Inevitably, the obituaries for George Steinbrenner will mention his conviction for violating the campaign-finance laws in order to contribute to Richard Nixon's re-election effort in 1972. I always went easy on Steinbrenner on the Nixon thing because, if you read Jimmy Breslin's Watergate book (How The Good Guys Finally Won), Tip O'Neill tells Breslin that Steinbrenner -- who heretofore had been a big Democratic donor -- had told him (Tip) that he'd only made the illegal contributions because Maurice Stans blackjacked him with a threat to sic the IRS on Steinbrenner's shipping company. Given what we now know about the Nixon thuggery that suffused the the '72 election, I found that story extremely plausible.
Whatever you may think of him, it is impossible to imagine baseball over the past 40 years without George Steinbrenner. The game simply wouldn't have been the same. He revived the New York Yankees, which ought to be contribution enough for any one man, because, without a viable New York Yankees franchise, baseball is barely worth the bother. Think about how important the simple existence of George Steinbrenner was to the revival of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry in 1978, and thereafter.
As an owner, he was erratic, imperious, and a thoroughgoing wretch for whom to work. His management of the Yankees followed suit. His impact generally on baseball is hugely problematic, although the necessary changes wrought in the game's economics in the 1970's and 1980's probably guaranteed that somebody like Steinbrenner was inevitable. However, now that he's passed, I can think of no better epitaph for the man than to borrow the one that my friend, George Reedy, wrote upon the death of his former boss, Lyndon B. Johnson.
"He may have been a son of a bitch, but he was one colossal son of a bitch."