By now, the bleeding hearts are racing to their Olivettis, eager once again to trash New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who has just installed his team's third manager of the 1982 season, which began in April. Steinbrenner will be scolded once again for being a bully and a cruel and insensitive boss. What the Yankees owner deserves from a grateful nation is not chiding but cheers, because George Steinbrenner teaches us all better than anyone else about traditional values in contemporary life.
Think of all the moral theologians, concerned grown-ups and uncharismatic Sunday school teachers who have lectured, with apparently limited effectiveness, about the value of human compassion and the evil of avarice. Still, reports of individual and collective human unkindness to other humans are available almost daily. But now in the summer of '82, when the country's most popular ever movie turns out to be an allegory about a loving stranger from another place who encounters human unkindess as well as love, George Steinbrenner is a real teaching fellow. His Yankees, in spite of the highest salaries in all of baseball and in spite of the abuse and ridicule he has tirelessly heaped upon them, were mired this week in fifth place in the eastern division of the American League. The best-known team in sports, dominated by the best- known owner in sports, will be hard-pressed to catch the Milwaukee Brewers, whose owner probably could not even command a bad table at Elaine's.
What George teaches so well is that Greed and Fear do not guarantee success, that just maybe money isn't everything. Steinbrenner regularly bullies his employees. All he asks, in exchange for the big paychecks he signs and the public humiliation he distributes, is his employees' self-respect. One ex-manager, the respected Dick Howser, said: "Anybody can manage the Yankees, but nobody can work for George."
We Americans believe in change, which, for most of us, is another word for improvement. George Steinbrenner believes in change--like three managers and five pitching coaches in the 1982 season. George's belief in change is constant and reassuring in a Washington August when the Republicans are boasting about their "tax reform" bill, when Ronald Reagan is urging the House to raise taxes, and when the Atlanta Braves are in first place in the western division of the National League. Call him a bully, a despot, a tyrant, a martinet, OK. But George Steinbrenner in a time of upheaval and instability is consistent. And, through him, we learn that while nice guys may not always finish first, greed and fear do not necessarily equal the world championship. Thanks, George.