It’s certainly been a crappy week for the Yankees organization. First, on Sunday, beloved PA announcer Bob Sheppard died at the age of 99; and this morning, owner George Steinbrenner was struck by a massive heart attack, dying at 80 years of age. However, as a fan of the Mets and of baseball in general, it’s very hard – if not impossible – to conjure the same feelings in remembering both men.
Sheppard, on the one hand, was a great man in his community, his church, his alma mater, St. John’s University, where he was a professor for years (along with being the longtime director of the speech department at John Adams High School). A celebration of his life is very well-deserved – from working with the people around him to the beauty in his voice, it seemed like he never did a bad thing – and, while I consider it difficult to mourn him greatly (I mean, he was 99, he lived a full life), it’s very easy to say “hail and farewell” to a great man in the history of both the Yankees and the football Giants, not to mention a great son of Queens County.
On the other hand, Steinbrenner was a very polarizing figure – and one Mets fans rarely think highly of. For all his family can say about him being a charitable man, it is important to remember that he was convicted of a federal felony and was suspended from baseball twice – with the second levied being a lifetime ban (though it only lasted three years). In the baseball world, he was reviled by managers everywhere for his frequent hiring and firing (even Yogi Berra, the lovable Yogi Berra, ended up in a feud with him that lasted almost thirty years), and he’s invariably one of the causes of the rising salaries through free agency.
Yet I was quite surprised when I saw how the news about Steinbrenner was covered on the different sports networks: the YES Network (for those who aren’t New Yorkers, that stands for the Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network) was mourning Steinbrenner, replaying the episode of Yankeeography that profiled him; ESPN was treating it as a major breaking news story, and dropped coverage of other events (though let’s face it, the “other event” hasn’t happened yet today, it’s the All-Star break); but when I changed to the MLB Network, I saw a replay from last night’s MLB Tonight, All-Star Edition – they didn’t even have the decency to interrupt their scheduled broadcasting for a news bulletin and ESPN-like coverage from their studios in Secaucus.
Look, Steinbrenner never struck me as a good man – certainly not as bad as Marge Schott, but certainly not as funny as Bill Veeck. But he was an incredibly influential figure in baseball history. Despite his many faults and faux pas, Steinbrenner deserves to be celebrated as much as Sheppard does.