TAMPA - George Steinbrenner, who rebuilt the New York Yankees into a sports empire with a mix of bluster and big bucks that polarized fans all across America, died Tuesday morning in Tampa.
Steinbrenner was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital late Monday night. He died around 6:30 a.m., according to the Associated press.
Flags were immediately lowered to half-staff at Steinbrenner Field, the Yankees' spring training complex. Many employees there were in tears.
The Yankees organization released the following statement from Steinbrenner's family Tuesday morning:
"It is with profound sadness that the family of George M. Steinbrenner III announces his passing. He passed away this morning in Tampa, Fla., at age 80.
"He was an incredible and charitable man. First and foremost he was devoted to his entire family - his beloved wife, Joan; his sisters, Susan Norpell and Judy Kamm, his children, Hank, Jennifer, Jessica and Hal; and all of his grandchildren.
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."
Funeral arrangements will be private. There will be an additional public service with details to be announced at a later date."
Steinbrenner, who turned 80 on July 4, owned the Yankees since 1973. During his ownership, the team won 11 American league pennants and seven World Series Championships.
For more than 30 years, Steinbrenner lived up to his billing as "the Boss," a nickname he earned and clearly enjoyed as he ruled with an iron fist.
He was known for feuds, clashing with Yankees great Yogi Berra and firing manager Billy Martin twice.
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.
Steinbrenner was well known in the Tampa Bay area for his philanthropy. He gave millions to charity, often with one stipulation, that no one be told who made the donation.
"This is so sad. I heard about it this morning and I couldn't believe it. He was a great man," said Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman, who knew Steinbrenner for more than 30 years said, "I am numb...I am numb. This man did so much for this community that no one even knows about. He is an icon...we will all miss what he has done."
"Such a presence in the Tampa Bay area. Obviously, he loved it and we loved having him and his family here and he will be dearly missed,” said Governor Charlie Crist.
Steinbrenner's death comes two days after the team's beloved public-address announcer Bob Sheppard died at 99.
Till the end, Steinbrenner demanded championships. He barbed Joe Torre during the 2007 AL playoffs, then let the popular manager leave after another loss in the opening round. The team responded last year by winning another title.
Steinbrenner had fainted at a memorial service for NFL star Otto Graham in 2003, appeared weak in 2006 at the groundbreaking for the new Yankee Stadium and later became ill while watching his granddaughter in a college play.
In recent times, Steinbrenner let sons Hal and Hank run more of the family business. Still, the former Big Ten football coach took umbrage when others questioned his fitness.
"No, I did not have a stroke. I am not ill. I work out daily," Steinbrenner said in 2006. "I'd like to see people who are saying that to come down here and do the workout that I do."
When Steinbrenner headed a group that bought the team on Jan. 3, 1973, he promised absentee ownership. But it didn't turn out that way.
While he liked to appear stern, Steinbrenner could poke fun at himself. He hosted "Saturday Night Live," clowned with Martin in a commercial and chuckled at his impersonation on "Seinfeld."
The Yankees paid off for him, with their value increasing more than 100-fold from the $8.7 million net price his group paid in January 1973. He freely spent his money, shelling out huge amounts for Derek Jeter, Reggie Jackson, Alex Rodriguez, Torre and others in hopes of yet another title.
"Winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing," Steinbrenner was fond of saying. "Breathing first, winning next."
All along, he envisioned himself as a true Yankee Doodle Dandy. It was fitting: George Michael Steinbrenner III was born on the Fourth of July, in 1930.
Added up, he joined the likes of Al Davis, Charlie O. Finley, Bill Veeck, George Halas, Jack Kent Cooke and Jerry Jones as the most recognized team owners in history.
Steinbrenner's sporting interests extended beyond baseball.
He was an assistant football coach at Northwestern and Purdue in the 1950s and was part of the group that bought the Cleveland Pipers of the American Basketball League in the 1960s.
He was a vice president of the U.S. Olympic Committee from 1989-96 and entered six horses in the Kentucky Derby, failing to win with Steve's Friend (1977), Eternal Prince (1985), Diligence (1996), Concerto (1997), Blue