Tuesday, July 13, 2010

July 13: Sports Maxi-Sniglets: LeBron James Signing, George Steinbrenner and Bob Sheppard

By Sylvia Gurinsky

A little perspective, South Florida. The Miami Heat ain't won anything yet.

The hype that followed last week's signing of LeBron James may have been more of a situation of a community struggling with economic issues letting off some steam. Potentially, it may be the most important off-the-field day in South Florida sports since the day Don Shula became the Miami Dolphins' coach in 1970. But we won't know for sure until next June.

Good for David Stern, the commissioner of the National Basketball Association, for criticizing the dog-and-pony show James participated in on the ESPN network to announce where he was going.

(By the way, Jim Gray, who had the guts to ask Pete Rose about his lifetime ban from baseball during the 1999 "Team of the Century" ceremonies that included Rose, didn't act like a journalist in hosting the ESPN show. He acted like a hack, and there is some question about what he's getting in the way of money, and where it's coming from.)

Good also for Stern for coming down hard on Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert for his over-the-top public criticism of James, with a $100,000 fine. Free speech is one thing; acting like a 2-year-old is another. James was a free agent who had the right to go wherever he wanted, so there was no "betrayal."


"I don't think any man is as good a king as he could have been. But this one tried. He tried very hard."
Anna Leonowens, "The King and I"

No, George M. Steinbrenner III was not as good a king as he could have been during almost four decades as principal owner of the New York Yankees. He often treated employees inexcusably, with criticisms as harsh and harsher than the one Dan Gilbert gave LeBron James. He fired (and re-hired) with impunity, and he managed to insult no less a figure than Hall of Fame player and manager Yogi Berra, who wouldn't speak to him for 14 years. His impatience for winning would often lead to bad decisions, and a very long dry spell for the Yankees during the 1980s and 1990s.

But he did try, very hard - and often succeeded, with multiple World Series championships for the Yankees during the late 1970s and 1990s. Those teams were put together with the best balance of a quality farm system, trades and free-agent signings, and patience from baseball executives (Gabe Paul during the 1970s, Bob Watson and Brian Cashman more recently).

Outside of baseball, he was a shining knight for numerous schools, charities, community programs (especially in Tampa, where he lived for many years) and the United States Olympic Committee, whom he helped with support that built the U.S. Winter Olympic team into a powerhouse.

He also had compassion for people down on their luck, whether it was current or former employees, sportswriters (!) or people who were not famous at all.

His legacy in baseball is a matter of constant debate. But he will be missed. Baseball will not see his like again for a long time.


The Yankees and baseball are also mourning another loss, of the team's graceful public-address announcer, Bob Sheppard, who died at age 99 on Sunday.

Sheppard had worked for the Yankees from 1951 until illness forced him away in 2007, though he never officially retired. He can still be heard announcing Derek Jeter's name, and will be in tonight's All Star Game. Movie fans can also hear him in the 1999 baseball movie "For Love of the Game," which was filmed in Yankee Stadium.

He was a speech professor at St. John's University, and kept things simple. He kept his distance from the goings-on in the Yankee clubhouse, but he was, indeed, what Steinbrenner liked to refer to as a "true Yankee." And a class act.

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