PR loses a champion with passing of The Boss

Baseball fans and New Yorkers - and I proudly claim to fit both descriptions - were deeply saddened to learn of the death of George Steinbrenner, iconic owner of the New York Yankees, on July 13.

Baseball fans and New Yorkers – and I proudly claim to fit both descriptions – were deeply saddened to learn of the death of George Steinbrenner, iconic owner of the New York Yankees, on July 13.

When influential figures pass away, my tendency is to immediately scan media channels for quotes about the deceased. In this case, such fitting tributes were easy to find about “The Boss” (no offense, Springsteen).

One statement, however, resonated more than most. Philadelphia Phillies owner Bill Giles said, “He was the greatest PR man that ever lived. I was always amazed by his ability to get the Yankees in the paper every day."

Steinbrenner purchased the Yankees in 1973. Those were pre-Internet days when getting in the paper was the ultimate PR goal. And nobody did it better.

Bill Madden, New York Daily News writer who has covered the Yankees for over three decades, recalled a story from October 1981 that captures Steinbrenner's PR quintessence.

It was the middle of the night during the World Series. The Yankees were playing the Los Angeles Dodgers. The team's PR director called Madden, requesting his presence. When he arrived, “The Boss” was sporting a cast on his hand and a Band-Aid on his forehead. He wished to give a briefing on a fight he had that evening with drunken Dodger fans.

Madden's boss, Dick Young, who was also summoned, picked up the phone and called the city desk's rewrite department. Steinbrenner appeared stunned, reiterating that it was just a briefing. Young didn't relent and started to dictate: “George Steinbrenner, president of the Yankees was involved tonight in a fight…” Steinbrenner immediately interrupted. Was he trying to kill the story? No. He reminded Young in his not-so-subtle manner that he was the owner of the Yankees, not the president.

Tales like this are part of New York sports lore. Good or bad, Steinbrenner always got the Yankees on the back page. And when you consider he bought the team for $8.8 million and it's now worth $1.6 billion, you can't help but think his PR acumen played a role in that.

I'd also be remiss not to mention Steinbrenner's close relationship with another New York legend, Howard Rubenstein. While other influential figures are close to their PR counsel, few were linked together so tightly. If “The Boss” was ever involved in a major story, Rubenstein's name would appear right next to his like clockwork. The close bond is a testament to Steinbrenner's keen understanding and appreciation of the importance of PR.

Baseball has lost a giant. The Big Apple has lost a great New Yorker. The PR industry has lost a major supporter. We will all miss “The Boss.”

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