No Tears for George Steinbrenner

George Steinbrenner

Photo credit: Hazboy

Long before I moved to the Boston area in 1977 I had no love for the NY Yankees. Despite the fact that I grew up just a few blocks from Yankee Stadium, my family divided it’s loyalties between the Brooklyn Dodgers — the first team to break baseball’s color barrier — and the Giants (we would walk to the Polo Grounds to watch Willie Mays’ show off his amazing talents. To our working class sensibilities, the Yankees represented the ruling class of baseball, dominating the sport with the largest team payroll year after year, and displaying arrogance both on and off the diamond.

George Steinbrenner, who inherited his wealth from his father’s shipbuilding company and bought the team from CBS in the early 1970s with money from the family business, raised the level of pin-stripe hubris to new heights. In his first 17 seasons as owner, Steinbrenner hired and fired 17 managers; skipper Billy Martin was fired five times! His temper tantrums were legendary and his willingness to doggedly pursue free agents — the Kansas City Athletics were jokingly referred to as the Yankees’ farm team — ensured a steady stream of stars. Off the field, George’s antics included illegal contributions to Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign. Apparently, Steinbrenner had an affinity for employing seedy characters to bring down one’s enemies: he once hired gambler Howie Spiro to find dirt on on Dave Winfield, his own player, during contract negotiations.

While the Wall Street Journal eulogized Steinbrenner, praising his success in turning the Yankees “into a financial powerhouse,” they declined to mention that the wealthiest team in baseball received $362 million from New York City to build the lavish new stadium (New York State Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky, D-Westchester, said the taxpayers' tab for Yankee Stadium eventually will total $4 billion, including potential property tax revenue over 40 years given up in the deal). The promised benefits to the neighborhood that, due to the construction, lost their ball fields and parks — where I played as a kid — have still not been replaced as promised.

And, oh yes, George Steinbrenner died with an estate worth about $1.3 billion, not a penny of which will return to public coffers through an estate tax. Due to the tax cut package George Bush signed into law in 2001, the Estate Tax was phased out step-by-step until January 1, 2010 when it ceased to exist all together. George is the fourth billionaire in the US to die so far this year leaving all their vast wealth to their heirs and designees alone.

Fortunately, the tax cut law has a sunset provision which means that on January 1, 2011, the estate tax will be restored to its 2001 level. Of course, the folks who think the Great Recession is no reason not to push through even more tax cuts for the wealthy are fighting the sunset tooth and nail. So if like me, you think George born-with-a-silver-spoon-in-his-mouth Steinbrenner will not appear on your list of the top 10 human beings who passed in 2010, you might consider contacting your Senators and Representatives and telling them to restore a responsible estate tax in “honor” of the Yankee capitalist.

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