NEW YORK - He used to be omnipresent at Yankee Stadium, micromanaging so much that World Series tickets could not be sent out until he revised the seating charts in his office. He raged at his players and celebrated them with equal gusto.
Now George Steinbrenner is 79 and frail. Still the primary owner but no longer the leader of his beloved Yankees, he saw just three regular-season games this season.
But he’s returning to New York just for the Series, and the Yankees can’t wait.
“We’re trying to do this for pops, Mr. Steinbrenner,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
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George Steinbrenner was missing from the bubbly celebration in the well-appointed clubhouse of the new Yankee Stadium on Sunday night, after the Yankees captured their first American League pennant in six years. He preferred to watch from home in Tampa, Fla.
But he was very much talked about.
His deeds were praised. Toasts were made in his honor.
“It means a tremendous amount to him,” son and Yankees senior vice president Hank Steinbrenner said Monday. “And then winning the World Series would mean a tremendous amount to him.”
Billions of dollars were spent to assemble baseball’s priciest collection of talent, and the money came from Steinbrenner’s bank accounts.
After erecting the fanciest ballpark ever seen, at a cost of $1.5 billion, it could even be said that he laid the very foundation for the franchise’s latest restoration.
Yet he’s been more an absence than a presence at the new stadium, visiting from Florida only for opening day, a 10-2 loss to Cleveland. The other games he saw were in Tampa.
He speaks haltingly in public and walks with difficultly following the second of two fainting spells that required hospitalization in December 2003 and October 2006. When he’s seen, most often during spring training, he appears withdrawn.
His trademark attire used to be a turtleneck and navy blazer; now it’s dark glasses. George Steinbrenner largely has been silenced, at least for Yankees fans.
He’s said to easily get emotional in recent years, a wave of sentimentality he fought to suppress during his younger days. Hank Steinbrenner said his father has singled out Mariano Rivera and Alex Rodriguez for special praise.
“This has taken him back 10 years, this team,” Hank said. “It’s very important to him. It’s very special.”
Heading a group that bought the team in 1973, Steinbrenner became famous on both the back and front pages of New York’s tabloids as “The Boss.”
He fought with manager Billy Martin and lavished love and money on Reggie Jackson as the Yankees captured World Series titles in 1977 and 1978. His relationship with the 1990s teams was more tranquil, although losing streaks usually would bring back the old venom. He was a clubhouse presence into 2006, but by the time he attended the 2008 All-Star Game at old Yankee Stadium, he was in a golf cart to deliver the balls for the ceremonial first pitches.
He didn’t even go to the final game at the old place, wasn’t there to hear Derek Jeter implore fans to “take the memories from this stadium, add it to the new memories that come with the new Yankee Stadium, and continue to pass them on from generation to generation.”
And he wasn’t there for the most important initial memories from the new ballpark, missing all 15 walkoff wins during the regular season and skipping the playoffs against the Twins and Angels.
“We want to win this whole thing. We’re one step away. We want to do it for my dad.” said son Hal Steinbrenner, who was doused by Jeter in the clubhouse. “I know we all feel the same.”
Hal Steinbrenner succeeded George as the controlling executive in November, becoming the spokesman for the ownership group. Hal hasn’t veered far from his father’s feared standards, although he delivers them without the lava flood.
“We expect to win the championship. Every year,” he said. “It’s not going to change.”