There will be poignant moments as the Yankees remember George Steinbrenner tonight in the baseball palace he built. But I don’t expect sorrow to be the dominant emotion – at least among the fans.
For the high-rollers and bleacher bums alike, cheers will probably outnumber the tears.
“They’ll be grateful for what he did,” Tom Campanello, a Yankees fan from Syracuse, told me outside the ballpark this afternoon. “I know a lot of people didn’t like him, but he made this team a winner.”
Steinbrenner was one of the most successful, polarizing and pugnacious figures in the history of baseball. For a man so complex and contradictory, it would be foolish to anticipate uniform public sentiment.
And make no mistake: A certain percentage of New Yorkers are in mourning right now.
“I saw six people walking around, wearing T-shirts with his picture on it,” said Abdulla Abdulla, from behind the counter at the S&A Sports souvenir shop in The Bronx. “I had customers ask me for patches with his name and picture.”
A modest memorial to Steinbrenner has started outside Yankee Stadium. It’s a motley remembrance, with everything from flowers and candles to empty Budweiser cans bearing “World Series champion” logos.
The inscription on one inflatable bat: “TO THE BOSS, THANKS. 28 IN 2010.”
Overall, though, I did not get the sense that this was a bereaved city. Large photos of Carlos Beltran – a Met! – enwrapped the back pages of the Post and Daily News. The Boss won’t like that, if he’s getting home delivery in Heaven.
The standard Steinbrenner obituary has plenty of references to Billy Martin, Reggie Jackson and his two banishments from the game. But those events are central to the fan experience of a decreasing number of active Yankees fans.
Jackson played his last game for the team in 1981. Martin died in 1989. Steinbrenner was reinstated by the commissioner’s office in 1993.
Many Yankees fans under the age of 30 don’t have firsthand recollections of those events. They do, however, remember the winning. Seven World Series titles leave a pretty good impression.
So when I asked 32-year-old Yankees fan Chris Persaud what people would be thinking about tonight, he replied, “A legacy – the championships.”
I don’t live in New York, but I think I’ve spent enough time here to reach the following conclusion: It is too big and too diverse to have universal interest in all but the grandest issues.
Case in point: As I made my way to the ballpark, I asked one street vendor what he thought about George Steinbrenner. He paused for a moment, squinted into the sun and asked, “Who’s that?”