George Steinbrenner, Cleveland Native, Dies at 80

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The Boss in his post-Cleveland years.
  • The Boss in his post-Cleveland years.

George Steinbrenner died this morning after a massive heart attack. The longtime Yankees owner had been in declining health in recent years.

Steinbrenner, of course, was a Cleveland native, having grown up in Bay Village and worked at Kinsman Marine Transit, a Cleveland shipping company owned by his family. My favorite tidbit about Steinbrenner and Bay Village is that his father made him wear a jacket and a tie to school every day during high school.

The Boss also came close to owning the Cleveland Indians back in the 1970's, a fact that still drives Tribe fans nuts to this day. What could have been, what might have been...

A recent New York Times account of a Steinbrenner biography
shows just how close — a matter of hours, really — he came to buying the Cleveland Indians:

In his new biography, “Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball” (Harper), Bill Madden recounts that on Dec. 6, 1971, Steinbrenner’s ownership group struck a handshake agreement to purchase the Indians for $8.6 million from Jimmy Stouffer, a classmate from Culver Military Academy in Indiana. A news conference to announce the deal was scheduled that night at Steinbrenner’s American Shipbuilding office, but at 5 p.m., Stouffer’s father, Vernon, called Steinbrenner and killed the deal.

“You and your friends are trying to steal my team,” Madden quotes Vernon Stouffer saying. “You’ve already leaked the sale price to the press. I know I can get at least $10 million for it. So forget about it. I won’t be pressured. I’m not selling to you.”

That wasn't the only tie Steinbrenner had to Cleveland sports though. The Boss did own a pro basketball team here, the Cleveland Pipers of ABL, a team which actually won a championship. Cool History of Cleveland has the details:

George Steinbrenner owned the Cleveland Pipers. This, of course, before he became the devil.
  • George Steinbrenner owned the Cleveland Pipers. This, of course, before he became the devil.

The team won the league title in its only year in the ABL which was the 1961-62 season. The team was coached by the legendary John McLendon, the first African-American head coach of a professional team and who started a massive lineage of other African-American coaches. The very humble, but visionary, Coach McLendon and Mr. Steinbrenner never saw eye to eye (although this is not surprising from Steinbrenner). The team was one of the first racially integrated professional teams and employed a fast-break offense well before those famous Laker’s teams of the early 1980’s.

In 1962, the Cleveland Pipers petitioned to be a part of the National Basketball Association (“NBA”) and the move was approved by the owners of the NBA who wanted the $400,000 expansion fee Cleveland and the Steinbrenner’s would pay. But the ABL sued to keep Cleveland and won and Steinbrenner in his typical fit of rage simply closed the team. But it is important to note the key role the Cleveland Pipers played in integrating professional basketball and that the team was, in fact, the first professional basketball team in Cleveland.

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