A low point for “The Boss,” for sure. But rather than let the episode fade away, the Yankees owner reached out nearly a decade later to repair the rift.
For those who knew Steinbrenner, behind a feisty facade was a fiercely loyal friend.
“It’s almost like you see a curtain drawn back, a veil lifted, just a complete change,” Winfield said of Steinbrenner after the reconciliation. “And our relationship changed from then on. And we got to know each other real well. I know that over the years, he admired me, he respected me and he liked me. And I did the same with him. It was very important.”
The 80-year-old Steinbrenner died in Tampa, Fla., early Tuesday after having a heart attack. He was remembered as much for his dictatorial style as he was for his generosity.
“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.” At the All-Star game in Anaheim, Calif., a video tribute was shown, and players bowed their heads during a moment of silence.
Steinbrenner was exacting and ruthless in running the Yankees. Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra, who went 14 years without talking to his boss after being fired as manager in 1985, said they’d leave the phone off the hook in the dugout for fear of getting a call from the owner.
The Boss’ bluster made him as famous as many of his players, a fixture on the back pages of the New York tabloids _ right where he wanted to be.
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 Jerry 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 team’s 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.”