There is no huge movement to free agency in sports, no Evil Empire, no modern-era Yankee dynasty, no YES Network and not even a memorable parody on Seinfeld without the bombastic figure known simply as The Boss. George Steinbrenner, a one-of-a-kind figure in professional sports, died today of a heart attack at age 80.
Steinbrenner's feuds with Reggie Jackson, Billy Martin, Dave Winfield and a host of others were legendary during the 1970s and 80s. The Yankees were reborn in the late 90s and a new era of dominance began. That's where I ran into Steinbrenner, in the clubhouse in Cleveland, taking the World Series trophy from Bud Selig in 2000 after the Subway Series and congratulating Jerry Colangelo in the Arizona clubhouse following Game Seven in 2001.
In his later years, of course, Steinbrenner was mostly shielded from the spotlight as his health deteriorated. He gave a brief, fumbling speech at the 2006 groundbreaking of the new ballpark and his advanced dementia became obvious when he was driven around the warning track prior to the 2008 All-Star Game in the old Yankee Stadium.
Steinbrenner was openly weeping, a key symptom, as the cart drove him in front of the bleachers and the right-field auxiliary media area en route to delivering the game ball to the mound. Several of the old Yankees like Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage, Whitey Ford and Wade Boggs embraced him there. Steinbrenner stayed hidden in his suite for the opening of the new park last year and again early in the World Series.
Reporters went into panic mode (can't remember but it was either Game One or Two) when the press box elevators failed and the stairwell to the clubhouses was also locked on the bottom. The lockdown took about 10 minutes before it was magically rectified. The reason? The Yankees wanted to get The Boss out of the ballpark away from the prying eyes of the media.
Following the Game Six clincher, which Steinbrenner reportedly watched at home in Tampa, the scoreboard stayed on for two hours after the game with a graphic of the World Series trophy and a simple message, "This one is for you, Boss".
Should be quite interesting to see how MLB honors Steinbrenner tonight in Anaheim and how the Yankees players and manager Joe Girardi react to his death.
taggedMajor leagues | Yankees