07/13/10 7:18 PM ET
Selig remembers his friend Steinbrenner
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
Selig made his eighth annual appearance at the BBWAA's All-Star meeting, and without prompting, he spent the first 10 minutes of his 55-minute question-and-answer session speaking off-the-cuff about Steinbrenner, who passed away early Tuesday."No two people with as different agendas as we had should have ever gotten along," said Selig, asking the group to indulge him while he reminisced. "If we go back on every issue -- Commissioners, revenues, everything -- George and I always seemed to be on opposite sides of the fence. But we stoked up a friendship early on. I probably was his link to the rest of the owners." Steinbrenner, in his 37th season, was by far the longest-tenured owner in the Major Leagues when he died and Selig was around for every one of those seasons either as owner of the Milwaukee Brewers or as MLB's ninth Commissioner. A group led by Selig bought the moribund Seattle Pilots and moved them to Milwaukee a week before the start of the 1970 season. Steinbrenner bought the equally moribund Yankees from CBS nearly three years later and restored their heritage as a winner. It was small market against big market, bombast against upper middle class. Even when Selig became the Commissioner in 1992, they maintained their relationship. "Given George's relationship with previous Commissioners [Bowie Kuhn and Fay Vincent suspended him], he never gave me a problem, not one time. He was loyal. He was a friend. We may have disagreed on some things, but in the end he'd always say, 'Do what you want.' Bam, he'd slam the phone down. That was the end of the conversation." Selig spun a yarn to try and depict a different Steinbrenner than the man the public knew. Selig said he wanted to tell it because, "I think it will be a pretty good catharsis for me." Years ago, Steinbrenner called him on a Tuesday and Selig explained that his wife, Sue, had just demanded he take out the garbage. Tuesday was garbage collection day at that time in their Milwaukee neighborhood. Selig said he tried to tease his wife, saying: "I'm the Commissioner. You can't talk to me that way!" She persisted and Selig took the garbage out. Selig commiserated with Steinbrenner, philosophizing that life could be a humbling experience. "I told George the story and for the next three months he called me every Tuesday to make sure I had taken the garbage out," Selig said. "We even talked about it recently. The first question was always about the garbage. For some reason that really amused him." In the end, the telephone calls and face-to-face visits began to decrease in frequency and length as Steinbrenner's health deteriorated. Selig visited Steinbrenner and his wife in Tampa when the Rays hosted the first two games of the 2008 World Series against the Phillies. Shortly thereafter, Steinbrenner formally retired, turning the reins of the franchise over to his younger son, Hal. Selig said he didn't speak to Steinbrenner on July 4, the occasion of the Boss' 80th birthday. The last time the two old friends spoke was a couple of months ago. "We would arrange phone calls," said Selig, who will turn 76 on July 30. "But they wouldn't last long. They were just short, but emotional conversations. Very emotional. It was difficult. Very difficult. You have to remember I spent a lot of time with him during the '70s and '80s. He was a great personality."
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.