Ballard, plus the winning

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:28 PM ET

George Steinbrenner once said owning the Yankees "was like owning the Mona Lisa."

But the appreciation of fine art, as we all know, is a look-but-don't-touch exercise.

And that was so anti-Steinbrenner.

You got the sense if "The Boss" had been da Vinci's benefactor back in the day, he would've stood over the painter's shoulder while he worked, criticized him in public when he didn't think he was pulling his weight, hired another artist to clean up the mess and then brought back the original guy for another crack at it.

By the end of all the frayed nerves and bad feelings, almost miraculously, there would be a masterpiece to hang at the museum.

He was, more than anything else, hands on.

That's how Steinbrenner -- who died Tuesday from a massive heart attack at age 80 in Tampa just nine months after the Yankees' 27th World Series title -- will always be remembered.

But the second memory will be this: With seven World Series titles and 11 American League pennants during his 37-year reign, Steinbrenner was a winner.

He lusted after victories. The day he died, the Yankee were right where he always demanded they be -- in first place with baseball's best record.

Steinbrenner's passing marks the end of an era in sports ownership -- one in which one man could lord over a franchise like a king and do whatever he darn well pleased.

Old Toronto Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard had some of those qualities, too, just minus the winning.

But no one today has the stuff to pick up and carry that Steinbrenner mantle.

Certainly not his sons Hank and Hal.

Certainly not Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., which operates the Leafs and Toronto Raptors now, nor Rogers Communications, the Toronto Blue Jays owner.

In basketball, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has given it a good go at the crown. He's often controversial, quirky and always courtside. But he hasn't won anything yet. One trip to the NBA final does not a Steinbrenner clone make.

Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert has shown some Boss-like flair in criticizing LeBron James for skipping town -- but that was after the star was already gone. Steinbrenner once called Dave Winfield, the best player on his Yankees team, "Mr. May."

Steinbrenner demanded a star such as Goose Gossage shave his facial hair and he put pressure on Don Mattingly to chop off his long locks. Most of today's owners are too afraid to do anything but pamper their players.

He didn't make apologies for his players' performances but he did issue one to the city of New York once after his team lost a six-game World Series to the Dodgers in 1981. He thought they deserved better.

He came from a football mentality and couldn't understand why, with the best team money could buy, the Yankees didn't go 162-0 every year.

It's exactly the win-and-spend-at-all-costs attitude sports fans want in their teams' ownership.

Steinbrenner wasn't about diversifying his assets or rebuilding for the future. It was about ponying up everything it takes to win and ultimate triumph would take care of the rest.

A simple motto -- to the victor go the spoils.

Try rooting for the Florida Marlins, penny-pinching Minnesota Twins or even the get-us-out-of-the-AL-East Blue Jays. Some people gravitate toward the underdog.

But not Steinbrenner. His Yankees always have been about stomping on the little guy. Free agency gave him the chance to buy up other team's big stars and that remains the New York approach.

Today, sports teams are corporate, big-business entities. Steinbrenner was the forerunner of that, buying the Yankees in 1973 from media company CBS for $8.8 million and turning it into a world entertainment superpower worth more than $1 billlion.

It's funny, sometimes, the symmetry in the sports world.

Steinbrenner died the day of baseball's all-star game.

If there was an owners all-star game, you better believe he'd be pitching in it.

He wouldn't let anyone else near the ball.

twitter.com/ryanpyette


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