Publish date:

When Big Stein Ruled the World

A Bronx beat man gets to the nitty-gritty of George Steinbrenner's growl

Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball

By Bill Madden (Harper)

George Steinbrenner is 79 now, ravaged by dementia and shielded at all costs from the public's view. In Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball, his definitive, indispensable new biography of the Yankees' owner, Bill Madden brings the George we knew fully back to life, in all his sociopathic (and even felonious) glory. Madden, who has covered baseball for New York's Daily News for 32 seasons, draws upon his extensive personal history with the Boss—as well as from more than 150 new interviews and the previously unmined tape-recorded diaries of former team president Gabe Paul—to paint a vivid and entertaining portrait of the marine-transport scion who, after he and a group of investors bought the club for $8.8 million in 1973, vowed, "I'll stick to building ships," and then did anything but. (Steinbrenner bought in for $168,000; the team, of which his family now owns 60%, is worth an estimated $1.5 billion.)

Madden devotes a mere 64 of his 428 pages to the Yankees' recent era of success, which began with the hiring of Joe Torre as manager in 1996. The book's meat—and it is juicy—concerns Steinbrenner's earlier years of ownership, during which he treated his employees like dogs (although he never seems to have fired a manager without immediately regretting it) and his wife even worse. ("Shut the f--- up, Joan," he'd often publicly bark at the mother of their four children, a woman he banned from his private dining room.) Perhaps the only person to escape his wrath was Barbara Walters, with whom Steinbrenner maintained a close friendship and, Madden suggests, possibly something more.

For Madden, Steinbrenner's Rosebud is his desperation to please his boss: his father, the unappeasable Henry. (In 1978, when Steinbrenner spent $300,000 to build the Henry G. Steinbrenner Stadium at MIT, Dad, an MIT grad, remarked to his son, a Williams alum: "That's the only way you'd ever get in this school.") "I have no doubt he'd have given up all his championship rings just to have gotten a hug and an 'I love you, son,' from the old man," a friend (unnamed) of Steinbrenner's tells the author. That hug never came, thus shaping the driven personality of an inimitable figure who, more than any other—through his embrace of free agency, through his creation of the fabulously profitable YES network, through his maniacal quest for victory—shaped the business of baseball into what it now is, for better or worse.