- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 14, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) - The owners’ box behind home plate will be empty most nights. Then again, it has been vacant most games for several years.

Little figures to change in the operation of the New York Yankees following George Steinbrenner’s death Tuesday at age 80. His role for several years had been to give approval to decisions already made by the pinstriped management team he put in place.

In the second season of their $1.5 billion new Yankee Stadium, the team has unrivaled resources other franchises can’t even dream of.

New York won its seventh World Series title under Steinbrenner’s ownership last season, its first since 2000. Its $206 million opening-day payroll was $43 million higher than that of any other team, and the fruits of that spending shows. The Yankees‘ 56-32 record at the All-Star break is baseball’s best, and eight of their stars were All-Stars, the most from any team.

Steinbrenner formally turned control of baseball’s most famous franchise over to son Hal in November 2008. As managing general partner, Hal runs the business for himself, older brother Hank and sisters Jessica and Jennifer.

“He’s been slowing down the last couple years,” Hal Steinbrenner said on the day he took over. “Really, for the last two years I have been intimately involved with all aspects and all departments of the company. It’s what I’ve been doing day-to-day. My duties aren’t really going to change.”

Randy Levine, the team president, oversees the finances of the Yankees, a wide-ranging business that operates the baseball team, the YES Network and Legends Hospitality. Goldman Sachs has interests in the television and food companies, and the Dallas Cowboys co-own the catering business.

Lonn Trost, the team’s chief operating officer, is in charge of the franchise’s day-to-day business affairs, and general manager Brian Cashman consolidated authority over baseball personnel decisions when he agreed to a three-year contract in December 2005, a deal followed by another agreement in 2008.

Transition began after December 2003, when Steinbrenner fainted at a memorial service for NFL great Otto Graham. By the groundbreaking of new Yankee Stadium in August 2006, a deal spearheaded by Levine, Steinbrenner’s public speech had become short and clipped. He became ill while watching his granddaughter in a college play in North Carolina that October, his walking became unsteady and he further receded into the background.

By the following spring training, the dissipation of Steinbrenner’s maniacal attention was evident. Trash was allowed to overflow a garbage can at Legends Field. Baseballs were scattered randomly across the floor of the indoor batting cage on afternoons where Steinbrenner once scolded players for leaving bubble gum wrappers on the ground. The morning after Daylight Savings Time began, the scoreboard clock remained on Standard Time almost until the gates opened. Advertising boards outside the ballpark twice had typos in their messages.

As Steinbrenner faded, the Yankees became more corporate. Decisions no longer were based on whim and emotion.

“He was a warrior,” former commissioner Fay Vincent said Tuesday. “I think that he grew to be more balanced and wise, like most of us after he got older. I think the earlier misjudgments and mistakes he made disappeared as he got older.”

A climate of fear permeated the corridors of Yankee Stadium and the team’s spring training complexes for most of Steinbrenner’s first three decades. He demeaned underlings with profane rants, tried to motivate players and managers with anonymous quotes in the newspapers, then made up for unsympathetic behavior with uncommon generosity to both people and charities.

“He was irascible and complicated, but he will be remembered as a major pillar of the national pastime,” former commissioner Peter Ueberroth said. “His generosity to those in trouble is always understated because he often gave substantially without fingerprints.”

His drive lives on in his sons, if not his management style. The Yankees still have and spend more than any other team in baseball, and the demand for excellence that produced seven World Series titles and 11 American League pennants hasn’t changed.

“We expect to win every year. We’ve said that. We always say that,” Hal Steinbrenner said last July. “Our job is to field a championship-caliber team every year.”

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