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New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner dies in Tampa

TAMPA — New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner died Tuesday morning, his family announced. Multiple reports said Steinbrenner died after suffering a severe heart attack at his Tampa home Monday night.

"It is with profound sadness that the family of George M. Steinbrenner III announces his passing,'' the Steinbrenner family said in a prepared statement. "He passed away this morning in Tampa, Fla., at age 80."

Funeral arrangements will be private, according to the statement. There will be an additional public service with details to be announced later.

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio said she was deeply saddened by Steinbrenner's death, calling him a generous person who will be forever missed.

"Mr. Steinbrenner's passing is a great loss to our city and to his family and friends," she said. "On behalf of the city of Tampa, I offer condolences and I ask our community to keep them in your thoughts and prayers."

Iorio lauded his efforts as a community leader for establishing the Gold Shield Foundation to help law enforcement and their families and for his dedication to betterment of youth.

The news also prompted sadness at George M. Steinbrenner Field, the Yankees' spring training home in Tampa that was formerly called Legends Field. Television news trucks mixed with people coming and going from the stadium's gift shop Tuesday.

One of them was Eddy Mesa, 40, who was at a barbershop Tuesday morning when he heard that Steinbrenner had fallen ill. He immediately left and headed for the hospital, but heard on the way there that Steinbrenner had died.

"I'm a die-hard Yankees fan, and the news just devastated me. The news brought tears to my eyes," said Mesa, a Tampa resident and Brooklyn native.

Tampa Fire Rescue responded to an emergency call early Tuesday at Steinbrenner's house, according to several news reports. Bay News 9 reported he was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital. A hospital spokeswoman declined to comment.

Steinbrenner died about 6:30 a.m., according to ESPN.

The family has said funeral arrangements will be private, but a public service will be held later, according to Details have yet to be announced.

Steinbrenner was known nationwide as the controversial and outspoken owner of the New York Yankees but enjoyed a reputation as a philanthropist in the Tampa Bay area.

"He was an incredible and charitable man," his family said in a statement. "First and foremost he was devoted to his entire family — his beloved wife, Joan; his sisters, Susan Norpell and Judy Kamm; his children, Hank, Jennifer, Jessica and Hal; and all of his grandchildren."

"He was a visionary and a giant in the world of sports. He took a great but struggling franchise and turned it into a champion again."

Former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco said, "It's a sad day for me. I lost a good friend and so did this city and so did this country. For everything that people know that he did that was generous and good there were 10 things people know nothing about.''

Gov. Charlie Crist, who was at the Coast Guard station in St. Petersburg on Tuesday morning, called Steinbrenner "a great friend, not only to me but also the whole Tampa Bay. … He will be missed."

Steinbrenner was 42 when he led a group of investors who bought the Yankees from CBS in 1973 for less than $10 million, beginning one of the most controversial and successful ownership reigns in sports history. During Steinbrenner's ownership, the Yankees won 11 American League pennants and seven World Series titles.

But Steinbrenner's time as Yankees owner also was filled with contention.

He was suspended in 1974 by Major League Baseball for two years (later reduced to nine months) after pleading guilty to making illegal contributions to President Richard Nixon's re-election campaign and a felony charge of obstruction. Steinbrenner returned to the Yankees in 1974 and become infamous for firing and hiring managers, making 20 managerial changes in his first 23 seasons as owner, including hiring and firing Billy Martin five times. His penchant for firing and berating employees became so notorious that he became known as "The Boss'' and spoofed his ways in beer commercials and during a guest host appearance on Saturday Night Live in 1990.

Steinbrenner also became baseball's leading player in the new era of free agency, enticing superstars such as Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, David Winfield and dozens more with some of the richest contracts in baseball history at the time. Throughout Steinbrenner's ownership, the Yankees typically had the highest payroll in Major League Baseball.

In 1990, then-baseball commissioner Fay Vincent ordered Steinbrenner to resign as the club's general partner as a result of Steinbrenner's $40,000 payment to confessed gambler Howie Spira in exchange for damaging information about Winfield. Vincent then permitted Steinbrenner to resume active control of the Yankees in early 1993.

After that, Steinbrenner's time as owner settled. He turned over most of the day-to-day operations to team executives and the Yankees went on to win World Series titles in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000 under manager Joe Torre and star shortstop Derek Jeter. Beginning in 2006, Steinbrenner spent most of his time in Tampa, handing over ownership duties to his sons, Hank and Hal. As his health deteriorated, Steinbrenner made fewer and fewer public appearances, although he did occasionally show up at spring training games and had a memorable appearance in a wheelchair on the field before the 2008 All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium.

Steinbrenner was at opening day at Yankee Stadium on April 13 and was presented a 2009 World Series ring by Jeter and manager Joe Girardi in a private ceremony in Steinbrenner's suite. At the time of his death, Steinbrenner was the longest-tenured owner in Major League Baseball.

In the mid 1990s, Tom McEwen, then the sports editor of the Tampa Tribune and a close friend, visited Steinbrenner in Fort Lauderdale, where the Yankees had based spring training since the early 1960s. McEwen suggested moving the team to Tampa.

"He said, 'Well, there's no reason to stay here. I can't get any bigger than I am here. There's no place to go.' That really was the seed of it."

Legends Field (now George M. Steinbrenner Field) was built in 1996 on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, replacing a prison.

Hillsborough Commissioner Jim Norman recalled that after Hurricane Andrew slammed into South Florida in 1992, Steinbrenner appeared at the Salvation Army offices to ask what he could do to help. "George actually showed up with a fleet of trucks," Norman said, and helped take supplies to the devastated area.

Steinbrenner and his wife, Joan, gave more than $1 million to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, which named the Steinbrenner Children's Emergency and Trauma Center for him.

About 40,000 children a year are treated at the center. Steinbrenner became aware of the need for specialized and self-contained care for children during an experience with his grandchild, according to St. Joseph's.

Steinbrenner also was a benefactor of the arts in Tampa Bay. He was instrumental in 1995 in helping to raise $3 million in a campaign that kept the Florida Orchestra alive. But in 1996, he had a falling out with the orchestra and held up fulfilling a $300,000 pledge he had made because he thought the programming should be more geared to pops.

"I keep telling them, I'm all in favor of Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaikovsky," Steinbrenner said. "I love classical music. But the average American isn't that fond of it. There should be more emphasis on pops."

Vidal Martinez, who said he was Steinbrenner's driver several times during the 14 years he worked at the Radisson Bay Harbor hotel, called Steinbrenner "a very nice guy." Martinez, 65, of Tampa, said Steinbrenner would sometimes pop open the trunk and give away baseball gloves and other gear to kids.

Times staff writers Tom Jones, Janet Zink, Craig Pittman, Andrew Meacham, John Fleming and Tom Scherberger contributed to this report.

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New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner dies in Tampa 07/13/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 14, 2010 9:59am]
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