Obituary: Hank Steinbrenner (1957-2020)

RIP to Hank Steinbrenner, the co-chairman of the New York Yankees and eldest son of The Boss, George Steinbrenner. He died on April 14 in his home in Clearwater, Fla., from what his family called a long illness. He was 63 years old. While he was at one point considered the heir apparent to his father thanks to his outspoken nature, he was content to move into the background and pursue his other interests while younger brother became the face of the team’s ownership. He maintained an active role in the Yankees operations up through this offseason.

“Hank was a genuine and gentle spirit who treasured the deep relationships he formed with those closest to him,” the Steinbrenner family said in a statement. “He was introduced to the Yankees organization at a very young age, and his love for sports and competition continued to burn brightly throughout his life. Hank could be direct and outspoken, but in the very same conversation show great tenderness and light-heartedness. More than anything, he set an example for all of us in how comfortably he lived enjoying his personal passions and pursuits. We are profoundly saddened to have lost him and will carry his memory with us always.”

Hank Steinbrenner was born in Cleveland on April 2, 1957, and was named after his grandfather. He, like his father, attended Culver Military Academy and was one of the first people to find out that his father had bought the Yankees in 1973 when his father phoned him with the news. He attended Central Methodist College in Missouri. After graduating, he followed his father’s footsteps into the sporting world, though not yet into baseball. He first got into horse racing and ran his father’s breeding and racing operations. The elder Steinbrenner owned multiple horses at his Kinship Stable in Florida; one of them, Steve’s Friend, ran in the 1977 Kentucky Derby. Hank Steinbrenner caught the attention of the horse-racing community when he accused Seattle Slew’s team of practicing the horse’s winner’s circle routine before the race.

“They’re so cocky,” he said. “Heck, I think we can take Slew. They got no business saying this might be another Secretariat. There’s no comparison.”

Seattle Slew won the Derby, as well as the rest of horse racing’s triple crown, that year. Steve’s Friend finished in fifth place. The horse took a bad step right when he was starting to make a move on the leader.

The younger Steinbrenner eventually made his way into the Yankees organization. But he admitted that if he had a choice to be at the Kentucky Derby or the seventh game of the World Series, you’d find him at Churchill Downs.

Hank and George Steinbrenner share a moment in the dugout. Source: Detroit Free Press, June 11, 1986.

By the mid-’80s, Hank Steinbrenner was attending staff meetings at Yankees Stadium. He didn’t have an official title, and he said for years that he didn’t want to get involved in a business where people are paid so much money to play a kid’s game. “But I guess I finally came to the realization that the bottom line is the players are entertainers, and if Frank Sinatra can be paid as much as he is, these guys can, too,” he said in 1986. “Looking back, I know it was inevitable that I would become involved with the Yankees.”

George Steinbrenner was, for a time, booted out of baseball after trying to find dirt on disgruntled outfielder Dave Winfield. He wanted to pass on the role of managing general partner to Hank in his absence, but his son turned the position down to remain in Florida, coach high school soccer and continue his work on the horse farm. He also rekindled an adolescent interest in drag racing and backed a team in the NHRA (National Hot Rod Association).

George Steinbrenner eventually got back into the good graces of baseball. He picked son-in-law Steve Swindal as his heir apparent in 2005. When Swindal and his wife Jennifer divorced in September of 2007, the Yankees bought him out. Hal Steinbrenner, Hank’s younger brother, succeeded him as the chairman of Yankee Global Enterprises. The brothers were named co-general partners.

Hank Steinbrenner, looking very much like his father, in his Tampa office. Source: The Sunday Times, January 27, 2008.

They were a part of the decision-making process to hire Joe Girardi as manager when the team and Joe Torre parted ways. While they shared the leadership role, Hank Steinbrenner became the voice of team ownership. Hank also spoke out about potential free agent signings, trades and anything else that affected the Yankees. He admitted that the role of spokesman was thrust upon him, but he realized that being a leader meant stepping up and talking. Whether he wanted to do it or not, he spoke with the same unfiltered candor that that his father did. He also bore an uncanny resemblance to him, furthering the thought that he was the New Boss.

Check out his comments when the Mitchell Report was released, and a number of former Yankees were named as having taken performance enhancing drugs: “Don’t make any mistake about it. Our team in the late ’90s beat everybody, and we beat everybody because we were that much better than everybody. And they had just as many players doing stuff — all the teams… You think the Red Sox didn’t have players doing stuff back then? Give me a… break. They just weren’t as good as us, and neither was anyone else.”

It takes a true Yankee to start talking about PEDs, turn it into a tribute to Yankee dominance and include a swipe at the Red Sox right at the end.

The Yankees won the World Series in 2009, and it was the last one that George Steinbrenner witnessed before his death in 2010. The Yankees couldn’t repeat their success the next year, and Hank Steinbrenner once more channeled his father with some pointed comments. In February 2011, he questioned the team’s hunger and said that the players were “too busy building mansions and doing other things, not concentrating on winning.” Though he denied that he meant anyone in particular, it was taken as a shot against Derek Jeter, who in fact was building a mansion in 2010.

Shortly after, Steinbrenner talked about the financial situation of MLB, in particular the topics of revenue sharing and luxury taxes.

“At some point if you don’t want to worry about teams in minor markets, don’t put teams in minor markets or don’t leave teams in minor markets,” he said. “Socialism, communism — whatever you want to call it — is never the answer.”

Source: Daily Press, February 27, 2011.

The financial changes in baseball forced the Yankees to evolve, bringing up home-grown talent and trading for prospects. Steinbrenner wasn’t a fan of the league’s system. “Revenue sharing is a sore point with me, not necessarily the Yankees, just me,” he said in 2016. “My dad didn’t have revenue sharing. But our fans love home-grown payers who come through the system. They get very attached to those players.”

In the same interview with the Associated Press, Steinbrenner said he hoped the new core of Yankees would be like the group that won five World Series in the 1990s. “Once we get it there, we’ll keep it there and we will spend to do so,” he added.

In recent years, Steinbrenner had stepped away from the team spokesperson role, though he remained active in the organization. Randy Levine, team president, told The New York Times that he was a part of the Yankees negotiations with free agent Gerrit Cole, who signed a nine-year deal with the team in December 2019. He also fielded a race car on the IndyCar circuit as part of Harding Steinbrenner Racing. His son, George Steinbrenner IV, was the youngest team owner in IndyCar history at the age of 22.

Steinbrenner was involved with numerous charities in New York and the Tampa Bay area. Additionally, he sponsored a youth travel baseball program called Hank’s Yanks. Several of the league’s alumni have been drafted by Major League Baseball teams.

For more information:
New York Times

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