- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 13, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) - Yogi Berra vowed he would never talk to George Steinbrenner again after the owner fired him as Yankees manager 16 games into the 1985 season.

Fourteen years later, Steinbrenner apologized to Berra, and the two ended up close friends.

That’s the way it was with “The Boss” _ no middle ground.

“He said, ‘It was the worst mistake in my life,’” Berra said Tuesday at his museum in New Jersey. “We became very good friends.”

The 80-year-old Steinbrenner died in Tampa, Fla., early Tuesday after having a heart attack. Tributes came from Yankee greats to baseball executives to former President Bill Clinton and Jerry Seinfeld. He was described only in superlatives _ the way he would have liked it.

“I think he’s a father figure to everyone that was in our organization in the past or present, because he really took care of his players,” Yankees captain Derek Jeter said.

Flags were lowered to half-staff at New York’s City Hall and a marquee outside the $1.5 billion Yankee Stadium _ “the house that George built” _ honored “George M. Steinbrenner III, 1930-2010.”

Steinbrenner’s bluster made him as famous as many of his players, a fixture on the back pages of the New York tabloids. He was even lampooned on “Seinfeld,” a No. 1 television show in the 1990s. And Steinbrenner got a laugh out of the bumbling portrayal, voiced by the show’s executive producer Larry David.

“Who else could be a memorable character on a television show without actually appearing on the show? You felt George even though he wasn’t there,” said Seinfeld, the star and co-creator of the show. That’s how huge a force of personality he was.”

His players felt the outsized personality in many ways.

Those who put on the pinstripes were paid handsomely, but they knew the expectations that came with the paycheck were more intense than anywhere else.

“I remember my first, second year, I was on third base and got doubled off on a line drive in the infield and we won the game. After the game he was yelling at me for, ‘Don’t ever get doubled off again,’” Jeter said. “We won the game, but he expected perfection, and that rubbed off. And whether it was the players, the front office, the people working at the stadium, didn’t make a difference. He expected perfection.”

Paul O’Neill, a fellow native Ohioan, was one of Steinbrenner’s favorites during the championship run of the late 1990s and 2000 because of his intense demeanor and scrappy style of play. Steinbrenner, a former football coach, bestowed upon him the highest form of praise, calling him a “warrior.”

“I think our careers, our mindset, our lives changed because of his being our owner,” said O’Neill, now an analyst for the Steinbrenner created YES Network. “He kept that urgency of winning every single day, the expectation of winning. You can talk about that, but to truly believe it is different things.”

Buck Showalter, manager of the Yankees from 1992-95, added: “He made me very accountable. You know the job description going in. That’s why you don’t complain about it.”

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