Death casts pall over all-star festivities

CHRIS RUDDICK, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 11:57 AM ET

If there was ever a baseball story that could steal the spotlight from the All-Star Game, this was it.

George Steinbrenner passed away early Tuesday morning following a massive heart attack in his Tampa home. The longtime Yankees owner had reportedly been in failing health for years, and was rarely seen in public of late.

Whatever you may think of Steinbrenner, this much I know: there will never be another owner like him. The Daniel Snyders, Mark Cubans and Dan Gilberts of the world can try, but they are not and never will be George Steinbrenner.

The quote from his initial press conference in 1973, when he took over the franchise, still resonates, albeit ironically. Steinbrenner said he would not be involved in the day-to-day operations of the team, a statement that was almost as off-the-mark as his insistence that he was dead-set against free agency, that it would ruin the game.

Known as "The Boss," Steinbrenner helped change baseball. He was at the forefront in the infancy of free agency, luring Jim "Catfish" Hunter to the Bronx prior to the 1975 season and Reggie Jackson two years later. Other early big signings were Goose Gossage in 1978 and Dave Winfield before the 1981 campaign.

With Steinbrenner at the helm, the Yankees won seven World Series titles and 11 American League pennants. The club went to the World Series in 1976, just his fourth season of ownership, and captured the first of two straight titles the following year.

Steinbrenner was the owner that you loved to hate, unless he owned your team, of course. He transcended the sport. How many owners of professional sports teams have hosted Saturday Night Live, or had their likenesses portrayed on Seinfeld?

What made him so great was that he seemed to have the ability to laugh at himself. He knew he was a character, and played it up to the fullest.

Steinbrenner had his faults. Was he short-tempered at times? Yes. Ask Dave Winfield, or "Mr. May," as he was once referred to by Steinbrenner. Or the numerous managers he fired How about the time he called Hideki Irabu a fat toad? Or his fistfight with a Dodgers fan in the elevator during the 1981 World Series?

His outbursts were legendary. The whole Billy Martin saga should be a broadway play. There wasn't anyone who at one time or another did not have a run-in with the Boss. Martin, Thurman Munson, Reggie Jackson, Don Mattingly, Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Torre and even Derek Jeter have all at one time drawn the ire of Big Stein.

He hired and fired 12 managers, including Billy Martin five times, from 1974 until Torre's reign began in 1996.

But through it all, the thing he cared about the most was winning. One of his most famous quotes was, "Winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing. Breathing first, winning next."

A lot of Steinbrenner's charitable work was overshadowed by his larger-than- life persona. Among his many philanthropic contributions was the Silver Shield Foundation, established to provide scholarships and other educational support to the children and spouses of police officers, firefighters and state troopers killed in the line of duty.

As the son of a New York City cop, I can't begin to tell you how important and meaningful something like that is.

It is funny, through a lot of my childhood George Steinbrenner was hated by Yankee fans. Yankee Stadium actually erupted in cheers when he banned from baseball for the second time in July of 1990.

Things changed once he came back nearly three years later. He softened as he got older, and defied the odds to become beloved. One of my favorite Yankee Stadium memories was Opening Day in 2004 when he was being interviewed on the field, the fans serenaded him with chants of "Thank you, George" and "We love you, George." The accolades brought The Boss to tears.

Such adulation for an owner is unlikely to happen again in the Bronx. There will never be another George Steinbrenner.


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