Editor’s Note: In honor of George Steinbrenner’s 86th birthday, we are reprinting this article from July 13, 2010.
George Steinbrenner did it best when it came to manipulating the media, all for the benefit of his beloved New York Yankees. It sparked interest and most of all ticket sales. Steinbrenner, love him or hate him, it always came down to doing what was best for the Yankees. In the end it was best for baseball.
They will say that Steinbrenner, named the “Boss” by the media and his piers had this passion for winning. But the way he came across at times made the “Boss” appear to be what the rival Boston Red Sox would call, his “Evil Empire.” Steinbrenner took the initiative to spend money, all with one goal in mind, to bring the best to New York all for a championship. And for that he became evil.
To the New York Yankee baseball fan, Steinbrenner, on the contrary was not the evil man. He spent and always got his man. It was Reggie Jackson in the 1970’s, Dave Winfield, Goose Gossage, Randy Johnson, Alex Rordriguez and so many more.
And his team delivered the championships he wanted, most of all wanting title after title for the city he loved, New York. Chaos and anarchy in between with fellow owners, managers, coaches and players, and two suspensions from the game would not stop Steinbrenner from becoming the most important and historical owner of a professional sports franchise.
The tributes immediately came in when word reached from Tampa Florida early Tuesday about the passing of “the boss.” It was a massive heart attack that ended a life of fulfillment. Because since January 3, 1973, until his last breath, all George Steinbrenner thought about was, his family and the New York Yankees.
He wasn’t seen the last few years around the Bronx. They would say “the boss” was feeling better but we all knew it was not the same Steinbrenner when he handed most of the responsibilities to his sons Hal and Hank. And statements about a Yankee icon passing on, or about the state of his team would come from his friends at Rubenstein Associates.
We tried to get a glimpse of him when he came to the Bronx for what would be his last time, in October to take in Game 3 of the World Series. Secluded from all with the exception of the captain Derek Jeter, he anointed, and the manager Joe Girardi who was his second choice over Yankee favorite Don Mattingly. They came to see him in his suite at the new billion dollar Yankee Stadium that is known as the “House That George Built.”
Jeter always referred to his boss as, “Mr. Steinbrenner.” We never knew why, but it had to do with respect, because Jeter considers himself, never wearing any other uniform but Yankee pinstripes and owes that all to Steinbrenner.
The new stadium was always a priority, because Steinbrenner felt his fans deserved a stadium that had all the amenities of all those other new ballparks that were built The Bronx at one time was his enemy, There were harsh words and threats to move his team across the river to the Meadowlands in New Jersey.
Cooler heads prevailed and Steinbrenner got his commitment for a new stadium. Those around him say, George would rant and rave, threaten those near him about losing their job, and some would, but he would always make peace and have that compassion to bring them back to the Bronx.
He cared about people, some who he would adopt into the Yankee family. Bill Stimers is a main stay in the Yankees press box. They met in front of the old stadium by the press gate. Stimers, a former employee of Entermann’s Bakery would give Steinbrenner a box of cookies. George would become his friend and assist him with paying off his home in Brentwood New York,
There were numerous and continued contributions to charitable organizations, sitting on boards of foundations, and always a Steinbrenner assist leaving tickets for kids in the Bronx who wanted to go to their first New York Yankee ballgame and could not afford to do so.
Ask Yankees legend Yogi Berra, and just about every player that passed through the Yankee clubhouse. George would have his say, the football mentality in him from his assistant football coaching days at Northwestern and Purdue. But as they all say, “We kissed and made up.”
After all he was “the boss” that delivered and got the right players in place over the years, good enough for seven world championships. He wanted to win, had the desire and will, and he got it. More so his love-hate relationship with the manager Billy Martin that constantly got headlines.
Who would ever know, that this shipping baron from Cleveland Ohio with no ties to New York would eventually become the most influential and recognized owner of a professional sports franchise.
As for the media we all had some stories. There was a time Steinbrenner could be seen often at the old stadium walking from his private box through the auxiliary press box where we sat. Jason Giambi, his $19 million a year ballplayer would ground out into a game ending double-play with the bases loaded, and the Yankees would lose a tough one.
Steinbrenner, standing above this writer would put his hands up in dismay and say, “Geez, I pay this guy 19 million for that,” And he would rant and rave later saying, “and don’t you write that or I will remember you,”
It was written, he remembered, and later requested only a select few to sit in that auxiliary box area. It got yours truly to finally have a brief face-to-face with the person they called “The boss.”
‘You were only doing your job,” he would say.” Yeah, it was his box, his stadium and had the authority to say what he wanted. But bygones were bygones, and Steinbrenner always remembered the face.
They were his Yankees also, for New York City and the Bronx. Yankee fan or not you had to admire that personality and style.
e-mail Rich Mancuso: [email protected]