Before the grand ol' man, there was The Boss
(AP) - Many great Yankees were on the field wearing thefamous pinstripes again, now with special memorial patches in honorof George Steinbrenner and Bob Sheppard.
Amid all the tributes of the past week since the owner's death,Goose Gossage tried to lend some perspective, to contrast thebeloved father figure of Steinbrenner's later years with thetempest who shook up New York, baseball and all of sports in hisuninhibited younger days.
"The last decade or decade and a half, I just don't think hewas as tough as he was when we were there, crazy or whatever youwant to call it. He was crazy," Gossage said Saturday. "He wasoff the charts. The craziest thing about George was the more youwon, the crazier he got. Most people are like satisfied, and he gotcrazier."
Unless you were there, you wouldn't understand. That was the erawhen Gossage labeled "The Boss" "The Fat Man" during aclubhouse rant.
While Steinbrenner's casket was being placed in a mausoleumduring a private service in Trinity, Fla., the Yankees held their64th Old-Timers Day, a ritual celebration of pinstripes, titles andthe tradition handed from Ruth and Gehrig, to DiMaggio to Berra andMantle, and now to Jeter and Rivera.
Yogi Berra was missing after falling the previous night near hishome in Montclair, N.J. On a day of reflection and with flags athalf-staff, the emotional high was the introduction of MarySheppard, the widow of the team's public announcer from 1951-07.Sheppard died last Sunday, two days before Steinbrenner, the team'sowner since January 1973.
Steinbrenner, as he had in life, dominated proceedings.
"He came in the clubhouse one day," Ron Guidry recalled. "Thefinger was at me, and 'You're 0-2 in your last two starts."'
A Cy Young Award winner and two-time World Series champion,Gator was taken aback.
"I'm 0-2. I got a 1 ERA. It's not my fault," he rememberedresponding. "He would come in there and he would get you. Or hewould drop a line in the paper about the way you're pitching. Iwould read it, or if he said it to me face to face, the worst thingis it would get my dander up, so the next time I went out I hadthat on my mind."
Steinbrenner's bluster not only caught the attention of players,it captivated sports fans around the world. The battles betweenGeorge and Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson and Thurman Munson inthe late 1970s couldn't be equaled - not did anyone particularlywant them to be.
"That era there was the best soap opera in the country,"Guidry said, "because everybody that I would speak to on thestreet, they couldn't wait to pick up a paper every morning and seewhat happened to the Yankees last night. Because things were doneduring the game or after the game or at 2 o'clock in the morning.One day you leave the park, you say good night to your manager. Andthe next, another guy comes in and gives you the ball. You look athim, he goes, 'I'm the new manager.' It happened about 17 timeswhen I was here."
Graig Nettles defined the era when he famously said: "When Iwas a little boy, I wanted to be a baseball player and join thecircus. With the Yankees I have accomplished both."
"It just came to me," Nettles remembered.
Jackson was shaken when he learned of Steinbrenner's death, tooemotional to discuss it at the All-Star game. He wasn't even surehe wanted to attend Old-Timers Day.
"I need to be here. I talked to some people that I respect inthe leadership of the club. They thought I should be here, and so,I'm here," he said.
Having been the object of Steinbrenner's praise and ridicule,Jackson developed a complicated and perceptive relationship withthe man who brought him to New York as a free agent before the 1977season, then let him go after five seasons.
"Certainly his drive and his presence and character,personality, has permeated the organization and permeated the city,certainly I think the game of baseball as well," Jackson said.
What once was hurt and anger morphed into warmth andappreciation for a man Jackson admitted "fathered me at times, wasa friend at times" and was close to "being an older brother."
"I was disappointed and hurt when I left, and he said severaltimes - if he said it once, he said it 100 times - 'The biggestmistake I ever made in baseball was letting Reggie Jackson go.' Andso we were never enemies," Jackson said. "If I had any difficulttimes with him it was because I was in a learning process ofunderstanding life, and so I look at all of the times I had withhim as building a stronger relationship. There are players andowners in history that are tied together in the sport, and I'mproud to be tied to him. That will never change."