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Yankees Owner George Steinbrenner Dead at 80

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“I will never have a heart attack,” George Steinbrenner once said. “I give them.” No one claimed him as an oracle.

At 6:30 am EDT after suffering a massive heart attack, New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner passed away at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa, FL at the age of 80. Say what you will about his sometimes tempestuous relationship to his players, managers and employees, but there is no way anyone can accuse him of not wanting to win.

“Winning is the most important thing in my life after breathing,” Steinbrenner once said. “Breathing first, winning next.”

Since purchasing the Yankees from CBS for $8.7 million on January 3, 1973 the Yankees have won seven World Series in 11 appearances. Despite being a staunch opponent to free agency, he was the first to embrace it in a big way by signing James “Catfish” Hunter to the first multi-million dollar contract worth $3.25 million for five years which included a $1 million signing bonus and a $150,000 annual salary.

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After promising to be a hands-off owner and sticking to ship building, he quickly reneged. Most notably he changed managers 20 times in his first 23 seasons of ownership including hiring and firing Billy Martin five times and Lou Piniella twice. His overspending and depleting of the farm system led to an awful decade of the 1980s. It wasn’t until he was suspended by MLB Commissioner Fay Vincent in 1990 for paying a small-time gambler to dig up dirt on Dave Winfield that the organization was able to develop a farm system. When reinstated in 1993 he decided to allow baseball matters to be handled by general manager Gene Michael and other baseball men. That led to the Yankees greatest days since the 1950s when they won four World Series from 1996 to 2000.

To a fault Steinbrenner boasted that every penny the Yankees earned was reinvested into the organization. While some owners can boast a multi-million dollar laundry home while forcing their general manager to find creative ways to lure players in at the trading deadline, Steinbrenner always strove for a dominant team on the field, money be damned. Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Winfield, Don Mattingly, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Roger Clemens, David Wells, the list goes on.

He was not without fault: illegal contributions to Richard Nixon’s 1972 presidential campaign that got him suspended from baseball for 15 months though he was pardoned by President Ronald Reagan in 1989; the Dave Winfield incident; lying about getting into a fight in a hotel elevator with a Dodger fan during the 1981 World Series to motivate his team.

But above all else he wanted to win. With the most World Series wins since 1973 and the best win percentage in the Major Leagues (3,364-2,583,-3) in that time span, it’s undeniable that he did just that.

Steinbrenner is survived by his wife Joan, sisters Susan Norpell and Judy Kamm, and children Hank, Hal, Jennifer and Jessica. Funeral arrangement will be private while an additional public service will be announced later.

You can read more on our mother site Gothamist.