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Five years after death of 'The Boss,' Steinbrenner family remains committed

The family of the late George Steinbrenner — from left, daughters Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal, and Jessica Steinbrenner; wife, Joan; and sons Hal and Hank Steinbrenner.
Published Jul. 13, 2015

TAMPA — Hal Steinbrenner was in high school when he painted a freighter from the family shipping business and presented it to his father, who proudly displayed it in his office for 20-plus years.

Now it has even more meaning. Returned to Hal after George M. Steinbrenner III's 2010 death, the painting serves as both a keepsake and daily reminder.

"It's sitting here in my office so every time I look at it, I kind of have that memory of giving it to him all those years ago," Hal Steinbrenner said.

With today marking the five-year anniversary of George Steinbrenner's death, his family remains focused on demanding excellence and driving for success across multiple platforms — albeit more quietly and without the outsized caricatured back page personality.

"I was a little surprised, quite frankly, when I looked at the date on the Fourth (George's birthday) and looked at the year, that it was five years," Hal Steinbrenner said. "Time flies. The older we get the faster time goes. It was surprising. It really was."

Perhaps that's because despite the tremendous void, the family remains feverishly committed to much the same plan: winning championships on the baseball field with the Yankees, expanding its business holdings and footprint globally and maintaining its base of operations, offices and philanthropic efforts in Tampa.

"The community, it's our community," Hal Steinbrenner said. "And it has been for four decades. There are no plans for any of that to change. We all live here, and that's the way it's going to stay. … I love this community, everybody in my family loves this community"

In a wide ranging interview with the Tampa Bay Times, Hal Steinbrenner discussed his father's legacy, the family's plans for baseball's most valuable franchise, a global business effort, Derek Jeter's future role with the team, their philanthropic efforts in Tampa and whether the Rays can succeed in Tampa Bay.

One thing Hal Steinbrenner made clear is that the family business will remain the family business as it has for more than 40 years, with no plans to sell a Yankees team valued most recently by Forbes at $3.2 billion.

"Believe me, we get asked this by the New York media every year, and the answer is we have no plans whatsoever to sell the team," Hal Steinbrenner said. "We all love being a part of it. It's a family business. We know what it meant to my dad, and it means the same thing to us.''

Several members of the next generation of the Steinbrenner family are already involved with Steven Swindal working in New York and Robert Malloy in Tampa, where the team has its spring training and minor-league base.

While the team has not won a championship since George Steinbrenner died, and missed the playoffs the last two years, other parts of the business are booming.

Under the umbrella of Yankee Global Enterprises, they have a share of the YES television network and are expanding Legends Hospitality, which, in partnership with the Dallas Cowboys, provides concessions and merchandising for several teams and sports venues (including AT&T Stadium near Dallas, the Manchester City FC soccer team in England) and runs tour operations for the newly opened One World Observatory in New York.

"That company is growing and is going to keep us busy," Hal Steinbrenner said.

The family also has hotel and horse breeding and racing interests. At some point, the Yankees expect to add Jeter, who retired as a player after last season after a 20-year career, as another key employee.

"He will be, I have no doubt," Hal Steinbrenner said. "He lives here in Tampa. . . . I think he's just trying to relax for a year. God knows he earned it. It's a good relationship and I have no doubt he'll be involved in whatever way he wants to be involved."

Jeter, though, has said he would be interested in owning his own team. Hal Steinbrenner said he would be a tough foe.

"He'd be a lot of a competitor, especially if he was in our league," he said. "We'll see. That would be great. He'd be a great owner, no doubt about it."

The Steinbrenners have a large imprint on the Tampa Bay community, with Hal's brother, Hank, and sisters, Jessica and Jennifer, and their families all living in the area. So does their mother Joan, George's widow.

"Everybody is good," said Hal Steinbrenner, 46. "All the siblings are involved here. Hank loves the baseball side of it. Jenny runs our foundation and Jessie is involved as well. My mom's doing good. She'll be 80 next month, slowing down a little bit but still getting out with her friends once in a while. All is well."

They also are involved with multiple charitable causes. Hal serves on the board of the Boys & Girls Club of Tampa Bay, the Tampa-based Special Operations Warrior Foundation and supports police, fire and Gold Shield efforts as well.

"These are the things we will continue to be involved with on a daily basis," Hal Steinbrenner said. "The Boys & Girls Club has always been one of our favorites, but anything having to do with children and the education of children is near and dear to our hearts."

Though it has been five years since George's passing, his legacy remains strong.

"It certainly hasn't faded, that's for sure," Hal Steinbrenner said. "I think everybody appreciates the things he did for the Tampa Bay community and the New York community when he was alive, and that appreciation has continued, without a doubt."

So has his influence on how the family — albeit with less bluster and fewer headlines — does its business.

"Absolutely," Hal Steinbrenner said. "In many ways.

"Clearly the protection of this incredibly great brand. The image of the brand is always foremost on our minds in everything we do. The Yankees have a great tradition. We have the tradition of excellence. And that needs to continue."

Related, in a way, are their extensive — and expensive — efforts to field the best team with little financial restraint, given an opening day payroll of $217.8 million, second most in major-league baseball.

"We go out to win a championship every year, the way every team does, but it will always be that way with us," Hal Steinbrenner said. "We always try to do everything we can to field a championship caliber team, put them together and hope for the best. We know our fans expect that. So we certainly have George in mind in that way."

The Yankees won their record 27th championship in 2009, inspired, in theory, to win one for the Boss, who was in failing health. But they have not been back to the World Series since and, after making the playoffs in 17 of 18 previous seasons, have sat out the last two Octobers.

"Look, there's been ups and down, right?" Hal Steinbrenner said. "There is no doubt competitive balance is more prevalent in this game, which is a good thing. Look at the teams that made the playoffs last year (the small market A's, Pirates and Royals). The landscape is more challenging because of that. We've got a good team, we've just got to stave off the injuries."

One of their competitors, of course, is the Rays. And, based on just his personal observation, Hal Steinbrenner said he thinks the market can be viable.

"Look at the location, I think the location of the stadium (in downtown St. Petersburg) has proven to be difficult at times as far as drawing fans," he said. "But the fans here in Tampa are great fans. We see it every March (for spring training), they support our (minor-league) team that is here all summer.

"They're great sports fans, whether it's hockey, whether it's football, whether it's baseball. I hope that continues in the years to come."

But is there enough to support the Rays, who are regularly last in attendance?

"I think it's a great sports town," he said. "They've supported the Bucs, they've supported us, they've supported the Lightning. I would think they would support the Rays. It's certainly a large enough community, correct? And they're big sports fans. So I would hope so."

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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