Friday, July 16, 2010

Steinbrenner's greatest legacy

This week, the North American sports fraternity mourns George Steinbrenner, former owner of the New York Yankees who passed away of a heart attack aged eighty on Tuesday.

Beginning in 1973, Steinbrenner's reign at the top of the Yankees proved tempestuous, going through growing pains for over two decades. It didn't pay too long to be the Manager of the Yankees - “Manager George” changed them with the same frequency as most of us change antivirus softwares – he employed 20 bosses through his first 23 seasons. General managers fared little better as the Yankees discarded 11 over a thirty year period. His teams started off winning sporadically, but over time fortunes improved and last season he saw his Yankees win their seventh World Series under his tenure with a 4-2 win over the Phillies. Along with those seven titles came 11 American League Championships. Famous initially just for his involvement with the Yankees, Steinbrenner was launched instantly into public consciousness soon after taking over for his tendencies to overvalue the benefits of personal grooming: shortly after purchase he took down the numbers of all the Yankees whose hair he decreed as too long. Other times reprimanded or even benched stars like Goose Gossage and Don Mattingly for having hair, beards or mutton chops not to his liking. Steinbrenner was the archetypal Meddling Owner and the forerunner for such fantastical owners as Mark Cuban and or Dana White*.

Unquestionably though, he became most famous of all for being George Costanza's boss on Seinfeld.

Voiced by series creator Larry David, the Steinbrenner character was portrayed as a random, constantly rambling buffoon who placed more importance on Calzones, Tyler Chicken and the merits of a good, hot soak, than he did the fortunes of his baseball club.

This was my first introduction to George Steinbrenner and to be fair, my defining knowledge of the man is of the parodies he engendered. So his passing got me thinking: Which sporting identities could be parodied in such a way as to become sitcom characters? Given that – let's face it – most secondary sitcom characters have only one defining characteristic or joke and are rarely afforded time or want for character development (cf. “The Todd” in Scrubs; Seinfeld's own Evil Genius Newman; any character in Big Bang Theory or Two and a Half Men – the list goes on), so each would really only need their own physical, mental or emotional idiosyncrasies and a profile large enough that the viewing populace could reasonably recognise them without assistance.

The first that leapt to mind were:

The 1987-88 Washington Bullets (Players, NBA, err ... Washington Bullets)
Well, really only two of them. The Bullets in 1987-88 sported the equal-tallest player in NBA history, Manute Bol (7'7), and the shortest, Muggsy Bogues (5'3). Call 'em what you want: Little & Large Show, The Odd Couple, Manute & Minime ... Coupled with Muggsy's origins in the toughest part of Baltimore and his mile-a-minute speech patterns; Bol's indeterminate age (he honestly didn't know how old he was), stories that he killed a lion in a coming-of-age ceremony in Sudan and courtside pratfalls make this comedy gold! Actually, why isn't anyone making a sitcom about this right now?

Terrell Owens (Player, NFL, Free Agent)
Perhaps the most naturally-gifted Running Back of the past twenty years, TO has already made a parody of himself without needing Hollywood's help. Not the only prodigy to do such (Stephon Marbury's gradual decline into insanity springs instantly to mind), TO's outspokenness, cross-promotability (I'm sure I just invented that word) and utter inability to get along even in the medium-term with anyone in authority just screams sitcom.

Jerry Buss (Owner, NBA, LA Lakers)
Real-Estate billionaire, adopts Playboy-style life, buys a sports franchise; Daughter poses for Playboy herself, joins her brothers in running the franchise then dates Supercoach; Jerry decides to play high-stakes poker. Actually I've got this wrong – this isn't sitcom (though it could be), this is Days of our Lives!

David Beckham (Player, MLS, LA Galaxy)
So what if we're picking on easy targets! Beckham's very life is a soap opera crammed with so much comic gold it's impossible to know where to start. He's actually fits the model of the sitcom character already – the beautiful jock who's perhaps just a couple of kangaroos loose in the top paddock. Add to this his American-Idol-reject of a wife and, to borrow a Seinfeldism, “That's gold, Jerry, GOLD”! Sadly this may never happen as it's eminently possible we've not seen a soccer player this aware of his own marketability before.

Don Nelson (Coach, NBA, Golden State Warriors)
Zany, off-the-wall basketball tacticians, thy God is “Nellie”. After creating a legacy as an innovator while coaching in Milwaukee, Nelson has become th all-time leader in NBA coaching victories. But he's done it amidst rosters no sane man would assemble, the occasional feud with his former-BFFs – he's apparently never left a job on good terms – and the occasional lawsuit thrown in, you can just see him as Crazy Uncle Don, who begins and ends each sentence with “The Power of Christ compels You to DO AS I SAY!”. Nelson comes in to address the quarter-time huddle “The Power of Christ compels You to DO AS I SAY! The next play is an alley-oop to Mullin, run it quickly from the sideline as we don't want him picked up by an athlete. The Power of Christ compels You to DO AS I SAY!

Kevin Sheedy (Coach, AFL, Greater Western Sydney)
Don Nelson's Australian counterpart! With antics like tying the windsock down at Essendon's home ground; coining the phrases “Marshmallows”, calling a trio of field umpires “Martians”, Sheedy could be the madcap Grandpa – I'm sure you, like me, would have to check Williams Shatner's availability. Picture Shatner waving his jacket over his head on beating the West Coast ( Now reverse the image, and see Sheedy screaming “KHHAAAAAAAAN”! Perfect, eh? (smug smile)

We'd love to hear your suggestions: please feel free to let Balanced Sports know!

* I know White's really the President & minority owner of the UFC. A little poetic licence, please.

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