“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.”
Steinbrenner’s autocratic leadership style was apparent from the very beginning.
In 1960, when he was owner of his then-hometown Cleveland Pipers of the American Basketball League, Steinbrenner handed out his first pink slip _ he changed managers 21 times and got rid of more than a dozen general managers with the Yankees.
The first victim was GM Mike Cleary.
“He came in and said, ‘You’re fired’,” Cleary recalled. “I said, ‘I quit.’ Later we became good friends.”
Berra was fired just 16 games into the 1985 season, and kept his vow that he would stay away from Yankee Stadium until Steinbrenner apologized. He did in 1999.
“He said, ‘It was the worst mistake in my life,’” Berra said Tuesday at his museum in New Jersey. “We became very good friends.”
Fay Vincent, the commissioner who banned Steinbrenner for using a self-proclaimed gambler to try and dig up dirt on Winfield, came to admire the owner over the years.
“I think the earlier misjudgments and mistakes he made disappeared as a he got older,” Vincent said. “I think he wanted to be a great man in the image of Gen. George Patton, but I think he turned out to be a man for whom you could have great respect. He was a remarkable man, not a great man.”
Peter Ueberroth preceded Vincent as commissioner in the 1980s. He had a similar take on the larger-than-life Yankee.
“He was irascible and complicated, but he will be remembered as a major pillar of the national pastime,” Ueberroth said. “His generosity to those in trouble is always understated because he often gave substantially without fingerprints.”
A media hound when it came to baseball matters, Steinbrenner was equally reserved in matters of charity. And he gave plenty _ especially in his adopted hometown of Tampa.
Steinbrenner had no connection to Virginia Tech, but after a gunman killed 32 students on the campus in 2007 he donated $1 million to the “Hokies Spirit Memorial Fund” and sent the Yankees to Blacksburg, Va., for an exhibition game.
“To respond to a need as he did and put it into action tells me everything about what kind of a human being he was,” Virginia Tech baseball coach Pete Hughes said. “It was an immediate response, too, by him _ ‘How can we help them?’ _ and within 24 hours, the logistics of that game was being talked about.”