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Wednesday, October 13, 2010
The Boss Still Lives in Oversized Monument - by Tim Dahlberg
The Boss Still Lives in Oversized Monument
By TIM DAHLBERG 7:05 PM 09/22/2010
As debates go, this one is monumental.
Larger than life when he was alive, George Steinbrenner is even bigger now that he’s dead. The Boss towers over the Babe, dwarfs both the Iron Man and the Mick.
The new monument unveiled Monday at Yankee Stadium is so huge it even seems like Joltin’ Joe has left and gone away.
A tribute to the late Yankee owner, sure. A monument to excess in a ballpark born of excess, for sure.
Steinbrenner would have been tickled to see this when he was still alive. But he did stick around long enough to see the opening of a stadium where two seats nine rows up from the visitor’s dugout for Thursday night’s game against Tampa Bay could be had for just $1,800. Babe Ruth helped usher in baseball for the masses. Steinbrenner should at least get credit for reinventing it for the classes.
Love what he did for the Yankees? Then you’ll love the 7-by-5 foot, 760-pound mass of bronze that looks down over everything behind the centerfield fence.
Hate what he’s done for baseball? Then save your $1,800 and stay home.
Steinbrenner was always polarizing, of course, and the online debate over his mammoth monument reflects that. A proper memorial to some, it seems tasteless and overbearing to many more.
One poster suggested a better choice for the monument might have just been a giant dollar bill with Steinbrenner’s picture on it.
It was perhaps fitting that baseball commissioner Bud Selig was on hand for the unveiling. It was Selig, after all, who built on Steinbrenner’s foundation by making sure taxpayers subsidized new ballparks in almost every major league city and then stuck them again in their wallets when it came time to buying overpriced tickets to actual games.
It’s even more fitting that Selig also has an oversized monument to himself. It’s a statue, actually, standing 7 feet tall in front of the stadium in Milwaukee that Selig helped push to get built when he owned the team.
Selig shares the space outside Miller Field with Milwaukee greats Robin Yount and Hank Aaron. He’s standing, holding a baseball in his outstretched right arm, likely prompting some children to ask their fathers what position he played.
There’s nothing wrong with statues glorifying players, and they are a great way to link the new parks to the heroes of old. Almost every new stadium has them and some, like the one of Willie Mays in San Francisco, are truly spectacular.
Aaron is so big he also has a statue at Turner Field in Atlanta. And there are statues paying tribute to announcers in Chicago and St. Louis.
But when did we begin glorifying owners and commissioners? Their goal in baseball was never to play the game, but to profit from it.
Almost as bizarre as the Steinbrenner monument was the statue the Minnesota Twins unveiled earlier this month outside of Target Field of former owner Calvin Griffith, who brought the team to Minneapolis. It stands near the state of Rod Carew, who Griffith told a Lions club gathering in 1978 was a “damn fool” for playing for as little as the Twins were paying him.
At least Carew gave his approval. The dead Yankees who share Monument park with Steinbrenner never got that opportunity.
Who knows, they might have signed off on the deal. For as much as Steinbrenner did to turn his franchise into the most valuable in sports, he was also a guy who was never afraid to throw millions of dollars at players if he thought it might get his team in the World Series.
Joe DiMaggio never made $100,000 a year until his final few years, and contract time meant long hours trying to squeeze a few dollars out of Yankee ownership. Steinbrenner didn’t create free agency but he created a place for free agents to go where they didn’t have to beg for money to play and made a lot of players a lot richer than they ever would have been.
Still, former owner Jacob Ruppert was the one who brought Babe Ruth to New York to turn the Yankees into a powerhouse. He was the one who, trading on the vast popularity of Ruth, astounded the entire country by building a stadium with massive decks that could seat amazing crowds.
The stadium that George built isn’t nearly as innovative, and Ruppert’s Yankees won just as many World Series (7) in 14 fewer years than did Steinbrenner’s teams. Ruppert’s reward the year after his death was a plaque that looks downright puny when compared to the 35 square foot edifice to Steinbrenner.
Even Babe Ruth’s legacy seems diminished in comparison. Nothing is in scale anymore with Steinbrenner towering over everything in Monument Park.
“Probably just how The Boss wanted it,” Derek Jeter said at the unveiling. “The biggest one out there.”
Indeed he probably did. And even from beyond the grave, The Boss got what he wanted.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org