George Steinbrenner, Welfare Case

Forget the Yankees. Here’s the lowdown on the Boss’s other life.
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  1. This is a column about the infamous owner of the New York Yankees, George Steinbrenner, but you won’t find much in here about Steinbrenner’s hirings and firings of the late Billy Martin, or his feuds with Reggie Jackson, or even his most recent (and potentially most devastating) escapade, the $40,000 payment to a gambler named Howard Spira. I’ll leave that kind of Steinbrenner-bashing to the preceding column, where it properly belongs. This Steinbrenner column is about something else entirely. It’s about ships.

    Before he became an infamous New York baseball-team owner, George Steinbrenner was an obscure Ohio shipbuilder, just as his father had been. He stayed in the ship business even after he bought the Yankees, becoming one of a breed of businessmen who use their corporate connections to purchase sports teams and sports connections to support their businesses. It’s a mutant form of what these days is called synergy.

    The name of Steinbrenner’s company, now based in Tampa, is American Ship Building, and it was the foundation of his wealth; without American Ship, Steinbrenner would never have had the financial wherewithal to buy, and destroy, one of America’s great sports franchises. Unlike baseball, shipbuilding is supposed to be something Steinbrenner does with some competence.

    Anyway, a few months back I happened to notice American Ship’s stock price. It was $2, down from $16 not too long ago. The stock price led me to the company’s annual reports. More bad news. In the ...

Originally published in Esquire, July 1990