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On This Date in Sports March 1, 1993: King George Returns from Exile

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

George Steinbrenner returns from exile and again takes over as principal owner of the New York Yankees. Commissioner Fay Vincent had banned Steinbrenner from running the day-to-day operations of the Yankees in 1990 for paying a gambler named Howie Spira to dig up dirt on one of his star players Dave Winfield. While George Steinbrenner celebrated his return by posing for the cover of Sports Illustrated dressed like Napoleon, he proved less impetuous.

George M. Steinbrenner III was born in Bay Village, Ohio, on July 4, 1930. Steinbrenner came from a family of shipbuilders and led an ownership group that purchased the New York Yankees from CBS for $10 million in 1973. A year earlier, he had tried to buy the Cleveland Indians but fell short.

Initially stating he would not interfere with the Yankees' day-to-day operations, George Steinbrenner quickly became one of the most hands-on owners in all sports. His first move saw him bring in Gabe Paul to serve as team president, forcing out Michael Burke, who had served as President since 1966 and attempted to form his Ownership group to buy the Yankees. Throughout Steinbrenner’s first season, several big names departed, including General Manager Lee MacPhail, who served as President of the American League, and manager Ralph Houk.

Steinbrenner’s first headline-grabbing move came when he attempted to hire Dick Williams, the two-time World Series Champion Oakland Athletics manager. However, Athletics owner Charlie O. Finley successfully blocked the move, forcing the Yankees to settle on Bill Virdon. A year later, Steinbrenner successfully landed the Athletics' top pitcher Jim “Catfish” Hunter, after the A’s were ruled to be in breach of contract. The signing of Catfish Hunter was an early sign that the Yankees would become the most aggressive team in the free-agent marketplace.

The Yankees had to play two seasons at Shea Stadium. That season George Steinbrenner named Thurman Munson as the team’s captain, the first since Lou Gehrig in 1939. At the same time, Yankee Stadium underwent renovations, as Steinbrenner was suspended for a year for being convicted of illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon. When Yankee Stadium reopened in 1976, the Yankees, now managed by Billy Martin, were again ready to contend for a World Series.

When free agency began, the Yankees made a big splash by signing Reggie Jackson, who feuded with Billy Martin, who in turn feuded with George Steinbrenner turning the Yankees into the “Bronx Zoo.” While the relationships were stormy, the Yankees were successful, winning two straight World Series, even after Martin quit in the middle of the 1978 season.

As the 1980s arrived, the drama continued in the Bronx as the Yankees signed Dave Winfield to a record ten-year contract worth $23 million. The success, however, did not continue as the Yankees lost the 1981 World Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers, prompting Steinbrenner, now known as “The Boss,” to label Winfield “Mr. May” for his poor postseason performance.

Over the next decade, the Yankees often contended for a division but fell short as they lacked the final pieces to put them over the top. This led to Steinbrenner making several rash moves, trading prospects who failed to make an immediate impact, and changing managers regularly, as Billy Martin was hired and fired five times. At the same time, Yogi Berra refused to come to the stadium for over a decade due to being fired after a slow start as manager in 1985.

As the decade ended, the Yankees were falling on hard times. The New York Mets had become the stars of the back page, winning the 1986 World Series with flashy stars and prominent personalities. The Yankees, meanwhile, had Don Mattingly, Rickey Henderson, Dave Winfield, and little else. A barren farm system and injuries to Mattingly had the Yankees entering a rebuilding phase that saw them send Henderson back to the Athletics in 1989.

As Dave Winfield entered the contract's final years, there was a growing resentment. As promised in the agreement, the Yankees failed to contribute to Winfield’s charity in 1989. That season saw the Yankees slugger miss the entire season with a back injury. Winfield was traded to the California Angels as Major League Baseball began investigating George Steinbrenner. As the two sides started a legal battle, Steinbrenner reached out to a Gambler named Howie Spira to dig up any dirt he could on Dave Winfield, paying him $40,000. As the story broke in 1990, the Yankees had become the worst team in baseball, finishing in last place under Manager Stump Merrill, who replaced Bucky Dent early in the season.

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On July 30, 1990, George Steinbrenner agreed to a permanent ban from the day-to-day control of the Yankees. Commissioner, Fay Vincent had proposed a two-year suspension, but Steinbrenner feared the word suspension would hurt his relationship with the U.S. Olympic Committee, which he served as Vice Chairman. While he was away from the Yankees, Steinbrenner helped transform the struggling USOC, with an increased emphasis on winning medals. He also took light of his ban from baseball, hosting Saturday Night Live.

During George Steinbrenner’s exile, limited partner Robert Nederlander ran the Yankees before resigning after one year. In 1992, Steinbrenner’s son-in-law Joe Molloy took over as the Yankees' General Partner. While the Yankees struggled on the field, the farm system without ownership interference began to develop some good young talented players, including Derek Jeter's drafting in 1992.

Upon his return, George Steinbrenner was less hands-on, allowing Gene Michael and other executives to enable the young team to develop. While occasionally there were signs of the old George, the firing of Buck Showalter, and calls to the manager and general managers, he seemed much calmer, which helped the Yankees become a dynasty, with four championships in five seasons.

In his later years, in failing health, George Steinbrenner saw the Yankees begin their own Television Network, build a new stadium and add one more championship in 2009 before George passed away in 2010 shortly after his 80th birthday.