Before the grand ol' man, there was The Boss

Published Jul. 17, 2010 9:43 p.m. EDT

Many great Yankees were on the field wearing the famous pinstripes again, now with special memorial patches in honor of George Steinbrenner and Bob Sheppard.

Amid all the tributes of the past week since the owner's death, Goose Gossage tried to lend some perspective, to contrast the beloved father figure of Steinbrenner's later years with the tempest who shook up New York, baseball and all of sports in his uninhibited younger days.

''The last decade or decade and a half, I just don't think he was as tough as he was when we were there, crazy or whatever you want to call it. He was crazy,'' Gossage said Saturday. ''He was off the charts. The craziest thing about George was the more you won, the crazier he got. Most people are like satisfied, and he got crazier.''

Unless you were there, you wouldn't understand. That was the era when Gossage labeled ''The Boss'' ''The Fat Man'' during a clubhouse rant.


While Steinbrenner's casket was being placed in a mausoleum during a private service in Trinity, Fla., the Yankees held their 64th Old-Timers Day, a ritual celebration of pinstripes, titles and the tradition handed from Ruth and Gehrig, to DiMaggio to Berra and Mantle, and now to Jeter and Rivera.

Yogi Berra was missing after falling the previous night near his home in Montclair, N.J. On a day of reflection and with flags at half-staff, the emotional high was the introduction of Mary Sheppard, the widow of the team's public announcer from 1951-07. Sheppard died last Sunday, two days before Steinbrenner, the team's owner since January 1973.

Steinbrenner, as he had in life, dominated proceedings.

''He came in the clubhouse one day,'' Ron Guidry recalled. ''The finger was at me, and 'You're 0-2 in your last two starts.'''

A Cy Young Award winner and two-time World Series champion, Gator was taken aback.

''I'm 0-2. I got a 1 ERA. It's not my fault,'' he remembered responding. ''He would come in there and he would get you. Or he would drop a line in the paper about the way you're pitching. I would read it, or if he said it to me face to face, the worst thing is it would get my dander up, so the next time I went out I had that on my mind.''

Steinbrenner's bluster not only caught the attention of players, it captivated sports fans around the world. The battles between George and Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson and Thurman Munson in the late 1970s couldn't be equaled - not did anyone particularly want them to be.

''That era there was the best soap opera in the country,'' Guidry said, ''because everybody that I would speak to on the street, they couldn't wait to pick up a paper every morning and see what happened to the Yankees last night. Because things were done during the game or after the game or at 2 o'clock in the morning. One day you leave the park, you say good night to your manager. And the next, another guy comes in and gives you the ball. You look at him, he goes, 'I'm the new manager.' It happened about 17 times when I was here.''

Graig Nettles defined the era when he famously said: ''When I was a little boy, I wanted to be a baseball player and join the circus. With the Yankees I have accomplished both.''

''It just came to me,'' Nettles remembered.

Jackson was shaken when he learned of Steinbrenner's death, too emotional to discuss it at the All-Star game. He wasn't even sure he wanted to attend Old-Timers Day.

''I need to be here. I talked to some people that I respect in the leadership of the club. They thought I should be here, and so, I'm here,'' he said.

Having been the object of Steinbrenner's praise and ridicule, Jackson developed a complicated and perceptive relationship with the man who brought him to New York as a free agent before the 1977 season, then let him go after five seasons.

''Certainly his drive and his presence and character, personality, has permeated the organization and permeated the city, certainly I think the game of baseball as well,'' Jackson said.

What once was hurt and anger morphed into warmth and appreciation for a man Jackson admitted ''fathered me at times, was a friend at times'' and was close to ''being an older brother.''

''I was disappointed and hurt when I left, and he said several times - if he said it once, he said it 100 times - 'The biggest mistake I ever made in baseball was letting Reggie Jackson go.' And so we were never enemies,'' Jackson said. ''If I had any difficult times with him it was because I was in a learning process of understanding life, and so I look at all of the times I had with him as building a stronger relationship. There are players and owners in history that are tied together in the sport, and I'm proud to be tied to him. That will never change.''