Chaos -- and championships -- reigned in late-1970s Bronx Zoo
Living in New York and covering baseball for
With his employees -- in the front office, in the clubhouse, on the field -- Herr Steinbrenner oft times displayed the gentle refinement of a hardass football coach and a tough longshoreman, trades he knew first hand as a Big Ten assistant and the owner of the American Shipbuilding Company. With the public (excepting, of course, two Dodger fans he supposedly fought in an elevator during the 1981 World Series) or a deserving charity case, he could be a charmer and the soul of goodness. His aptitude for artful and awful behavior suggested that his middle initial might have stood for Megalomaniac.
Pencil pushers such as myself witnessed another side of Steinbrenner, a skilled puppeteer whose favored strings were "off the record," "for background only," and "not for attribution." Thus, in sotto voce did the brash owner convey threats, ultimatums and juicy tidbits. "Sources close to Steinbrenner" wore the same blue blazer as the Boss himself, and the New York tabloids did his bidding.
The clearest picture of Steinbrenner played out in his tempestuous relationship with
Mr. October was the unwitting pawn in all this. As King George pushed Jackson forward, Martin, the erratic knight, became more agitated. The manager wanted nothing to do with George's guy. Finally (or so we thought), it all came undone on a July Sunday in 1978 when Billy said of his antagonists, "They deserve each other. One's a born liar, and the other's convicted." Steinbrenner immediately replaced Martin with
Steinbrenner would fire him again and again and again and again -- six times, in fact, if you count their Miller Lite commercial. Let's face it: A man volatile by nature and born on the Fourth of July was unlikely to run out of fireworks. And, goodness did they continue, fueled, of course, by the team's 14-year absence from the postseason. Steinbrenner found a convenient target for his blunderbuss, the perennial All Star and future Hall of Famer,
Not until the 1996 arrival of
Distracted by the commotion on the field, we didn't fully comprehend Steinbrenner's mellowing, aging and withdrawal. And now he's gone, but, true to form, he made his exit with brio. Let the All-Star Game have the back page. Today the Boss owns Page 1.