Yankees owner George Steinbrenner dies at 80

NEW YORK His celebrity went far beyond baseball, and to many, he was a cultural icon.

"He was an incredible and charitable man. First and foremost he was devoted to his entire family," said the Steinbrenner family in a statement. "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."

Steinbrenner died after suffering a massive heart attack in Tampa, Fla. His death comes just two days after the passing of longtime Yankee announcer Bob Sheppard.

"If you can't make the tough decisions, you can't be the boss," Steinbrenner had said in the past.

And for better or worse, he was "The Boss."

After buying the team from CBS in 1973 for about $10 million, Steinbrenner went after many of baseball's biggest stars, outbidding and overpaying for them.

He ruled with obsessive dedication to detail, overseeing everything from trades to the airblowers that kept his ballparks spotless. He admittedly was overbearing, screaming at all from commissioners to managers to secretaries.

His reign was interrupted for suspensions, including a 15-month ban in 1974 after his guilty plea to conspiring to make illegal contributions to President Richard Nixon's re-election campaign. He was pardoned 15 years later by President Ronald Reagan.

He revolutionized the franchise - and sports - by starting his own television network and ballpark food company. Forbes now values the Yankees at $1.6 billion, trailing only Manchester United ($1.8 billion) and the Dallas Cowboys ($1.65 billion).

"He was and always will be as much of a New York Yankee as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and all of the other Yankee legends," baseball commissioner Bud Selig said. "Although we would have disagreements over the years, they never interfered with our friendship and commitment to each other. Our friendship was built on loyalty and trust and it never wavered."

Steinbrenner was in fragile health for years, resulting in fewer public appearances and pronouncements. Yet dressed in his trademark navy blue blazer and white turtleneck, he was the model of success: The Yankees won seven World Series titles and 11 American League pennants after his reign began in 1973.

His death comes the same day the baseball world gathers in Anaheim for the Major League All-Star Game.

"Losing Mr. Steinbrenner and Mr. Sheppard the same week, it's a little rough for all Yankee fans," said fan Crystal Riehl.

Funeral arrangements will be private. There will be an additional public service with details to be announced at a later date.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

For full coverage on Steinbrenner's passing, visit our sister station WABC-TV in New York at 7online.com.

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