Publish date:

Before the Zoo There Was a Coop As a lad the Boss raised chickens, and that's no yolk

Sports Illustrated: As a kid in Ohio, you owned chickens in what
may have been the first Rotisserie League.

George Steinbrenner: When I was nine, my family moved to a small
gentleman-type farm in Bay Village. My dad staked me to a couple
of hundred chickens, and I peddled hens and their eggs door to

SI: You don't seem the type to keep all your eggs in one basket.

GS: I learned a lot about business from raising chickens. Half of
my customers began buying because they were afraid of me.

SI: Afraid?

GS: Afraid that if they said no to me, my feelings would be hurt.

SI: How about now? Do rival baseball-team owners ever consider
your feelings while making deals with you?

GS: I wouldn't equate baseball with the chicken industry.

SI: Did you sell your business for more than chicken feed?

GS: At 13 I left home for military school. I sold my company to
my two younger sisters before they had a chance to know what they
were buying. They've never liked me since.

SI: What did you get for it?

GS: More than it was worth.

SI: Which breeds did you raise?

GS: Wyandottes, Cochins, leghorns, Plymouth Rocks....

SI: Were the Rocks gray with black bars--sort of pinstriped?

GS: Yes, but that's not why I bought the Yankees, if that's what
you're after. No way. Not at all.

SI: We can't vouch for their SAT scores, but leghorns are
regarded by people who know their chickens as the smartest breed.

GS: If there is such a thing as a smart chicken, you might be
right. Chickens are not very smart. I hate to call them dumb, but
they're about as close as you can get.

SI: Infielders and chickens both like to scratch in the dirt. Can
you think of anything else ballplayers and barnyard fowl have in

GS: I can honestly say no.

SI: If Luis Polonia is the Yankees' plucky bantam, who's the

GS: Don't get me into that.

SI: You love to light fires under underachieving players. Did you
put unproductive hens on the griddle, too?

GS: You're really stretching. I have always believed, but not
from chickens, that all people have a little more in them than
they believe they have. I try to find ways to get that out.

SI: How did you whack your chickens?

GS: Two ways: I'd either hit them with an axe and cut their heads
off, or slit their throats and drain their blood by hanging them
by their feet. Neither was pleasant for me at all.

SI: We suppose neither is an option when the Yankees bullpen
blows a late-inning lead.

GS: Let me make this very clear: There's no connection between
poultry and my players or my team.

SI: In the thick of a pennant race, don't you tell players not to
count their chickens before they hatch?

GS: I don't think any agricultural animal understands winning,
except maybe racehorses. Certainly cows don't. Certainly chickens
don't. Maybe survival, but not competition.

SI: You once compared pitcher Hideki Irabu to a toad. Ever
likened one of your players to a chicken?

GS: Everyone has his own level of courage, tolerance and pain.
I'd never call any player a chicken.

SI: How about Chicken Stanley, a Yankees shortstop in the '70s?

GS: Fred Stanley came to the team with that name, and he was
anything but chicken. I'd take a guy with Chicken Stanley's heart
any day.

--Franz Lidz