Steinbrenner not on hand, but Yanks pay homage to Boss
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- As the Yankees celebrated the 27th World Series title in franchise history and the seventh since George Steinbrenner purchased the team in 1973, the organization's driving force was missing.
"The Boss" was home in Tampa, Fla., apparently watching the festivities on TV.
"I wish he was here," said Mariano Rivera, who closed the game, 7-3, against the Phillies that set a wild celebration in motion. Rivera added that he asked son Hank Steinbrenner "if he was here and Hank said, 'No.' I wish he was here so I could give him a big hug. He's the driving force behind putting this all together. He's definitely a part of me."
Steinbrenner's possible ill health is a well-kept secret around club circles, and neither another son, Hal, nor Commissioner Bud Selig wanted to talk about it.
Steinbrenner, now 79, was in town for Games 1 and 2, but elected to remain home with his wife this week. After the Yankees won the second game, 3-1, Steinbrenner was helped into a sports utility vehicle deep in the bowels of the new stadium and then whisked away. Security personnel surrounded the SUV to hinder the media from witnessing the event.
"He's home and feeling just fine," said Hal Steinbrenner, who's now the team's managing general partner and co-chairman. His brother, Hank, and sister, Jennifer, are both heavily involved in the club.
"He's certainly here in spirit. I talked to him before the game and he was pretty nervous. So was I. But this whole thing was all about my father. This one is for him."
Selig helped facilitate the transition from George to Hal last year when he visited Steinbrenner at his home in Tampa. Selig said he also spent time with Steinbrenner during Game 1, but wants to keep those conversations private.
"George and I first met in January 1973 and have had a long and close relationship," Selig said. "And I meant what I said up there when I presented the World Series trophy to his son. 'George, this one is for you.' I wish he had been here."
Under Steinbrenner, the Yankees have won it all in 1977, '78, '96, '98-2000, and finally again this year. They've also won 11 of their record 40 American League pennants. His reign has at times been tumultuous. Two Commissioners -- Bowie Kuhn and Fay Vincent -- handed him lengthy suspensions for off-the-field transgressions.
But that's all part of the Steinbrenner folklore. The bottom line has always been his burning desire to win.
If nothing else, he has been flamboyant, once insisting the team couldn't survive for the long-term in the Bronx and finally acquiescing to fund a new $1.5 billion stadium when it became obvious that 4 million people a year were willing to pay their way into the old ballpark now being torn down across 161st Street.
"What can you say about him?" said Andy Pettitte, who won the game on Wednesday night, but isn't certain yet if he's coming back next season. "He built this new ballpark for us. He put this team together. He set a standard here that we have to win championships. It's an awful high standard to set when you say that the season is a failure if you don't win the championship. That isn't a good pressure to have.
"But these guys have dealt with it. We embrace it and we did it, man. It couldn't feel any sweeter because of it."
"He's here. He's everywhere, believe me. We're real proud that we were able to do this. This has got to be the greatest day for him. His pride and joy is his family, and his pride and joy is the Yankees. And on a night like tonight, they both came together."
-- General manager Brian Cashman
Pettitte, along with Rivera and Derek Jeter, have been part of the past five championships and seven pennant winners. Jorge Posada missed only the first title of this lot in '96. Pettitte had his own falling out with the Yankees, leaving for the hometown Houston Astros in a contract dispute after losing Game 6 of the 2003 World Series to Josh Beckett and watching the Marlins celebrate on the old Yankee Stadium turf.
Sometimes it has been a tough-love situation for these guys, but what Magic Johnson used to call "Winnin' Time" always makes it worthwhile in the end.
"He's the reason we're here," Jeter said simply about Steinbrenner. "First of all, we wouldn't be in this stadium if it wasn't for him. We wouldn't have this group together if it wasn't for him. It's a special moment. We all wanted to win it for him."
Speaking about special moments, Hal Steinbrenner was 7 years old in 1977 during another Game 6 of that World Series when Reggie Jackson hit three homers on three consecutive swings off three Dodgers pitchers to win it at the old stadium. The first title of the Steinbrenner era was clinched when Mike Torres got Lee Lacy to pop out, ending the series.
"I remember it like it was yesterday," said Hal, who will turn 40 on Dec. 3 and has children of his own. "I took them down on the field near the end of the game tonight so they would have the same experience I had."
The planning and construction of the new stadium was Hal Steinbrenner's baby and he seems to have the same tenacity as his dad. Not only did he want to win in this inaugural year, "but we want to win every year, you know that."
Still there was a neat symmetry to the evening when Rivera induced Shane Victorino to ground the 12th pitch of the final at-bat to second baseman Robinson Cano for the last out.
"I don't know that it could be more perfect," Hal Steinbrenner said. "Coming into this unbelievable stadium that the fans have loved all year long and doing this was exactly what needed to happen as far as we're concerned. But it hasn't hit me yet."
The only thing that would have made it more perfect were if his dad had been in attendance.
"He's here. He's everywhere, believe me," said Brian Cashman, the general manager who has spent his share of time in the Steinbrenner doghouse over the years. "We're real proud that we were able to do this. This has got to be the greatest day for him. His pride and joy is his family, and his pride and joy is the Yankees. And on a night like tonight, they both came together."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.