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King George // The reign of George Steinbrenner begins for Tampa's Ye Mystic Krewe

New York columnists dubbed George Steinbrenner The Boss. His employees call him Mr. Steinbrenner. His friends call him George. Others call him things that can't be printed in this newspaper.

Tonight, the New York Yankees owner is expected to get a new handle.

Just call him The King.

Or, if you prefer, call him King Gasparilla LXXXIII. Sometime after 9 p.m., inside a ballroom decorated like a Virginia coastal town, Steinbrenner will be pulled from the crowd of 1,400, wrapped in a green bathrobe, draped with an ermine cape, shaded by a gold and royal red crown and handed a bejeweled stick.

For the next year, Tampa's oldest and most exclusive men's club will be taking orders from King George.

In the great scheme of things, this will mean not too much. But within the secretive, tradition-bound confines of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, this is big.

"With George as king, I think the sky's the limit," said Nancy Turner, who wrote a book about the Krewe.

In the history of Gasparilla, Turner said _ a history that dates to 1904 _ there are kings and there are Kings. The reign of King George, a man of great wealth who isn't shy about spreading it around, is expected to be legendary.

That's one reason the lobbying for positions in the king's court, especially the role of queen, was heavy right up until the vote earlier this month.

"If I had a candidate for the court, I'd be out hustling me some votes," said J. Scott Taylor, a Krewe member who is coordinating the coronation ball.

Taylor said there is no official figure on how much a king must spend, and some have been frugal. But a lavish king can easily spend into six figures during his reign.

There's the king's dinner, for his court and past royalty, a party that draws a few hundred guests. Kings also give gifts and sponsor a trip for the court. That's where the lowercase king can add a capital letter to his name.

"We've had kings that have taken the court on a boat ride to the (Sunshine) Skyway, catered by Wright's (a Tampa sandwich shop) and kings that take everybody on a trip to the Caribbean," Taylor said.

It's important that the king can afford the job. But Steinbrenner's selection had to do with more than money, Krewe members say. In many ways, this is George's year.

His new baseball stadium, Legends Field, is opening on Dale Mabry Highway across from Tampa Stadium. He's running the Florida State Fair. He has continued to be a patron of local arts groups and a benefactor for many charities. So it's only natural that he gets to be the titular head of a club that has long drawn the elite of Tampa's power structure.

"It's kind of a thank you for what you've done for the community," said Krewe member Henry Brown.

Plus, when asked, Steinbrenner agreed to do it.

Until 1950, the King of Gasparilla, like the queen, was often a young person. But with the cost of being king rising, the rules were changed and kings were drawn from the Krewe's older, more established members. The queen is normally a Krewe member's college-age daughter. The queen's parents are expected to pay her bills, which can rival the king's.

Steinbrenner himself isn't talking about his new title. While word has slipped out in print, and everybody in the Krewe seems to know, nothing is official until tonight.

George Levy, a Krewe member who plays tennis with the new king, didn't wait for the official word. He started the ribbing early.

"I told him, "George, you always wanted to be a king, and now you are one.' "

Steinbrenner's first appearance will be Saturday night in the Krewe of Sant' Yago's illuminated Night Parade, on a red and gold floating replica of a sailing ship. Steinbrenner and his queen sit on a couch, under a giant replica of the king's crown. Courtiers will sit on round benches in front. Everyone will wave. Dolphins wearing collars will appear to pull the ship along.

Hopefully, the queen will not trip on her high heel as she boards the float. Hopefully, the queen will not make the king mad.

So far, no king has ever fired a queen during her reign, but some krewe members are concerned.

Starting tonight, King George is on the throne and anything can happen.

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