He wore a light blue Oxford shirt, khaki pants, and dark sunglasses. Tufts of silver hair sprouted out from beneath his Yankee cap. Two bulky, golden rings—one on each hand—speckled with enough diamonds to satisfy even the most voracious treasure seeker, but never enough to satisfy the Boss. It was an unmistakable look: George Steinbrenner surveying the field from the first row above the Yankee dugout.

That date was March 4, 2004, and the Philadelphia Phillies were hosting the Yankees in the inaugural game at Bright House Field in Clearwater. I was a 14-year-old baseball enthusiast at the time, and lingered around the portal to the clubhouse hoping to score an autograph from any of the Yankee All-Stars before the game. That’s when I saw Steinbrenner at his seat. 

A crowd of fans clamored around as I made my way toward him. They inundated him with autograph requests, thrusting photos, programs, and baseballs into his vicinity. One by one, he obliged their requests.

I approached him and asked, “Mr. Steinbrenner, would you please sign my baseball?” 

Without a word, he turned to me and took the ball with his left hand, flashing one of his gaudy World Series rings. The ring panel read “STEINBRENNER” in raised, golden letters. The diamonds glistened underneath the mid-morning Florida sun and caught my eye. There was something enchanting about the way the light reflected off those diamonds.

He signed the sweet spot in blue Sharpie.

His weathered hands—the hands that rebuilt the Yankee empire and led it to seven world championships since 1973—clutched onto the ball and pen as he passed it back to me. I felt compelled to snap a photo. 

As he fulfilled the remaining autograph requests and signed his name on assorted memorabilia, I thanked him. He glanced at me and nodded. I deposited the baseball back into its case and retreated to my seat.

I had the picture developed, tucked it away along with the baseball, and stored it in my collection for posterity.

* * *

This morning I heard on the radio that the legendary New York Yankees owner died at 6:30 AM at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa. He was 80 years old. The Boss had a massive heart attack at his home in Tampa Monday night and was rushed to the hospital. 

His health had deteriorated over the last few years. As his beloved Yankees were leaving the hallowed House That Ruth Built for a new home after the 2008 season, I started to believe that Steinbrenner would follow suit shortly thereafter.

He was nothing like the Boss that we’ve known since his original $8.8 million purchase of the Bronx Bombers: Not the man that meddled with the day-to-day operations of the most storied franchise in professional sports. Not the lionhearted man who hired and dispensed managers as frequently as he changed his socks (he swapped managers 24 times). 

Instead, George Steinbrenner was frail. He was tired. He made few public appearances. He was not even on hand to see his Yankees win the World Series for a record 27th time. No champagne celebration, no ticker-tape parade. 

In the wake of the series-clinching 7-3 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies, the Boss’s eldest son, Hank Steinbrenner, told ESPN.com that winning the World Series still meant everything to his father. 

George shed tears of fulfillment. It was the 79-year-old’s seventh world championship during his tenure as principal owner.

He savored it from his living room. 

I was saddened upon hearing the news. This has already been a tough week for the Yankees: Longtime public address announcer Bob Sheppard died Sunday at 99. Sheppard introduced every Yankee great who’s worn the pinstripes from DiMaggio to Derek Jeter before each plate appearance at the Stadium.

Reggie Jackson nicknamed Sheppard, “The Voice of God”.

Jeter insists upon having the recorded version of Sheppard’s gentle, familiar voice announce each of his at bats. 

“Now bat-ting for the Yankees, No. 2, Derek Jee-ter, No. 2,” echoes throughout the ballpark, evoking memories from the days of New York’s baseball lore. 

Even Steinbrenner referred to Sheppard as “the gold standard.” But now both men have moved on to join baseball legends on the diamond in the sky.

However, fragments of their memory will live on. Sheppard’s voice will be heard tonight when Jeter treads toward the batter’s box in Anaheim at the All-Star Game. And I’ll always hold onto my signed baseball and picture to remember the Boss.

Steinbrenner said that winning was second only to breathing. He breathed a winning spirit into the Yankees organization and his enduring legacy will live on. 


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