Thursday, April 23, 2009

George Steinbrenner Biography - Book Review Pt. 1

George was never a dynasty builder, because he was incapable of leaving well enough alone. He was a compulsive meddler who had to be in complete control over every aspect of the organization, and his most detrimental flaw was that he always thought that because he had once been a coach, he knew more about the sport than his coaches."
--Peter Golenbock, from the new George Steinbrenner biography, (You might be surprised to learn that the above quote is actually referring to a then 30-year-old George Steinbrenner's time as owner of the Cleveland Pipers, a professional

The folks over Wiley Publishing were kind enough to send over a copy of George: The Poor Little Rich Boy Who Built The Yankee Empire for NSI to check out. Wiley has also been cool about allowing us to publish a few excerpts from the book on our site, which we'll do in the next couple of weeks in a multi-part series. In the first hundred pages, it'll become painfully obvious to readers that taking the reigns of the Yankees wasn't really a matter of choice for Big Stein; it was more like a matter of time.

The first couple of chapters drag a bit: remembering old Yankee Stadium and ushering in the age of The House That George Built. It also covers George's childhood with his very strict father, his adolescent years, and his transition from annoying spoiled rich kid to annoyingly-successful-but-still-spoiled richer adult. If you stick it out, you'll be rewarded with some expository writing that sketches an enigmatic egomaniac in the making. In the anecdote below, Golenbock describes an all too familiar-sounding George, who ran his teams in his own distinct way:
"The Pipers [the basketball team Steinbrenner owned from 1960-62] had a slim lead over the Pittsburgh Rens, led by Connie 'The Hawk' Hawkins, and Steinbrenner saw that the Rens had to play three games against Hawaii right at the end ... The Hawk was averaging forty-two points a game, except when he played against [Pipers' Center Dick Brott], who held the star to seventeen points a game. George ... traded Brott to Hawaii so he could help them beat Pittsburgh and give the Pipers the ... championship. Remarkably, it turned out just that way."
Stories like the ones George includes don't happen by accident. No stranger to sports biographies, Golenbock answers a lot of the questions that Yankee fans and Yankee detractors have had since he took over the team in 1973: What the hell is wrong with this guy? How did he get this way? Was he always like this? This last passage epitomizes the relationship between George and his father, Henry, in the days when George was working for his dad as described by family friend Patsy Stecher:
"The father ... took him into a room, gave him holy hell, and fired George. The next morning Geroge was going to get up real early and clean out his office so he could have one-upmanship on his father ... there was a knock at the door [at George and his wife Joan's house], and it was his father, who was carrying all the contents of his office desk. He dumped it all on their living room floor and left. His father beat him to it."
The book is in stores now. Love him or hate him, it's a good read at under 350 pages. You know how the story ends, but it might be cool to find out how it wound up there.
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