TAMPA — After moving to Tampa in 1973, George Steinbrenner wasted no time connecting with the city's most influential residents.
But perhaps no single tie mattered as much to Steinbrenner — or the Tampa Bay area — as his bond with Tom McEwen, the former sports editor of the Tampa Tribune. Their families spent Christmas Eve together. The Boss felt free to drop by McEwen's house unannounced, and vice versa.
It was McEwen who persuaded Steinbrenner to move the Yankees from Fort Lauderdale to Tampa for spring training after the 1995 season, then paved the way in one-on-one meetings with each Hillsborough County commissioner to broker a publicly funded stadium on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
The Boss, in turn, hosted a party in Waikiki Beach, Hawaii, to entice investor interest in an expansion baseball team in the Tampa Bay area, and gave McEwen an insider's access to the Yankees.
"It meant so much to us to be together," McEwen said. "I could help him, and he could help me. I was in a business where he needed to have the entree. And no one I knew was more accessible."
McEwen, 87, is loaded with Steinbrenner stories. But one stands out.
On March 1, 1993, the two men boarded a Cessna in Tampa. It was the end of Steinbrenner's two-year ban from baseball. Posters at Fort Lauderdale Stadium declared, "The Boss is back!"
Steinbrenner had planned to enter the stadium in disguise, then reveal himself in grand fashion. "Here came George in a phony hat and a beard," McEwen recalled. "He looked like s---.
"We said, 'George, you can't do that.' The pilot and I were together on that."
Steinbrenner dropped the disguise. He entered the stadium in a suit, to much fanfare.
"I will miss him dreadfully," McEwen said.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or email@example.com.