07/13/10 6:07 PM ET
Fans share their thoughts on The Boss
By Didier Morais / MLB.com
His mind immediately darted to Aug. 6, 1979 -- the date he attended his first Yankees game as a 4-year-old toddler. Ironically, it was the same day as Thurman Munson's funeral, which reminded Celeste about memories of Reggie Jackson crying in the dugout.
And in similar fashion, the memories of Steinbrenner brought tears down Celeste's cheeks as he sauntered around Penn Station.
"I just started busting down, because my entire life I've grown up a Yankee fan and George has always been the owner," said Celeste, who hails from the Bronx. "Before Manny [Ramirez] was being Manny, George was being George. He was a fiery competitor that wanted to win. He wanted nothing, but to win that ring and he got me seven of them during my lifetime."
Notice the use of the pronoun "me." To most New Yorkers, the Yankees aren't simply a team. Instead, they identify themselves as a member of the team's family. So once Celeste processed the devastating news, he immediately switched his BlackBerry Storm's wallpaper to a picture of Steinbrenner.
"He's the greatest owner a sports fan could ever want for his team," Celeste said as he shook his head in sadness. "He made the greatest investment ever -- $8.75 million in 1973 turned into a multi-billion dollar team. There will never be another George Michael Steinbrenner."
Irwin Wolf, 72, agrees. Wolf, who was born and raised in the Bronx, intently watched the entire reemergence of the Yankees under Steinbrenner's regime, relishing each of the club's seven World Series titles during that span.
"I think it's a sad day for New York and the Yankees," said Wolf, who attends at least a dozen Yankee games each year. "He built the Yankees. He made it into what it is. He put his money where his mouth is."
Sometimes, however, Steinbrenner's mouth was his downfall. And Wolf is aware of that. He was around for all five of Billy Martin's dismissals. He was around for the public feuds between Steinbrenner and his players, such as Jackson and Dave Winfield.
And although Steinbrenner endured his controversial moments as New York's primetime owner, Wolf said he still considered Steinbrenner to be the greatest owner in sports because of his dedication to winning.
"What he did for the Yankees far outweighed his negative things," Wolf said. "It leaves a big hole in New York now. Even though he probably hasn't been making decisions lately, for me, it's still his team."
That's what made Steinbrenner unique in Paul Kohler's eyes. Kohler, 35, marvels about the way The Boss appeased the appetites of the New York sports fans all while revolutionizing free agency with his spending habits.
"In this market, he's had to be [aggressive]," Kohler said. "It's good for baseball to have the Yankees be a strong team. He set the standard. They're consistently winners, so I don't know that there's a more iconic franchise in all of sports than the Yankees. You look at basketball and see the Knicks aren't a strong team and that hurts us."
But Ronald Rogers, 30, feels Steinbrenner's legacy did influence other basketball franchises in the National Basketball Association. The Montclair, N.J., native said Steinbrenner's spending methods essentially paved the way for Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban to flourish.
"He showed [owners] how you can [win] with the money -- if you have the money -- and if you care a lot," said Rogers, who is also a Yankees season-ticket holder. "He made guys like Cuban who they are. He'll be remembered for winning at all costs."
But the ink tattooed on Rogers' right triceps will be his reminder of Steinbrenner's work. Nearly two months ago, Rogers decided to commemorate his favorite baseball team with a tattoo of the Yankees' logo.
It was just supposed to be a decorative design. Little did Rogers know, however, that design would have an even greater meaning on July 13 -- a day that was supposed to be highlighted by baseball's 81st All-Star Game.
"It was fitting he passed the day of the All-Star Game, because I think he was baseball's true All-Star," Rogers said. "I know he was the Yankees' true All-Star and he brought more championships and more to the Yankees than anybody ever has and ever will."
And Rogers expects Steinbrenner's death to serve as additional motivation for the Yankees' Core Four -- Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera -- to resume their run to the World Series, starting with the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday.
"It's going to motivate us to win and win big," said Rogers, who plans to attend Thursday's matchup. "Then I think that motivation will kind of propel us to back-to-back World Series championships."
That would be Celeste's dream. But regardless of this season's outcome, Celeste said he can take comfort in the idea that the end of Steinbrenner's life on Earth is merely the beginning of another Yankees dynasty in the afterlife.
"Somewhere in Heaven, Billy Martin has been fired again, Jesus and God have been put on the bench for refusing to get a shave and a haircut, and Thurman is getting yelled at for being on the plane," Celeste said.
Didier Morais is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.