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Steinbrenner was perfect for New York
Never mind that that you couldn't stand him. He was too tabloid? Too New York? That's your problem, isn't it? The blue-blazered bully was merely illuminating the destination.
THE BOSS: 1930-2010 Iconic Yankees owner George Steinbrenner died Tuesday at age 80. Get complete coverage right here.
And woe to the reporter who missed a couple of syllables. One's journalistic apprenticeship came with a full warning: George Steinbrenner was a target of opportunity. Whatever you do, don't screw it up.
No one knew how to make an exit like George. But now I recall a more recent and less inspired departure. This was after the second game of last year's World Series, at the new Yankee Stadium, a monument to victory and commerce that will be identified forever with Steinbrenner the way the original was identified with Babe Ruth.
The stairwell had become a makeshift holding pen as men with walkie-talkies commandeered the field-level rotunda. By the time they let us through, Steinbrenner could be seen, but just barely, sitting behind blackened windows, waiting for the walkie-talkie men to give the signal. Baseball's boss of bosses had been reduced to a faint silhouette. He deserved better than this, a cheap getaway in a Chrysler mini-van.
Now, as the baseball world convenes in a suburban stadium whose identifying flourish is a Flintstone-like rock pile, there's a chance to make it right. The players and the agents, members of the media and those who toil for the commissioner's glory, gather to mourn a man who made them what they are.
I hope they know what they're doing. Sports is a cynical trade, most of it based on the business of nostalgia. Every spectacle is suspect; but remembrance is an art.
But now, with Layton and Sheppard both dead, you wonder what baseball can do to mark the passing of George Steinbrenner. Let me suggest Bud Selig calling for a meeting of the Hall of Fame's Veterans Committee to consider the cause for Steinbrenner's timely induction. If Mantle represented what the Yankees once were, or what your dad liked to recall, Steinbrenner embodied what they became.
As he changed the Yankees, he changed American sports. I can't think of anybody in any sport — player, coach, manager, commissioner, owner, union boss — who had more influence, intended or otherwise, over the games people pay to see.
If Yankee Pride became an industry under Steinbrenner, then so did Yankee-hating. The contradiction made for great commerce.
We didn't have that many conversations, but I wince with embarrassment recalling our first. It was maybe '91 and I asked him about the gargantuan aspect of "the New York stage." What an amateur.
Still, he seized on my cliché with great gusto. "The stage," he said. "Now that I understand."
But only now, as I pack for Angel Stadium of Anaheim, preparing to enter the sweltering horde, as all of baseball assembles to bid him farewell, do I finally get it. George Steinbrenner knew how to make an exit.