Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Boss Time

Happy Bastille Day! A day that celebrates a period in the history of France where men were born with spines...coincidentally centuries prior to the formation of a national football team to compete in the World Cup. Sit down and enjoy yourselves mes amies. Marie will be around shortly to take your order. Might as well tell you now that all there is to eat is cake. Marie and I both hope there is enough for all.

If you have seen any of the hundreds (thousands perhaps) of live shows that Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band have put on worldwide since the Reunion Tour in 1999, then you likely are familiar with the scene that usually takes place during the encores. Steve and Bruce are together, front and center, on stage and they start riffing about how late it is getting, how tired the audience appears to be and how it must be time for the show to end. Then, Bruce asks Steve what time it is. Steve responds, "It's Boss Time" (what else), Bruce lets out a, "Wooo!" and off the band goes for another song....or three....or four. Sure it is schtick but much in the same way that the average 12 y/o boy relates to professional wrestling, knowing the ending does not ruin the story. We in the audience all cheer mightily. We know what time it is. And we are all having the time of our life.

Close to forty years of Boss Time in New York sports ended yesterday morning with the announcement by the Steinbrenner family that the owner of the New York Yankees - George M. Steinbrenner, III - had died of a massive heart attack in Tampa, Florida. Mr. Steinbrenner had just turned 80 years old last week. His date of birth? July 4, 1930. While he was not the original Yankee Doodle Dandy, it is impossible to argue against his importance - some good, some bad, all newsworthy - to the Yankees, to the City of New York, to Major League Baseball and to professional sports in this country. He threw a big shadow. And in his wake, he will leave big shoes to fill.

If you get the time, read William Nack's piece (or watch it if you prefer) on Mr. Steinbrenner that is available on espn.com. In it, Nack points out that when Steinbrenner's group purchased the Yankees from CBS in 1973 for $8.7 Million, Steinbrenner declared that, "I won't be active in the day-to-day operation of the Yankees. I'll stick to building ships." Years later, the on-again/off-again relationship Steinbrenner had with Billy Martin as manager of his baseball team was turned "off" when Martin publicly declared - speaking of his star player Reggie Jackson and his employer Mr. Steinbrenner, "One's a born liar, the other's convicted." Judging by how far Mr. Steinbrenner ended up straying from his original stated intention of not being active in the daily running of the Yankees, perhaps Martin was only speaking of the latter?

It is impossible as well to have ever rooted for the Yankees without appreciating the passion with which Mr. Steinbrenner owned his baseball team. Lost in the hubris of "big market/small market" nonsense in baseball is - among other things - the fact that Mr. Steinbrenner was not nearly as wealthy as some of his fellow owners. The Yankees became his business and he, unlike some of his fellow owners, poured the money made by his business back into his business. Compare that tactic to the one espoused by the late Carl Pohlad. In 2008, shortly before he died Pohlad's estimated worth was $3.6 Billion. Yet he spent as much time with his hand outstretched, crying poverty and lamenting the fate of his "small market" Twins as any owner ever has. Pathetic. And most assuredly not a play taken out of the George M. Steinbrenner, III playbook.

This has been a decidedly rough week in Yankee Land. First Bob Sheppard dies - and if you want to be reminded just how beautiful the written word is then invest a few moments in this tribute to him - and now the Boss has tripped that mortal coil. A few of us were standing around in my office last night joking about the most assuredly certain sequence of their deaths - insisted upon by Mr. Steinbrenner so that Bob Sheppard can introduce him at the Pearly Gate - when one of our number observed that the introduction, "presupposes that they are ending up in the same place." One never knows. If the Almighty is still tweaked about the Ken Phelps for Jay Buhner deal, Mr. Steinbrenner might have some 'splaining to do.

It was at about this time two years ago that the Yankees hosted the All-Star Game being as it was the final season of the "old" Yankee Stadium. I remember thinking - and writing - at that time that I did not think Mr. Steinbrenner would live to see Opening Day 2009 in the "new" Stadium. I am happy that he did and happy that he got to see his team win the World Series last November (November?) to culminate their first season in their new abode. I hope for his sake and for the sake of his family that his final few years were not as challenging for him and for them as they were sometimes portrayed as being in the press. If they were, then I hope for his wife, his children and their children that his death -while sad - brings a bit of peace and comfort to one and all.

It is idiotic to be sure but upon hearing the news of Mr. Steinbrenner's death yesterday morning the first two people of whom I thought were Yogi Berra and Joe Torre. Two legendary baseball men - each of whom achieved the highest heights of their respective careers while wearing pinstripes. Two legendary baseball men - each of whom had a very public fracturing of his relationship with Mr. Steinbrenner during the transition from "present" to "former" Yankees manager. Years ago - perhaps that it does indeed get late early around here for all of us - Yogi and the Boss made amends. I do not pretend to know whether the man Derek Jeter called Mr. Torre for a dozen years and Mr. Steinbrenner ever did. To his credit, the former displayed true class when asked to comment upon the death of the latter.

What time is it Steve? For the first time in a long time, what feels like and may in fact be a lifetime to a number of Yankees fans, the answer may not be, "Boss Time!" We shall find out soon enough. The page turns and a new boss takes the stage. As for Mr. Steinbrenner, it was a life well-lived. And now he is on the 3:10 to Yuma. Here's to a safe trip.

-AK

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