The nation knew him as The Boss, the volcanic principal owner of the New York Yankees. But in Tampa, George Steinbrenner III was just George, or Big Stein, or simply Steinbrenner. He was a national character who loved his adopted hometown and gave back to the community in a big way.
Steinbrenner died Tuesday at age 80 after suffering a heart attack at home. Over three decades, he contributed generously to the noblest causes in town, from giving the children of slain police officers the chance to go to college to supporting the arts, area hospitals, youth sports and the schools.
This community was good to Steinbrenner, too. What made the relationship work is that he brought more than the Yankee pinstripes to the city. For all his money and occasional bluster, Steinbrenner was easily moved by a stranger's personal tragedy. Friends said he was often the "anonymous donor" who opened his wallet when the paper wrote about a family's dashed Christmas or a child in need of lifesaving care.
It is fitting that, despite his declining health in recent years, Steinbrenner made one of his final public appearances in May at the dedication of a high school north of Tampa that bears his family name. He took great pride in the bay area's civic institutions, and he used his force of personality to ensure everything he touched was a quality operation. When he chaired the Florida State Fair board in the 1990s, The Boss could be seen patrolling the midway, an entourage in tow, barking at his underlings to pick up the garbage. He took pride in everything big and small, and that made Tampa Bay a better place.