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News and notes on George Steinbrenner's death

Takes from Tampa Bay owners

The owners of Tampa Bay's other professional sports franchises all cited the impact of George Steinbrenner on the community upon hearing of his death Tuesday.

"The sports world and Tampa community have lost a legend and a friend," the Glazer family, owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, said in a statement. "George was one of the most consequential and colorful executives in sports history. He helped restore his proud franchise to its unique place in sports and society. However, his greatest contributions weren't those that graced the sports page. He was a caring, gentle giant in our community. George will be sorely missed."

Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer has been in poor health since suffering two strokes in 2006. After a lengthy hospital stay, he returned to his home in Palm Beach and has not appeared in public since. The team, which does not comment on Malcolm's condition, is now run by his sons.

Meanwhile, Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, whose team shares the American League East division with the Yankees (who hold spring training in Tampa), said in a statement: "George Steinbrenner's impact on both the game of baseball and in the Tampa Bay community will have an everlasting effect on us all. We send our deepest sympathies to the Steinbrenner family and the Yankees organization."

"As I learn more about the Tampa Bay community, it's very evident that George Steinbrenner established a tremendous legacy here," said Jeff Vinik, new owner of the Lightning. "He was one of Tampa's greatest citizens and one of the most benevolent and successful owners in all of sports. We all can learn from his leadership in giving back to those less fortunate and those who mentor our young people. Collectively, we all need to work together to try to fill the void in the community his passing creates."

Thorn in their side

George Steinbrenner's impact as the most famous sports franchise owner is well-known. But his impact is still being felt by the city of St. Petersburg and the Rays, a front-runner this year in the standings but not when it comes to filling the Tropicana Field stands.

"Everyone wonders why the Rays don't have the undivided attention of the area," writer Peter Golenbock said. "The reason they don't have the undivided attention is because of the Yankees."

The Yankees remain Tampa's team to many, and Steinbrenner did everything he could to keep it that way. He tried to sabotage St. Petersburg's attempts to build a baseball stadium in the late 1980s and early 1990s as the city tried to recruit another franchise that didn't belong to him.

"He didn't have as much power as he thought he did because he tried everything he could to keep St. Pete from getting the Trop," Golenbock said. "He did everything he could to try and muck up St. Petersburg from getting that stadium."

'I'm going to miss him'

Yogi Berra heard the news from his wife, Carmen, who got a call from a reporter early Tuesday to say that George Steinbrenner had died.

"I said, 'No,' " Berra said. "I just said, 'No.' I'm going to miss him. It's sad for me to talk about it."

Like so many Yankee greats from the time before Steinbrenner bought the team in 1973, Berra had a complicated relationship with The Boss — Berra managed the Yankees in 1984 after coaching for eight seasons, but Steinbrenner fired Berra 16 games into the 1985 season and upset Berra by sending general manager Clyde King to do the deed.

It took 14 years before Berra returned to Yankee Stadium, prompted by a visit in 1999 to Berra's museum on the campus of Montclair State University, where Yogi and Carmen Berra, along with son Dale, a former Yankees player, spoke about Steinbrenner on Tuesday.

"When he came here, I told him, 'You're 15 minutes late,' " Yogi said. "He said to me, 'I flew all the way from Florida to be friends again.' And we were friends. He was real good to me."

Berra, 85, choked up a few times speaking about Steinbrenner.

Berra got most emotional discussing his firing and his vow to stay away from the stadium.

"I didn't like the way I was fired," he said. "Usually, the owner calls you up and says, 'We're going to make a change.' George got Clyde King to do it. And I didn't like that. And I said I'd never come back to Yankee Stadium.

"When he came here (in 1999), he said, 'It's the worst mistake I ever made.' I told him, 'George, everybody makes mistakes.' "

First of many firings

Someone had to feel George Steinbrenner's wrath first. Mike Cleary was employee victim No. 1.

"I was the first person he ever fired," said Cleary, executive director of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics. "I was a 24-year-old general manager, and George was a 29-year-old owner."

And already showing signs of being a demanding, dictatorial leader.

In 1960, Cleary was GM of the Cleveland Pipers of the American Basketball League, working for a young Steinbrenner, a Cleveland-area native whose family's shipping business gave him the revenue to enter sports ownership. The team was hoping to get publicity for signing Dick Barnett, who would later play for the New York Knicks, and had worked out an agreement to break the story in the Cleveland Press.

