George Steinbrenner dies at 80

Yankees won seven World Series during his ownership

NEW YORK -- George Steinbrenner, the longtime owner of the New York Yankees and one of the most colorful and controversial figures in U.S. sports, died in Florida on Tuesday at age 80.

Known as "The Boss" for his tempestuous style, Steinbrenner was loved by Yankees fans, feared by his players and managers and hated by his rivals. He resurrected the most successful franchise in U.S. sports from a period of decline, returning it to glory in the 1970s.

His family and baseball club announced his death but did not give a cause. Media reports said he suffered a massive heart attack at his home in Tampa and was rushed to hospital.

"Winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing," Steinbrenner once said.

Willing to spend heavily to sign star players, he demanded results and got them as the Yankees won seven World Series titles and 11 American League pennants since he bought the fabled club in 1973.

"It's a great loss to the Yankee players and fans," said Easwall Semper, 65, a lifelong fan wearing a Yankees cap in midtown Manhattan. "He was a fair man. He had his own ways."

Steinbrenner was twice suspended from baseball -- once for making illegal contributions to President Richard Nixon's 1972 re-election campaign and then for hiring a private investigator to dig up information on one of his players.

To broader audiences, Steinbrenner was a running joke on the "Seinfeld" television sitcom in which the George Costanza character went to work for the Yankees. The short-tempered owner, always shown from behind, was usually berating his hapless employee.

But Steinbrenner had mellowed in recent years, particularly since his club went on a streak of winning four World Series championships between 1996 and 2000. While he once fired field managers in fits of anger, he let Joe Torre manage the team for many years without the constant meddling of the past.

With his health failing, Steinbrenner had handed over daily operations of the club to his sons Hal and Hank, who became co-chairmen in May 2008. Hal Steinbrenner assumed control of the Yankees later that year.

The team Steinbrenner bought for $10 million in 1973 is now worth $1.6 billion, nearly twice as much as any other team in baseball, Forbes magazine estimated.

The Yankees also own around 40% of YES Network, a regional cable operation that broadcasts the team's games. It was valued at around $3 billion in 2007, when the Yankees and other stakeholders looked at selling it.

The family said the funeral would be private but there would be an additional public service.

"George invested his heart and soul into the Yankees, and his competitive fire helped usher in new eras of Yankee greatness," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement.

"He has left an indelible legacy on the Yankees, on baseball, and on our city, and he leaves us in the only way that would be appropriate: as a reigning world champion."

The Yankees won their record 27th World Series title in 2009.

Steinbrenner died on the same day as one of baseball's signature events -- the annual all-star game to be played on Tuesday night in Anaheim, California. His death came two days after that of another Yankees legend, announcer Bob Sheppard.

Steinbrenner, who turned 80 on the U.S. Independence Day holiday on July 4, was a well-known figure in popular culture, routinely pictured on the back pages of New York's tabloids wearing his familiar white turtleneck under a blue blazer.

His early days with the Yankees were chronicled in several books, including "The Bronx Zoo" written by player Sparky Lyle and "Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx is Burning" by Jonathan Mahler, which was dramatized in a 2007 TV miniseries with Steinbrenner's character played by Oliver Platt.

"I am tough. Sometimes I'm unreasonable," Steinbrenner said. "I have to catch myself every once in a while."

He would publicly chastise underperformers and was famous for his confrontations with manager Billy Martin, who he hired and fired five times, and star Reggie Jackson, who Steinbrenner signed to a big free-agent contract in 1977, the year the Yankees won their first World Series since 1962.

"He made the Yankees relevant again," Yankees executive Rick Cerrone told Fox News. "He had a real loyalty to people, even those people that he fired. Bill Martin is the perfect example."

The son of a wealthy Ohio shipping magnate, Steinbrenner followed in his father's footsteps as a hurdler at school and continued his interest in sports by earning a masters' degree in physical education and working as an assistant college football coach.

He helped revitalize his father's shipbuilding firm and fed his love of sports by buying a pro basketball team, the Cleveland Pipers, before a career-defining opportunity came.

The Yankees, baseball's most glamorous franchise with a history of beloved players including Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, ran into hard times at the end of Mantle's career in the late 1960s.

In 1973, Steinbrenner led a group of private investors in buying the Yankees from the Columbia Broadcasting System and threw himself into the day-to-day operations. He would become as prominent as any of the highly paid stars on his team.

Steinbrenner is survived by his wife Joan, his sisters Susan Norpell and Judy Kamm, his children Hank, Hal, Jennifer and Jessica, and his grandchildren.