The Chief Was Almost The Boss


On Friday evening, the New York Yankees paid tribute to their late owner George Steinbrenner.  To Yankee fans, losing The Boss is an event similar to what Steeler Nation experienced when our beloved founder Art Rooney passed away.  While Steinbrenner wasn’t the first or only owner of the Bronx Bombers, he was the man responsible for making them into the symbol of excellence they are today.

I know some of you may be thinking, “Um, isn’t this a Pittsburgh Steelers blog?”

The Yankees and George Steinbrenner have a very interesting connection to the Steelers.   Steinbrenner, you see, was the second choice to buy that team.  Wanna guess who was offered them first?

The Chief.

Back in 1973, the Yankees were owned by CBS.  Believe it or not, they were in pretty lousy shape, having not won a division title in twelve years and finishing last that season.  CBS wanted out of the baseball business.  The first man they called was Art Rooney.  Their asking price for a team which would be worth $1.5 billion dollars in 2010 was the grant sum of $9 million.

The Chief turned them down.

Rooney may have been a great football man but his family has always said baseball was his first love.  He even played semi-pro minor league ball back in the 1920s for a team ironically named the Wheeling Stogies.   He hit .369 according to his statistical page on Baseball-Reference.

However, the NFL didn’t like their owners being involved in multiple leagues.  Plus, the baseball owners must approve of any ownership changes and Rooney worried his reputation as a gambler would hurt his chances.  Finally, the Chief simply didn’t have that much cash available to him.  He could have taken out loans and so forth but having lived through the Great Depression, dealing with banks was only something you did as a last resort.

So the team went instead to a Cleveland ship building magnate named George Steinbrenner.

It’s interesting to look back and think what if.  Art’s son Dan was and continues to be one of the most respected leaders in football.  Steinbrenner became the prime example of an owner using his superior cash flow to buy championships.  Meanwhile, Dan Rooney is one of the owners who championed a salary cap and revenue sharing to keep small market teams competitive.  If the Rooney family was involved in baseball, one wonders if the course of that sport would’ve more closely mirrored what happened in the NFL.  Imagine that.

Imagine a world where the Chief was the Boss.

And a world where the Pirates have the exact same payroll as the Yankees.