But the story leaked, and Steinbrenner was irate. He took it out on Cleary. "He came in and said, 'You're fired,' " Cleary recalled. "I said, 'I quit.' Later we became good friends."

Although he was dismissed — for the one and only time in his life — Cleary, who has been NACDA's executive director for 45 years, did get some revenge on Steinbrenner. Cleary didn't get a final paycheck from Steinbrenner, so he took the money for two weeks' pay out of the gate receipts from one of the team's games.

He didn't stop there. "I wrote him a note that said, 'Dear George,' " Cleary said. " 'You forgot to pay me when you fired me so I took two weeks' salary, and just because I know how magnanimous you are, I took two more weeks because I know you would have wanted to give me two weeks severance pay, too.' "

Cleary said Steinbrenner wasn't pleased but eventually forgave him.

During his tenure in New York, Steinbrenner changed managers 21 times and got rid of more than a dozen GMs. Steinbrenner bought the Yankees in 1973, after an earlier failed attempt to buy the Indians.

A working vacation

Harvey Greene was the Yankees public relations manager from 1986 through part of the 1989 season. He took a vacation once in December, when nothing was going on in baseball. Yet George Steinbrenner told Greene to check in with him every day.

Greene was in Guadeloupe, experiencing "the antidote to civilization" — no room keys. No phones. So every afternoon, when he and some friends took kayaks to a secluded beach, Greene detoured to a nearby hotel to use a pay phone.

"I'd get some French francs and call New York while everybody was having fun on the secluded beach," Greene recalled.

Times staff, wires

What they're saying

"I don't know if you can really put it into words. It's sad, but you're just shocked. I think he's a father figure to everyone that was in our organization in the past or present, because he really took care of his players. You know, whether it was a player that's on the team now or someone that played for a week 30 years ago, he really went out of his way to take care of the players."

Derek Jeter, Yankees captain

• • •

"The Boss has always been a first-class person to his players, believed in his players and loved his players. He cares about people, and you don't get better people than Mr. Steinbrenner. … He's dearly loved by anyone who ever wore a Yankees uniform. All you saw in his eyes when he came in that clubhouse was that he believed in the Yankees and what those pinstripes meant. He had a tremendous impact on me. What I learned from him more than anything was to never quit, to never give up, no matter what comes up in life. He was like a father I never had. I have nothing but respect for him and I will always be grateful that he allowed me to be part of the Yankees family."

Darryl Strawberry, former Yankees player

• • •

"They're going to have to look at him as one of the top owners in the history of sports. You just look at the record, where they came from, with the championships and stuff, they'll look at him as one of the most forceful, or the guy with the most impact in professional sports."

Dave Winfield, former Yankees player

• • •

"On behalf of baseball, I am very saddened by the passing (Tuesday morning) of George Steinbrenner. George was a giant of the game, and his devotion to baseball was surpassed only by his devotion to his family and his beloved New York Yankees. He was and always will be as much of a New York Yankee as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and all of the other Yankee legends."

Bud Selig, MLB commissioner

• • •

"I would prefer to remember him just as he was the first time I met him. I was managing the Red Sox and sitting in the dugout several hours before a game at Yankee Stadium. He was on the mound in a white shirt pitching batting practice to his son. A father throwing to his son. … His impact on the game is impossible to measure. If you were a Yankee fan, there was no better owner because he would do anything at any cost to put the best team on the field. My deepest sympathies go out to his family."

Don Zimmer, former Yankees bench coach and now senior adviser to Rays

• • •

"People don't realize his generosity. It was off the charts. Any time I ever called him for anything involving the Boys and Girls Club or the V Foundation (for cancer research), he would stop me and say, 'What do you need? Just tell me what you need.' He loved helping people. And as far as sports, he hated losing. … But despite how he hates to lose, George had a heart of gold. He will be sorely missed in Tampa and, of course, New York. So many people can tell you George was personally responsible for helping them in whatever way he could."

Dick Vitale, ESPN college basketball analyst

News and notes on George Steinbrenner's death 07/13/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 14, 2010 9:23am]
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