Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

The Boss attends the renaming of Legends Field

Yankees, from left, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Wilson Betemit face the new name of Legends Field, the spring training site and home of a minor league team, during the national anthem after the naming ceremony for George M. Steinbrenner Field on Thursday.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times

Yankees, from left, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Wilson Betemit face the new name of Legends Field, the spring training site and home of a minor league team, during the national anthem after the naming ceremony for George M. Steinbrenner Field on Thursday.

TAMPA — George Steinbrenner, the famously fiery and bombastic owner of the New York Yankees, has largely retreated from the spotlight at age 77.

But the man they call "the Boss" made a rare public appearance Thursday at Legends Field as his team's spring training complex was renamed for him.

Flanked by his wife and four children, he stood in left field and tugged on a rope to unveil a sign bearing the ballpark's new name, George M. Steinbrenner Field. Then the man who's been described as a tyrant and a bully got a wildly enthusiastic standing ovation from a packed house of appreciative fans.

"This is very special," he said. "It makes me very happy."

When sports stadiums get new names these days, they're usually the brands of big corporations. The naming rights generate another pile of cash for the home team.

But local leaders had urged the Yankees to name the ballpark for the Boss in recognition of his decades-long legacy of philanthropy. Many in his adopted hometown of Tampa have seen Steinbrenner's softer side — the compulsively generous billionaire who has opened up his checkbook again and again for children's charities, student athletics and military groups.

"There are so many things he has done quietly over the years that if you and I were to discuss them all, it would take longer than a day-night double-header," Tampa City Council member Charlie Miranda said from the stands along the first base line.

• • •

Legends Field, originally named for the Yankees' collection of legendary players, opened a dozen years ago on N Dale Mabry Highway when the team moved its spring training quarters from Fort Lauderdale to Tampa. It's also home to the minor league Tampa Yankees.

There was a time, years ago, when Steinbrenner, who led a group that acquired the Yankees in 1973, would step outside his luxury box in the later innings of nearly every spring training game to sign autographs for fans who lined up to meet him. Or he'd hold court at Malio's Steakhouse a few miles away.

These days, he typically stays in the owner's box or in his South Tampa mansion, out of the public eye. There are reports that he's in declining health. He's become more reclusive, especially now that he has turned over the operation of the team to his two sons.

But there he was Thursday, sitting in a golf cart on the baseball field beside the Yankees dugout. He chatted briefly with local bigwigs seated in the stands nearby, including Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio and retired Catholic Monsignor Laurence Higgins.

He waved at fans attending the Yankees' final home spring training game of the year. They cheered back at him.

They were fans like Ohio natives Carl Steinmetz, 65, and his son Jeff, 40, who uses a wheelchair due to muscular dystrophy. They were Reds fans until one day in the 1980s, when Steinbrenner noticed Jeff in his wheelchair and waved them in to watch the Yankees' batting practice. They had their photos taken with Yankee greats Billy Martin and Yogi Berra.

"From that moment on, they just won us over," Carl Steinmetz said.

• • •

Steinbrenner moved his family to Tampa nearly 35 years ago, looking for a spot for his shipbuilding business. He never left.

When the Tampa City Council and Hillsborough County Commission called for Legends Field to be renamed, and when the Hillsborough School Board recently named a new high school after Steinbrenner, they praised him for:

• Donating more than $1-million to St. Joseph's Children's Hospital, where a pediatric emergency center bears his name.

• Paying for Hillsborough middle school sports when they were threatened by budget cuts in the late 1990s.

• Underwriting Christmas concerts by the Florida Orchestra for children in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

• Buying lights for area Little League fields.

• Starting the Gold Shield Foundation, which pays college tuition for children of area police officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty.

After Thursday's ceremony, his son Hank Steinbrenner talked of his father's legacy in Tampa.

"The most important thing is the children's charities, no question," he said. "He always told us that America is supposed to be the land of milk and honey, and there's too many people that get left behind."

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3435.

The Boss attends the renaming of Legends Field 03/27/08 [Last modified: Friday, March 28, 2008 1:41pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Jones: Bucs need success to get national respect

    Bucs

    Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones offers up his Two Cents on the world of sports.

    No respect

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter walks the field during the second day of mandatory minicamp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
  2. Hopes fade after landslide destroys Chinese village (w/video)

    World

    Crews searching through the night in the rubble left by a landslide that buried a mountain village under tons of soil and rocks in southwestern China found 15 bodies, but more than 110 more people remained missing.

    Vehicles and people line a road leading to the site of a landslide in Xinmo village in Mao County on Saturday in southwestern China’s Sichuan Province. More than 100 people remained missing after the village was buried under tons of rocks and soil.
  3. Rookie Jake Faria dissatisfied with performance in Rays' loss to Orioles

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The rookie pitcher walked to his locker Saturday after tossing the fourth quality start in as many tries to begin his career. He held the potent Orioles bats to three runs and for six innings gave his team a chance to win.

    Orioles third baseman Manny Machado tags out the Rays’ Mallex Smith at third after a rundown in the first inning.
  4. Thousands converge in two St. Pete locations celebrating LGBT rights

    Human Interest

    ST. PETERSBURG — Tom Rockhill didn't know what to expect Saturday, but by noon people were knocking on the door of his bar Right Around the Corner in Grand Central.

    (From left to right) Emma Chalut 18, gets a rainbow sticker on her cheek from her sister Ellie, 15 both of Jacksonville before the annual St. Pete Pride parade in downtown St. Petersburg on Saturday. This year the route was changed from the Grand Central and Kenwood area to Bayshore Drive.
[EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]
  5. Retired Florida Supreme Court Justice Parker Lee McDonald dies

    TALLAHASSEE — A former Florida Supreme Court justice, who wrote a decision that prevented lawyers from excluding jurors because of their race, has died.

    Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Parker Lee McDonald died Saturday, the court said in a statement. He was 93.