Yankees boss will be missed on Wall Street too

July 13, 2010

George Steinbrenner will be mourned by lovers of pin-stripes everywhere — both financiers who button their suits on Wall Street and fans of the baseball team that sports them at Yankee Stadium.

Steinbrenner, known as “the Boss,” died on Tuesday, at 80. He paid about $10 million for the storied but down-on-their luck New York Yankees in 1973. Some 37 years on, the franchise is worth $1.6 billion, according to Forbes magazine.

That’s nearly double the value of the second most valuable team and sworn Yankees rivals, the Boston Red Sox. Ignoring any extra money that Steinbrenner put in or took out, the 15 percent internal rate of return is rather impressive given the longevity of the holding. Along the way, Steinbrenner’s team — in equal measure revered and reviled — became the Goldman Sachs of baseball.

Steinbrenner’s intensity echoed Wall Street’s single-mindedness. “I hate to lose. Hate, hate, hate to lose,” he once told the New York Times. He shelled out top dollar for the best players — from Reggie Jackson to Dave Winfield to Alex Rodriguez — matching the exuberant, and sometimes excessive, payouts to leading bankers. Like Goldman’s, the Yankees’ payroll dwarfed those of its rivals, its stars bringing seven championships during Steinbrenner’s stewardship.

His take-no-prisoners approach up-ended the economics of baseball. If not necessarily a financial engineer, the Boss still proved an innovator. He took early advantage of the free agency granted players in the 1970s, inked an early cable TV contract and forged a groundbreaking apparel deal. The Yankees owner’s egotistical management style would also not have seemed out of place in a hard-charging investment bank.

Not everyone will miss him, of course. Plenty of fans still curse Steinbrenner’s impact on baseball the way critics pillory bankers. And though he leaves his sons in charge, the loss of such a larger-than-life figurehead could temporarily disrupt the Yankees’ winning habit. But by dying with his team as World Series champs, Steinbrenner accomplished something most on Wall Street won’t be able to do for a good long while: he went out on top.

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