When New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner died in 2010, having presided over the franchise for 37 years and seven championships, his obituary in the New York Times credited him for taking over a “declining Yankees team” and building it into a powerhouse. Most Yankee fans would agree, just as they might shudder at the mention of the “CBS Years,” the eight seasons (1965–1972) when the Yankees were owned by Steinbrenner’s predecessor, the Columbia Broadcasting System.
This is understandable. When CBS bought the club the Yanks had won 14 AL pennants in 16 seasons. After zero pennants in eight seasons, CBS sold to Steinbrenner, and a few years later they started winning pennants again. But is this view fair?
The CBS Years coincided with an unusual period in baseball history, when money meant the least. Once Jacob Ruppert bought the Yankees in 1915 they were always well positioned when a team had stars to sell—like Babe Ruth. Just as importantly, until the creation of the amateur draft in 1965 the Yankees could use their money and their prestige to land the best minor leaguers and the top amateur talent, helping them stay on top for decades. “Hello son, how’d you like to play for the New York Yankees?” For 50 years, this was a pretty powerful pitch.