Does the legacy of George Steinbrenner III merit a memorial plaque that measures 35 square feet – more than the combined square footage allotted in Monument Park to the guys who actually played the games and thrilled the fans - Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Mantle?
The moves made by Steinbrenner since he purchased the Yankees in 1973 resulted in 7 championships and positioned the team to win a disproportionate share of division titles, league championships, and World Series for many years to come – or at least until baseball institutes regulations that erode the advantages that Steinbrenner helped create and exploited to the hilt. As such he deserves tremendous credit for past, present, and likely future success. You could argue that when all is said and done his actions and decisions will have played a critical role in delivering more championships to the Bronx than anyone in the history of the organization.
Was Steinbrenner during his tenure "the most influential owner in all of sports" as the plaque asserts? Perhaps. Even his many detractors have to admit that he is at least in the discussion. But those Yankee fans who have expressed disappointment with the gargantuan memorial to Steinbrenner unveiled on Monday certainly have a point, and I have to acknowledge that I count myself among them.
Steinbrenner did not create the Yankee "brand" – he helped to restore it. If anyone deserves an outsized memorial it is Babe Ruth. And Ruth isn't even my favorite Yankee of all time – that would be Gehrig.
The issue is not whether Steinbrenner should receive heaps of praise and recognition. The issue is not even the size of the plaque in isolation. It is the relative credit and honor conferred on him as compared to the others who are commemorated in that space. It may be meaningless – or even amusing - to fans of other teams that anyone should care much about this, and to be sure there are many (including Yankee fans) who don't. But any team with a long history of success has its ways of honoring those who contributed to that success, be it the numbers that the Celtics hang from their rafters, the Cowboy's Ring of Honor, or the Yankees' Monument Park, and to many fans of these teams, who gets honored – and how – matters.
Steinbrenner's legacy is at much greater risk of being forgotten – or at least minimized – in years to come than any of the players honored in Monument Park. It is players first and managers second who get remembered. As much as fans are thankful to Steinbrenner now, in 50 years when people talk about this era of the Yankee organization, it is Jeter, Rivera, A-Rod, and even Torre that they will likely recall before mentioning Steinbrenner's name, if they do at all. And perhaps that is a big part of the rationale for the Steinbrenner family's decision to commemorate their patriarch so ostentatiously.
But having gone to the Stadium for last night's game, I have to say that seeing the memorial plaque in person confirmed my initial feelings when I watched the ceremony the night before. When considered in comparison to everything else in Monument Park, it is – simply – too much.