He "almost never" does anything by accident. His pals include Teddy Kennedy and Tip O'Neill, but he was convicted on a felony charge for making illegal contributions to the Nixon reelection campaign. He likes to think of himself as the Gen. Patton of the baseball world. Reggie Jackson is the athlete he "himself would have loved to have been," according to Dick Schaap. Elaine of chichi Elaine's eatery in New York wears one of his World Series rings on a chain around her neck. He and Barbara Walters spend time together, but she says they're just good friends. He's a multimillionaire, but has never been to Europe out of a patriotic sense of duty to visit every part of the United States before venturing abroad. For most of his life he has been trying--without much success--to impress his father.
He is George M. Steinbrenner III, the shipping magnate from Cleveland who owns the New York Yankees. These and dozens of other details about Steinbrenner are provided by veteran sportswriter and television sports personality Dick Schaap in "Steinbrenner!" This is a very lightweight biography that gives every indication of having been put together in a hurry for the start of the baseball season.
The book falls flat on several levels. The prose is undistinguished at its best, blustery and corny at its worst. Among the worst passages are Schaap's characterizations of the relationship between Steinbrenner, Jackson and twice-fired manager Billy Martin. It was a "perfect triangle," Schaap writes. "Billy loved/ hated and was loved/hated by George who loved/hated and was loved/hated by Reggie who loved/ hated and was loved/hated by Billy." And: "Each of the three was a man's man, committed to his own brand of machismo."
"Steinbrenner!" sheds little light on the well-known details of the Yankee owner's public life. One reason is that Steinbrenner refused to cooperate with Schaap. So the author--whose best known book is "Instant Replay," the story of former Green Bay Packer lineman Jerry Kramer--was forced to rely on interviews with Steinbrenner's friends and enemies and to borrow heavily from secondary sources.
Steinbrenner did not cooperate because he is contemplating writing his own version of his life story. The Yankee boss also asked his cronies not to be too helpful to Schaap. This was shocking to the author, who was "stunned by the number of otherwise powerful and courageous men . . . who would talk about Steinbrenner only if their identities were protected." As a result of being forced to use a lot of anonymous sources Schaap's narrative is filled with too many unattributed quotes and cautionary, qualified statements.
Schaap leans heavily on Martin's book, "Number 1," in the long section on the Steinbrenner-Martin-Jackson imbroglios of the late 1970s. Throughout the book Schaap uses material from a series of articles on Steinbrenner published in Cleveland magazine, and a New York Times Magazine story by Tony Kornheiser, now a reporter forThe Washington Post.
Steinbrenner did grant Schaap one interview in which, the author says, the two men forged a "relationship--a friendly adversary relationship." This "relationship" lasted nine hours, during which Schaap was wined and dined at Steinbrenner's hotel, race track and favorite restaurant in his home base of Tampa, Fla. The relationship, unfortunately, produced nothing memorable, except perhaps this Steinbrenner thought on power: "The only good thing about having power," said the man who ordered employes to turn over phony bonus checks to the Nixon campaign, "is that you can use it to help other people."
Schaap takes the only telling insight in the book directly from Kornheiser's article, and repeats it at crucial times. It is the "Blue Spotlight Theory." "George Steinbrenner does not photograph well in black and white," Schaap quotes Kornheiser as writing. "Blue is his favorite color, his best color. It is said that under a soft blue light a Phyllis Diller can look like a Phyllis George.
"Steinbrenner carries a metaphorical soft blue spotlight around with him, and plugs it in and shines it on himself when the questions get hotter than he cares for . . . Steinbrenner speaks fluent blue."
In spite of the book's slipshod quality, it does contain some fascinating glimpses of George Steinbrenner in action. We see him and Barbara Walters walking together on the East Side of Manhattan and keeping track of which one is recognized by more people. We see that Steinbrenner in a fit of temper is just as likely to fire a secretary who forgets to make a plane reservation as he is a manager. We see him ordering an elaborate cover-up of the bogus bonus scheme--a cover-up that included ordering employes to stonewall before a grand jury.
Schaap's book shows what millions of baseball fans have known for years: that Steinbrenner is the ultimate sore loser, dedicated to the old Vince Lombardi proposition that "winning isn't everything, it's the only thing." "I'm obsessed with winning, with discipline, with achieving," Steinbrenner says. "That's what this country's all about, that's what New York's all about--fighting for everything, a cab in the rain, a table in a restaurant at lunchtime--that's what the Yankees are all about." Little wonder sportswriter Ira Berkow once called Steinbrenner "the essence of an arrogant, petulant, boorish poor sport."
My guess is that only died-in-the-pin-stripes Yankee fans will enjoy this book. But Yankee boosters beware. Schaap tends to dwell on the Bronx Bombers' failures and skip lightly over their successes.