The news of George Steinbrenner's death from a heart attack today might have come as more of a surprise to the public had it not been for a 2007 article in Portfolio by sportswriter Franz Lidz that called attention to the New York Yankees owner's failing health. Lidz was criticized at the time for what some viewed as an invasion of Steinbrenner's medical privacy.
After hearing today's news, I emailed Lidz (whose tenure as a Portfolio contributor coincided with my time there, but whom I've never met) to ask whether he feels vindicated in raising the question of Steinbrenner's health and the franchise's succession planning how and when he did.
"Well, not exactly vindicated," he says. "George and I go way back -- to his earliest days with the Yankees. I've been the object of his wrath and his generosity. I'm sorry to see him go."
Not that he requires vindication. Lidz's story was labeled the "scoop of the year" in a 2008 collection of the best American sportswriting. But there are still those who feel he unfairly took advantage of "the Boss's" diminished mental acuity by using a mutual friend, Tom McEwan, to gain entry to his house.
In a book published in May, New York Daily News reporter Bill Madden even alleged that Lidz "duped" McEwan. Here's what Lidz has to say about that:
If Bill had actually read my story (instead of just cribbing from it), he would have realized that Tom -- a sports columnist for four decades -- invited me down to Florida to help answer his own questions about Steinbrenner's health. Indeed, his parting words to me were: "Franz, you've got one hell of a story. Don't be afraid to reveal the truth. Run with it." So much for being "duped." When I told Bill that a simple phone call would have cleared this up, he said (seriously) I should be "flattered" that he used the quotes from my piece to further the narrative on George's decline in the book. (I wasn't).