This past week, the Steinbrenner family and the baseball world lost one of the all-time great ladies, Joan Steinbrenner.
I have read some of the terrific things written for this great wife, mother and just overall wonderful person. I wanted to share my first memories of the First Lady of the New York Yankees.
During the 1974 baseball season the Yankees were playing at Shea Stadium while Yankee Stadium was being renovated. One day that summer I saw a lady sitting in the executive box seat next to the Yankee dugout. She was sitting with a couple of friends. Even though they were all important looking people, there was something about her that just stood out.
She looked a lot like the actress Donna Reed from the popular television series, The Donna Reed Show. Just before the game started I was getting things ready by the dugout. At one point our eyes met and she said hello. I was painfully shy at the time but said hello back. Because of the big Afro hairstyle that I had at the time, I guess I stood out from the other bat boys. At that moment she said to me,”Mr. Steinbrenner says you’re going to be our short stop someday.” Dick Howser was our third base coach and he was putting up the lineup card. Dick said to me, “That was a nice compliment from Mrs. Steinbrenner.”
That was when I found out who she was. I must add that her words and enthusiasm towards me were incredibly helpful for my confidence. To this day, I have been grateful for that moment with her.
A couple of springs later Mr. Steinbrenner brought me to his home in Fort Lauderdale. He wanted me to meet his wife and young son Harold. When I walked into his condominium apartment, he brought me into the living room and he went to get his wife. Through the doors walked the lady that I first met at Shea Stadium. She looked just as great at that moment as she did the first time I met her at Shea Stadium. When she looked at me she started to laugh and said, “I guess you and George have some history together.” She asked me if I had met Harold yet. All of a sudden Mr. Steinbrenner walked in with the young man that would grow up to be Yankee Co Chairman Hal Steinbrenner. He must have been seven or eight at the time. You could tell that Hal and his mom were very close as she was extremely close to all of the children. At one point Mrs. Steinbrenner pointed out to me that she trusted me with her baby and that I had better do a good job babysitting. She would then give me an extremely warm smile that would just make you feel good about yourself. Whenever I took care of Hal Steinbrenner, from that moment on I wanted to do the best job possible more so because of her than the Boss. That’s the truth.
To me Mr. Steinbrenner was the Boss of the Yankees but she was truly the First Lady.
During the 70s, Reggie Jackson lived at 985 5th Avenue in Manhattan. When I wasn’t at Yankee Stadium, I was usually with him. Exactly one block away lived Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, the former First Lady and wife of President John F Kennedy. I saw her one day going by Reggie’s building and she gave us a nice smile and said hello.
At that moment, Reggie said, “I bet you never met a First Lady before?” I responded by saying “Oh yes I have.” Reggie said, “And who was that?” I said.” Mrs. Steinbrenner!”