At baseball’s Winter Meetings on Sunday, the Today’s Game Era Committee met to consider the Hall of Fame worthiness of 10 candidates. Reliever Lee Smith was elected unanimously, and designated hitter Harold Baines also garnered the 12 votes required to gain admission. For the fourth time, iconic former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was denied enshrinement.
This year’s 16-member committee consisted of Hall of Famers Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven, Joe Morgan, Greg Maddux, Ozzie Smith, Tony La Russa, Joe Torre, Pat Gillick, and John Schuerholz; executives Jerry Reinsdorf, Paul Beeston, Al Avila, and Andy MacPhail; historian Steve Hirdt, and media members Tim Kurkjian and Claire Smith.
Suffice to say, none of the voters contributed more to the game of baseball or had a longer-lasting impact than Steinbrenner. Yet he inexplicably failed to muster as many as five votes from that group.
Lou Piniella — Steinbrenner’s former player and manager — fell one vote shy of induction. I love Sweet Lou, as a player and as a manager, but his Hall of Fame resume pales in comparison to Steinbrenner’s. The same goes for the two players who were elected.
Steinbrenner purchased the Yankees for $10 million in January of 1973, after the legendary brand bottomed out under the dismal CBS corporate ownership. Attendance at Yankee Stadium had sagged to 966,328 in 1972, a low-point not seen since World War II. The once proud franchise, one that had been perennial World Series participants for nearly a half-century, had just run its streak of October-less baseball to eight straight seasons.
The Boss began to make his lasting impact two winters later by signing Catfish Hunter — who had just become baseball’s first modern-day free agent after he won a grievance case against Athletics owner Charley Finley — to a record contract worth $3.35 million. Hunter’s case led to another, which effectively ended baseball’s reserve clause, and Steinbrenner responded by awarding another record contract to free agent Reggie Jackson. He followed by tendering yet another record deal to Dave Winfield in 1981.
Steinbrenner’s decision to aggressively utilize free agency to help rebuild the Yankees brand changed the game forever. His early foray into these uncharted waters, at a time when other owners remained resistant, forced them to follow suit.
His impact on free agency wasn’t Steinbrenner’s only legacy. He was the first MLB owner to sell cable television rights rights (to MSG Network), and later was the first to establish his own television brand (YES network). He also led the team to become more aggressive in tapping international talent, with other clubs ultimately following suit.
Then there was the winning. In his 37 seasons as principal owner of the Yankees, the team compiled a MLB-best .565 winning percentage, capturing 11 American League pennants and seven World Series championships in the process.
Only two owners in baseball history collected more titles than George. The Yankees won nine championships under Jacob Ruppert, and 10 under partners Dan Topping and Del Webb. Without question, no owner has made a bigger impact on the game in the last 50 years.
To add insult to injury, the Today’s Game Era Committee snubbed a man who had served as a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s Board of Directors until his death. Perhaps it’s time to put more knowledgeable people, like Reggie, on that committee.
“For George, I absolutely think he should be in the Hall of Fame,” Jackson told the New York Post. “It’s crazy that he is not in.”
Jackson cited Steinbrenner’s talent for fielding winning teams and his impact on the game. He also pointed to Steinbrenner’s community involvement and charitable giving. George’s countless acts of compassion and generosity have touched so many people.
It’s a crying shame that all those committee members who were personally enriched as an indirect result of Steinbrenner’s influence seem completely unaware, and didn’t even bother to research the candidates like so many BBWAA writers do when it’s time to vote every year. I sincerely hope that a future incarnation of the Veterans Committee will conduct a fair appraisal, and ultimately grant Mr. Steinbrenner his rightful place in Cooperstown.