Maybe George Steinbrenner had a premonition.

Perhaps he knew that the American League was finally going to lose an All-Star game to the National League last night after 13 seasons, and a Yankee pitcher was going to be the losing hurler.

Steinbrenner, principal owner of the New York Yankees for more than 30 years and arguably the most widely known owner in sports history, died yesterday morning of a massive heart attack. He turned 80 on July 4th.

Steinbrenner was a polarizing figure. You either loved him or hated him.

Some saw him as a tyrant, an owner who fired managers and staff on a moment's notice, and whose temper and antics often left fans shaking their heads in disbelief.

Others knew him as a compassionate man who gave millions to charity, often in a quiet way. He felt comfortable with the way he spent his millions, once saying, "In the end, I'll put my good acts up against those of anybody in this country. Anybody."

Steinbrenner bought the Yankees from CBS for what is now a considered a paltry $8 million. Today, his big-name players earn more than that in one season. But the franchise grew under his rein to become a dynasty, today worth billions and the Yankees are probably the richest franchise in professional sports history.

He wasn't always right. But he was always far ahead of his peers in building a winning team. He once said, "I am dead set against free agency. It can ruin baseball." Yet, when free agency became a way of life in the Major Leagues, he changed his thinking and was the front-runner, going out and signing established stars to supplement his team. The result was seven World Championships during his tenure. Nobody else comes close.

If you were a Yankee fan, you loved it, because he never rested on his laurels. He was always striving to make his next team even better than the current crop of athletes he employed.

And he always had the best interests of the fans at heart, and they rewarded him by putting more than 4 million fans into Yankee Stadium year after year to see his team play.

George Steinbrenner will go down in history as the man who fired manager Billy Martin five times, prompting the nickname of the Yankees as "The Bronx Zoo." He will often be remembered as a contradiction, a man who said when he first bought the team that he wouldn't be a hands on owner. But that's exactly what he became.

He made mistakes. Once he was suspended from baseball for a year because he was found guilty of giving illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon. "I haven't always made the right decisions," he admitted.

In the end, Steinbrenner will be remembered as a man who did it his way, and he did it successfully. He loved what he was and what he owned. "Owning the Yankees is like owning the Mona Lisa," he gushed.

It's ironic that Steinbrenner's death was attributed to a heart attack because he once told reporters, "I will never have a heart attack. I give them."

He was also wrong when he said, "I don't want to be in the Hall of Fame. I don't think owners should be."

George Steinbrenner belongs in Cooperstown. He changed the way we watch baseball, some of it good, some of it not-so-good. But no one in the past 30 years has had a bigger impact on the game.

Another irony is that Steinbrenner passed away just two days after beloved Yankee public address announcer, Bob Sheppard – "The Voice from Above" – died at age 99. No doubt The Boss wanted to hear Sheppard's voice bellowing, "Welcome to Heaven" when Steinbrenner arrived at the pearly gates.

Bob Urban

rurban@tnonline.com [1]