Opening Day Question: Did Andy Kaufman Inspire George Steinbrenner/President Trump?


It is a time of great uncertainty. No one knows in which direction the ship is headed. Who is the next high level person to get fired? What accusations will we hear in the press today? Where are the leaks coming from? Who is our leader feuding with and what soap operatic statements will he make? Will we overcome racial divisions and talk of corruption?

Of course, while that paragraph could be interpreted as a current day statement about our country, it could just as easily have been written about my beloved New York Yankees at any point in the 1980s. You see, like most people, I spend an inordinate amount of each day thinking about politics and the 1980s era New York Yankees. It is only natural. And that thought process led me to this conclusion: President Trump and George Steinbrenner are essentially the same person.

In fact, the two are so similar it has me wondering if Steinbrenner’s 2010 death was not actually some elaborate Andy Kaufman-like prank. Perhaps President Trump is merely Steinbrenner’s version of Tony Clifton: entertaining some, angering others. But I digress. Just how similar are the two? Let’s take a look, shall we?

You’re Fired

There could be a genuine debate over which of these two is more famous for firing people. President Trump, of course, gained notoriety with the phrase, “You’re fired” when he was making the hard choices of booting people like Gary Busey and Jose Canseco off The Apprentice. Trump even tried, unsuccessfully, to trademark the phrase.

Steinbrenner, also known as “The Boss,” made a lasting impression on the small army of managers he fired throughout his tenure as Yankees owner. From 1978-1990, Steinbrenner said, “You’re fired” to his manager 16 times, including a remarkable five times to Billy Martin alone. He also fired Bob Lemon, Gene Michael, and Lou Piniella twice apiece, including once firing Michael after the Yankees had already clinched a playoff spot.

Call Me Donald T…No, That’s Too Obvious. How About D. Trump?

Boy oh boy, did George Steinbrenner love calling reporters and talking to them as an anonymous source. If you read a story that said, “sources close to George Steinbrenner say Lou Piniella is in danger of losing his job,” it was a 100% guarantee that the sources were in fact Steinbrenner himself. Not to be outdone, in the 1980s and ‘90s, reporters would speak to a Trump spokesman calling himself John Miller or John Barron, who would lavish praise about Donald Trump. By many accounts, Miller and Barron were actually Trump himself.

Fight! Fight! Fight!

In the fall of 1981, the Yankees met the Dodgers in the World Series. After Game 3 in Los Angeles, Steinbrenner claimed to have gotten into a fight with two Dodger fans who dared make obscene comments about New York. Though his arm was in a cast, no one ever came forward claiming to be those two fans, causing many to think Steinbrenner made the whole thing up.

During this past presidential campaign, then-Vice President Joe Biden mentioned how he wished he was still in high school so he could take then-candidate Trump behind the gym (to fight him). Trump responded in-kind, talking about how much he’d love to fight the vice president. Alas, the Biden v. Trump scuffle – much like the one Steinbrenner talked about – never occurred.

Oscar Caliber Performances

Trump and Steinbrenner had no problem showing off their acting chops. Trump can be seen on the big screen praising the work of male model Derek Zoolander, while also directing a young child down the halls of The Plaza Hotel without asking where his parents are. Steinbrenner, meanwhile, made a memorable cameo in the critically acclaimed The Scout, a film about the Yankees signing an unknown phenom who could be the greatest player of all time (it’s eerily similar to the Mets/Tim Tebow story).

Not Just Movies

They also did TV. Trump became one of the most well-known reality TV stars with The Apprentice. From Suddenly Susan to The Nanny, he has also appeared on countless television shows that I have never watched. Steinbrenner, meanwhile, helped reshape his image through a caricature of him created on Seinfeld. While Steinbrenner himself wasn’t the actor portraying “The Boss,” he actually did end up filming an episode of the show (his scenes were eventually cut). And both hosted Saturday Night Live.


There is not enough space here to list the accusations made by President Trump that are, as my high school teachers might say, lacking MLA style citation. The Boss was not shy about doing the same thing. When the Yankees squared off against the Seattle Mariners in the 1995 playoffs, Steinbrenner accused an umpire of making calls against the Yankees because he lived in Oregon. Late in the 1985 season, as the Yankees were going through a tough stretch, Steinbrenner famously called future Hall of Famer Dave Winfield “Mr. May” for his perceived failure to come through in big situations. For the record, Winfield drove in 114 runs, won a gold glove, and was an All Star that year.


George Steinbrenner could hold a grudge like no other (well, almost no other). For years he feuded with Mets’ ownership about a host of issues. In 2003, after the Red Sox’s president referred to the Yankees as the “evil empire,” Steinbrenner lashed out at Boston for not making an effort to provide the best team for their fans. The Boss was so angry with the aforementioned Dave Winfield for getting the best of him during contract negotiations that he eventually sued Winfield. Then he paid a gambler with mafia connections for dirt on Winfield so he could blackmail him.

President Trump has been known to hold a grudge or two as well. He famously feuded with Rosie O’Donnell, is currently feuding with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and has recently picked fights with Meryl Streep (yay Jersey!), Mark Cuban, the entirety of the media, Cher, and Snoop Dog, to name a few.

So are Steinbrenner and Trump the same person? Are we all being Tony Cliftoned? Only time will tell. But if the President of the United States starts lip-syncing Mighty Mouse records during his next SNL appearance, I will feel vindicated.

Chris Donnelly is a Principal at the public affairs and consulting firm Kivvit, located in Asbury Park. In his spare time, he pretends to be an author. He’s written two books, Baseball’s Greatest Series: Yankees, Mariners, and the 1995 Matchup That Changed History, and How The Yankees Explain New York. A third book – which he looks forward to you buying – about the 1985 New York Yankees and Mets, is due out in 2019.

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