Earlier today the Associated Press reported that George Steinbrenner, the long-time owner of the New York Yankees, died at the age of 80 after suffering a massive heart attack.
Steinbrenner’s passing was confirmed by the Yankees organization, as well as his family who issued a statement.
“He was an incredible and charitable man,” the Steinbrenners said in their release. “He was a visionary and a giant in the world of sports. He took a great but struggling franchise and turned it into a champion again.”
I wholeheartedly agree with those sentiments. George Steinbrenner was the best owner in baseball, and arguably, in all of professional sports.
Consider the Yankees without the seven World Series championships (2009, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1996, 1978, 1977) they won under his direction. It’s hard to do.
That means no Mr. October, Reggie Jackson.
Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettite and Jorge Posada wouldn’t have been the Core Four of the dynasty of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The New York Yankees, the Evil Empire as we know it, would not have existed without the leadership of the Boss.
Now some may argue that Steinbrenner’s influence damaged the game. As a season ticket holder of the Toronto Blue Jays, I can sympathize. The war of attrition with the Boston Red Sox in the American League East with both teams stockpiling arms like Cold War superpowers has basically ruined any chance of my hometown team winning a pennant.
But that’s a situation that can’t be entirely blamed on Steinbrenner. Major League Baseball made the luxury tax rules, he merely played within their bounds. I can’t say that I blame him. Any owner – any person, for that matter – should pursue success to the fullest extent of their resources.
There’s no point in hating Steinbrenner simply because he had more resources than everyone else.
I’m sure that one of my colleagues in the media is going to write a similar eulogy about how Steinbrenner is the last of a dying breed. How we’ll never see another person make such an impact as the owner of a professional sports team.
Although George Steinbrenner was a unique character, there will be more owners like him. Already in the National Basketball Association we have Mark Cuban and Mikhail Prokhorov, the owners of the Dallas Mavericks and New Jersey Nets respectively, both cast very much in the Steinbrenner mould.
No, I think that Steinbrenner serves as the prototype of what the owner of a professional sports team can be. An ideal example that other owners should model themselves after. He was one of the greats, and although his New York Yankees are often hated, his is a legacy that should be admired.
Obviously, I love sports. This website and my choice of career stand as a testament to this. I’m not very particular either. Baseball, hockey, basketball, football, soccer, lacrosse, the Olympics, it’s all good. Heck, even artistic cycling has made its way on to this blog.
But there’s an ugly stepchild in the sports family that I’ve also got some love for: sports entertainment, better known as professional wrestling.
Yes, it’s obviously fake. But so are most movies and television shows. Professional wrestling is also really corny and clichéd, but that doesn’t diminish the athleticism and skill of its performers.
In fact, there are at least three things about professional wrestling that anyone can appreciate.
You may not know who Ric Flair is, but I promise you that you’ve heard his trademark celebration. It’s a staple of every arena and stadium across North America.
For the uninitiated – Ric Flair has won the world heavyweight championship in various promotions 21 times and is a legend of the business. A lot of the standard ideas in wrestling stem from his career.
One of his signature moves is a knife-edged chop across his opponent’s chest, usually followed by him yelling “WOOO”. The crowd then responds with a chorus of “WOOOs”. It’s now to the point that when any pro wrestler chops someone the crowd will honour Flair with the call.
It’s seeped into popular culture as well. Whenever a goal is scored by the Carolina Hurricanes on home ice Ric Flair appears on the arena’s screens and implores the crowd to WOOO with him. I even saw chef Ted Reader give a Ric Flair Wooo when he broke the record for the world’s largest hamburger.
It’s everywhere and it’s all thanks to wrestling.
2) Entrance Music
I know, I know, athletes in many sports have entrance music. Boxers, mixed martial artists, even hitters coming to bat in baseball have their own entrance music. But it’s an innovation that started in professional wrestling with Gorgeous George, a born-promoter who both Muhammad Ali and James Brown credit as the inspiration for their over-the-top antics and showmanship.
Wrestling still has the most dramatic and often timely entrances, with music being used to cut off the promos of other promos. It’s a trick that never gets old.
There are few moments as exciting as hearing the opening chords of a song that you identify with a particular athlete. Try imagining Mariano Rivera without Metallica’s Enter Sandman or Trevor Hoffman strolling to the mound without the ominous bells at the start of AC/DC’s Hell’s Bells. You just can’t, because entrance music is awesome.
3) The Heel Turn
In wrestling jargon a face is a good guy, while a villain is called a heel. Of course, as sports entertainment is pretty much just a male soap opera, it stands to figure that heels and faces are forever changing sides and turning heroic or evil on a regular basis.
But when a heel turn is done right, like in the clip above, it’s exciting and always gets the crowd amped up. If this could be done in real life, it’d be the best thing ever.
There’s a sense of gut-wrenching heartbreak when the crowd realizes that their hero, the person they’ve been cheering for, is a fraud that has actually been nefariously plotting for their own ends. Melodramatic? Absolutely. But sometimes it really works.
It would be a really refreshing change of pace if the real-life heels that populate professional sports actually embraced their roles as the bad guys, instead of setting public relations flack to spin the story and make it seem like they're just misunderstood. It'd be nice to see someone embrace the fact that they're a jerk.
Consider a world where Alex Rodriguez would sport perma-stubble and rip up the signs of opposing fans. Imagine Chris Pronger cutting promos before games where he calls all the fans of the Edmonton Oilers pencil-necked geeks and then leaving the ice as bad heavy metal blared. Or what about Ron Artest threatening to climb into the stands and whoop anyone drinking a Coke? The possibilities are endless.
It would only make it all the sweeter when the likeable teams and athletes won out, and would undoubtedly draw more ratings.