George Steinbrenner: The Cleveland Indians Owner That Never Was

Ralph DiMatteo Baseball

George Steinbrenner Field in Tampa

Probably only the most hardened of Cleveland baseball fans know that the venerable and longtime New York Yankees owner, one George Steinbrenner, had his sights set first on his hometown team, the Cleveland Indians (which had its fair share of interesting team owners in the past).  

A handshake deal was struck by Steinbrenner in December of 1971 with Tribe owner Vernon Stouffer’s son Jimmy for Steinbrenner and his buying group to acquire the Indians for $8.6 million.

The younger Stouffer and Steinbrenner had been classmates at Culver Military Academy in Indiana, and it seemed like Steinbrenner was on the verge of acquiring a Major League Baseball team for a very attractive price at the time.

Steinbrenner, the heir to a shipping company fortune, scheduled a very quick press conference for that evening at his shipping company office to announce the deal, but here is where things went south.

Vernon Stouffer, the actual owner of the team, apparently was not on the same page about the deal as his son. He called Steinbrenner at 5 p.m. and basically said Steinbrenner was trying to back him into a corner by leaking the financial details of the deal to the press ahead of the press conference. Stouffer felt he easily could have gotten $10 million for the team and without any further discussion, the deal was dead.

A year later, Steinbrenner and a buying group purchased the New York Yankees, and for 37 years he ran the team himself until poor health forced full retirement after the 2007 season. During those 37 years, Steinbrenner brought many innovations to the game. Being the first owner to sell cable TV rights to the team as an added revenue stream is a prime example of such an innovation.

Those of us around long enough to remember Cleveland Indians baseball in the 70s - and how truly bad it was - will also recall the old joke about the Indians at that time being the farm system for the Yankees. Many a great homegrown prospect were eventually lost to the Yankees, becoming truly great players with long and productive careers in the House That Ruth Built. Graig Nettles and Chris Chambliss are two that come to mind right away for me.

It's not hard to imagine that Steinbrenner may have carried a bit of a grudge for the perceived slight he received from Stouffer, but Steinbrenner also still carried a soft spot for his hometown. When famed Cleveland Indians pitcher Mike Garcia was ailing later in life, Steinbrenner sent an $8,000 donation to a fundraiser while noting that Garcia provided him with many thrills at the ballpark.

There is no doubt Steinbrenner earned the nickname “The Boss” and he was very candid about the fact that while he was tough on people, he truly never meant to be, and oftentimes went out of his way to make things, in his mind at least, right with people.

So, it's fair to say George Steinbrenner was most definitely a Cleveland kid who made it his way in life, rich and successful far beyond his dreams, feared and revered at the same time - sometimes by the same people - but most of all someone who truly enjoyed his success.

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