The death of George Steinbrenner, who built a champion in the Bronx, was felt throughout New York City and beyond.
Steinbrenner, 80, died this morning in Tampa, Florida.
About 1,150 miles north, fans in the Bronx borough of New York paid tribute to Steinbrenner outside the $1.5 billion ballpark that now is part of his legacy. They were there to remember “The Boss,” who brought seven World Series championships and created a sports brand during his 37-year tenure.
“He always gave us, as fans and a community, a distraction,” said 42-year-old Bronx resident Robert Sanchez, wiping tears from under his sunglasses. “Especially for us in the neighborhood, we grew up under the lights of the stadium, and he’s the man who made it go.”
Under threatening rainclouds, some left notes, candles and photos outside Gate 4 of the 2-year-old ballpark, not far from home plate.
“Thank you for making our lives a little happier,” read one note, left by the Taveras family of the Bronx.
The Yankees’ .566 winning percentage since Steinbrenner led an investment group in January 1973 that bought the Major League Baseball franchise from CBS Corp. was the best in Major League Baseball. It’s the only franchise to draw more than 4 million fans at home for four straight seasons, from 2005 through 2008.
The Yankees said they’ll wear commemorative patches on their uniforms for the rest of the season to honor the passing of Steinbrenner and longtime Yankee Stadium announcer Bob Sheppard, who started on opening day April 17, 1951, and died two days ago at age 99.
The flags at City Hall were lowered to honor the “quintessential New Yorker,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in an e-mailed statement.
“This is a sad day not only for Yankee fans, but for our entire city, as few people have had a bigger impact on New York over the past four decades,” said Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
Steinbrenner was born in Ohio, where his family owned shipbuilding companies.
U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat from New York, offered a Senate resolution to honor Steinbrenner, a U.S. Air Force veteran. Steinbrenner returned glory to a struggling franchise that Schumer had rooted for since childhood, he said.
“He turned a scrappy group of baseball players into a team New Yorkers are proud to support,” Schumer said, according to a transcript of his statement made on the floor of the Senate. “The Yankees of his day are reminiscent of the Yankees of the 1920s, ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s and early ‘60s. All New Yorkers and baseball fans owe George Steinbrenner a huge thank you for changing the face of American baseball.”
While politicians and builders may have had more of a physical impact on New York, Steinbrenner’s reach was felt throughout the city and beyond, according to Harvey Schiller, former president of YankeeNets, the holding company that for a time owned the Yankees and New Jersey Nets.
“What he did, which the others didn’t do because they didn’t own the Yankees, is he was in every house,” Schiller said in a telephone interview. “His team was in the newspaper every day. It didn’t matter if it was kids in school, or when you went into a pizza restaurant in San Francisco, there was always a guy wearing a Yankees hat.”
Steinbrenner’s group bought the Yankees for a net price of $8.7 million. Today, it is worth $1.6 billion, the most in baseball, according to an annual ranking by Forbes magazine.
The New York Mets, with whom Steinbrenner competed for the passion of local baseball fans, remembered him today as a “larger-than-life figure and a force in the industry.”
“The rise and success of his teams on the field and in the business marketplace under his leadership are a testament to his skill, drive and determination,” the Mets said in an e-mailed statement.
New York’s National Football League teams also paid tribute in e-mailed statements. Jets owner Woody Johnson called Steinbrenner an inspiration, an American icon “whose passion and enthusiasm became part of the fabric of New York City.” Giants President John Mara said Steinbrenner’s death left a void in the sports world and the city, calling him “as generous and charitable a person as has ever been in sports.”
Some fans went to the Bronx today in search of tickets for the Yankees’ first game after the All-Star break on July 16, when they’ll honor Sheppard. Old-Timers Day, an annual celebration in which retired Yankee players compete in an exhibition game before the regular contest, is July 17.
People also arrived for tours of the stadium that opened a year ago and played host to the team’s 27th World Series championship on Nov. 4.
Bill Oberle, a 62-year-old who lives in the City Island section of the Bronx, said he came to Yankee Stadium when Yankees catcher Thurman Munson died in a plane crash in 1979. His visit today was different.
“This is more of a celebration of George’s life,” Oberle said.
Danny Taveras, a 22-year-old who lives near the stadium, looked toward the future of the team, whose 56-32 record is the best in baseball this season.
“This World Series that we’re going to win this year, it’s going to be for George,” he said.