Tomorrow, Bill Madden’s long awaited biography, Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball, goes on sale to the public. In anticipation, the Daily News printed a couple of excerpts, while Madden did an hour long interview with Mike Francessa on WFAN radio in New York. Both previews seem to point to a blockbuster biography, which considering the subject, should not come as a surprise.
Despite being a truly dynamic figure in American sports history, a definitive account of George Steinbrenner’s life has never been told. In 1982, Dick Schapp’s ominously entitled Steinbrenner did carry some weight, but since then no credible accounting of this incredible man has been produced. Now, it seems as if Bill Madden has filled this void.
In many way’s, Bill Madden is the only person who could write the complete story of George Steinbrenner. As a Daily News sportswriter since 1978, and UPI journalist for nine years before that, Madden’s career coincided with the rise of the Steinbrenner era. In fact, Madden eventually developed a reputation for being very close to Steinbrenner, and was even criticized at times for being a mouth piece of the Boss.
According to Madden, although not authorized, the book was done with full cooperation of the Steinbrenner family. And yet, it appears as if no punches were pulled. What’s more, Madden’s book is given a further credibility boost by access to several prominent figures from the era, such as Gene Michael, Al Rosen and Ralph Houk, as well as a treasure trove of recently discovered audio tapes recorded by Gabe Paul, who served as Yankees general manager from 1973 to 1977.
Because of his first hand knowledge and access to the principals, Madden seems as if he touches every base. Based on the tone of the interview, however, it seems as if Madden’s greatest challenge with the book was how he was able to reconcile Steinbrenner’s current health against the dominant figure that he once was. In the WFAN interview, Madden revealed, perhaps for the first time, that Steinbrenner has suffered a series of mini strokes, called TIAs, that have inflicted him with an irreversible form of dementia. In another sad admission, Madden also mentioned that Steinbrenner probably wouldn’t know who he was if they crossed paths, adding “I can’t believe the way he is now. The George who exists now is not the one I was writing about”.
Because of this sad reality, I am most fascinated about how Madden was able to avoid the tone of an obituary for a man who, while severely diminished, is still alive. Although the book mostly focuses on George in his prime, its ending reportedly does capture the poignancy of Steinbrenner’s slow decline.
There will probably never be another George M. Steinbrenner III. Not only was he one of the most important figures in the history of the Yankees and major league baseball, but he was also one of the most influential men in all of American sports. Even though his brash, outspoken style may have made him seem like an open book, a definitive biography worthy of his stature has been a long time in coming. I look forward to reading it and offering my thoughts in the coming days.