Giuliani on George Steinbrenner

New York's former mayor reflects on the Yankee boss and why he was important to baseball

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Al Tielemans / Sports Illustrated

The thing about George you could always count on was, there were no ulterior motives. It was all about winning. George wanted to win for New York and for the Yankee tradition. No rebuilding years, no four-year plans. He wanted to win now.

George, who died on July 13 at 80, took very seriously his responsibility as owner of the Yankees. He had taken over, in 1973, the most famous franchise in sports, and he felt a great obligation to the people of New York City. He won seven championships — three of them at very critical times, including his first, in 77. That was right after the city's fiscal crisis, when we were near bankruptcy. It was a time of escalating crime rates, Son of Sam serial murders and the blackout. New Yorkers were about as depressed as they'd ever been. And all of a sudden, along came George Steinbrenner's Yankees with Reggie Jackson and Billy Martin, and they won the World Series. It lifted the spirits of New Yorkers tremendously.

While he had the personality of a really tough football coach, he had the mind of a business genius. He revolutionized baseball's economics with his free-agent agreements. Every baseball player should have a little picture of George in his room, because he raised compensation to levels unheard of in the past. You can agree or disagree with that, but if you're a baseball player, you don't disagree with it.

Maybe its because he was born on the Fourth of July, but George had a great patriotic spirit. And a charitable one. He would read in the papers or hear on television about children being left without a father, or a child getting seriously injured, and when I was mayor, he would call up and ask how he could donate money anonymously.

I always got along with George, who reminded me of my dad and my first boss, both tough guys who always demanded the best possible performance. Our friendship originally started because I knew not only about the Yankees but also about George's hometown team, the Cleveland Indians. Luckily for New York, Ohio turned down his bid. History would have been very different.

By Rudy Giuliani