Flags above Angel Stadium’s center field were lowered to half staff. New York Yankees players and coaches wore black armbands on their left sleeves. A moment of silence to honor deceased Yankees owner George Steinbrenner preceded Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game in Anaheim, California.
“It’s a difficult time on a great day for baseball,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who also was the American League manager last night, said in a news conference before the National League beat the AL 3-1. “A great man in baseball passed. He has meant so much to the game of baseball.”
Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said the key to understanding the man known as “The Boss” was to appreciate his roots as a football coach. Steinbrenner, who died yesterday in Tampa, Florida, at the age of 80, was an assistant football coach at Northwestern and Purdue universities in the 1950s.
“He was an old football coach, so he sort of looked at the baseball season like we played 12 games and you had to win every single day,” Jeter said at the news conference. “He expected to win every night, every day. He expected perfection and that rubbed off on the organization.”
The common perception of Steinbrenner as a demanding employer was only part of the story, Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte said.
“George used to hand me Bible verses before some of my playoff starts,” Pettitte said at the news conference. “He was tough but he was always there to support you. It was tough support. He expected a lot, he demanded a lot.”
Alex Rodriguez, a Yankee All-Star along with Jeter and Pettitte, remembered a handwritten note that arrived in the clubhouse for him during his first season with New York in 2004. It had the initials GMS on it and the words “I’M COUNTING ON YOU” in capital letters. Rodriguez said he still has the note.
“He’s a man who had more passion than anyone,” Rodriguez said.
Girardi, who played for Steinbrenner and has managed the team since 2008, said the owner’s expectations perhaps hid the fact that “there was a gentle side to this man.”
“I never felt his expectations were overbearing,” Girardi said. “He just wanted what we wanted, to win.”
The new Yankee Stadium, opened last year, will be one of Steinbrenner’s legacies, the players said. So too, they said, will be years of personal relationships.
Jeter Planned Visit
Jeter, 36, said he had planned to visit Steinbrenner in their mutual hometown of Tampa on the Yankees’ off days today and tomorrow. Instead, he said, his last memory of the owner will be when Steinbrenner and the team got their 2009 World Series championship rings at the beginning of this season.
“I’ve known him since I was 18 years old,” Jeter said. “We were more friends than anything. I’d go visit him in the offseason. We had bets on Michigan-Ohio State football games. It’s tough because he’s more than just an owner to me, he’s a friend of mine and he will be missed.”