would have made the playoffs most years during that stretch.
The team did not perform to his expectations although they still did a lot of winning during this stretch up until the early 1990s. That being said, Gene Michael took over after his second suspension, but Steinbrenner was reinstated and the managing general partner when the team won four World Series titles in five years and seven pennants in nine years.
George Steinbrenner’s lack of inclusion in Cooperstown is completely asinine. The man had such a significantly profound impact on a game that had already been around for a century when he bought the Yankees.
He has his flaws, but so does almost everyone in the Hall of Fame. If not for Steinbrenner, free agency would not be a prominent means to build a team. This means that teams would have a completely different ideology in acquiring talent and players would not make nearly as much money as they do on the open market.
He opened up the league to different revenue streams by means of television networks. His ideologies made the most successful franchise in professional sports even more successful and valuable, coming off a low point in its history.
All things considered, George Steinbrenner should be in the Hall of Fame, and one can only hope that his day comes sooner rather than later.
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