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World Series 2001
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10/27/2001 07:27 PM ET
Steinbrenner just wants to win
By Bill Ladson
MLB.com
George Steinbrenner hopes his Yankees can claim their seventh World Series title during his time as owner.
When George Steinbrenner first became the principal owner of the New York Yankees in January of 1973, he told the media that he was going to be an absentee owner and stick to his ship building business in Cleveland.

Well, let's see...

Steinbrenner has employed 14 managers (he hired and fired Billy Martin five times from 1975 to 1988), numerous general managers and has had feuded with some of his players, most notably Dave Winfield.

For most of his 29 seasons as "The Boss," there were his "baseball people" making personnel decisions, but it is no secret that Steinbrenner has been the man who calls the shots.

Today, there's no denying Steinbrenner is a big part of the reason the Yankees are once again in the World Series, this time facing the Diamondbacks, and looking to win their fifth championship in the last six years, fourth in a row and seventh overall during his rein.

Steinbrenner, plain and simple, has spent the money to sign free agents, has never shied from major dealmaking and has done what it takes to keep home-grown players. All of this just to be No. 1. For example: If Manager Joe Torre needs a starting pitcher for the 2001 season -- done. Steinbrenner signs Mike Mussina to a six-year, $85.5 million contract.

If a power hitter is needed -- bingo. Go get David Justice, who went on to carry the Yankees during the second half of the 2000 regular season and postseason.

Need a manager who brings a calming in influence in the clubhouse -- no problem. Steinbrenner hires Torre and, bada-bing, he brings four World Series trophies home for the Boss.

Need to lock up Derek Jeter, the cornerstone of the team, to a long-term deal -- fine. Ink him to a 10-year $189 million contract after the 2000 season.

"I understand what it takes to win," Steinbrenner told me, a Sporting News reporter at the time, in 1998. "Just don't take that as a statement. You have to know how to win . I don't care who you are. If you own Madison Square Garden, if you own the (New York) Giants, if you own the Jets, whatever you own in New York, you have to know how to win if you own a New York team. That's what it's all about. It's about that bottom line -- won and lost.''

Steinbrenner and the Yankees have done nothing but win during the last four years. But while in the locker room after his team clinched Game 5 to win the pennant against the Mariners, Steinbrenner revealed he had his doubts about the Yankees reaching the Fall Classic for the fourth consecutive year, especially after the Yankees were down 0-2 in the ALDS against the A's.

"I was not sure," he told the New York Daily News after the game. "I'll be honest with you, I didn't know whether we had a chance or not because all of the stress and strain we were going through.

"We're in one of the toughest divisions in baseball -- No. 1 with Boston and Toronto. That makes it a tough division. So you win that. Then you're lucky enough to go on and you play Oakland. Are you kidding? Just to get to the World Series is a great accomplishment because you got to go through Seattle. From my way of thinking, those are two of the toughest teams in the game."

Throughout the postseason, Steinbrenner has also shown his concerns for the city of New York following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, saying he believes the city needs a lift from the Yankees. "New York needed that," Steinbrenner told the Daily News after the Yankees clinched ALDS at Yankee Stadium. "Just like New Yorkers, they're battlers and they never stopped. After what these kids have been through, so much emotion with the city, as all of us have, to come up with this for this city, it's great. I'm very proud and very amazed."

Before the dynasty started in 1996 and after their second consecutive championship in 1978, there was little reason to be proud of or amazed by the Yankees. Spending millions on proven veterans such as Winfield, Steve Kemp and Rickey Henderson only meant finishing behind other teams in the Eastern Division for most of the 1980s. It also didn't help that, under the Boss, the farm system had become depleted during that period, trading prospects such as Willie McGee and Fred McGriff for, uh, Bob Sykes and Dale Murray.

Arguably, by 1990, the Yankees were the worst team in the American League.

Soon, the ascent back to prominence began. The Yankees rebuilt the farm system, made one-sided trades in their favor and didn't break the bank on suspect free agents.

Out of the farm system came Jeter, Bernie Williams and Mariano Rivera, all of whom would be integral parts of the current Yankee dynasty.

Who would have thought that acquiring Paul O'Neill in the fall of 1992 from the Reds for Roberto Kelly would be such a one-sided affair? All O'Neill has done is become one of the most reliable Yankee hitters of all time, while Kelly found himself bouncing around baseball.

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Signing free agents such as Jimmy Key proved to be a godsend after the 1992 season. By 1994, the Yankees were in first place before the strike ended their chance to win their first division title since 1981. By this time, Steinbrenner made a move that would make him the No. 1 owner in term of winning championship the last five years: Hiring Torre after the 1995 season. Torre is now known for earning the respect of the players.

"It's hard to get mad at Joe Torre, that's No. 1," Steinbrenner told me a few years ago. "No. 2, when I picked Joe Torre -- in fact, I didn't pick him. (Senior advisor) Arthur Richman picked Joe Torre. We lost Buck Showalter, and he was popular at the time. And it wasn't easy. Arthur Richman came and gave me a list of names. So he says, 'Here's my choice.' He marks Joe Torre. I got roasted by a number of writers. They said, 'Clueless Joe.'

"I saw in Joe Torre a mentally tough warrior. He has a great New York mentality. I'm not sure if he was always given the material, which I've given him to work with. From that standpoint, you really could judge Joe. I went with the other qualities that I saw in him, and I said 'OK , I'll give him the material.' And he has been tremendous. I haven't wanted to or had to interfere." Just the way Steinbrenner planned all along.

Bill Ladson is an editor/producer for MLB.com