The navy blue Lincoln Continental limousine with the New York Yankee logo on the front passenger door was approaching the parking lot at Giants Stadium in the Jersey Meadowlands when Stanley Kreitman discovered the terrible mistake.
"Say, George," Kreitman said, addressing the broad shoulders of the man who was sitting up front with the driver, "I think Neil gave us the wrong tickets. These are for the Dolphin game on Sept. 11, not the Buffalo game tonight. Take a look."
George Steinbrenner examined the tickets. The limo's driver, John Lydon, glanced apprehensively at him, anticipating the sort of outburst a wrong turn or an abrupt stop can elicit from the principal owner of the Yankees. Tickets to the wrong football game might well send him through the roof of his expensive auto. But Steinbrenner seemed merely amused. "Neil's done it again," he said, smiling in resignation.
"What we can do is buy tickets at the gate and then go on up to the box," said another passenger, New York furrier Mike Forrest.
"We'll see," said Steinbrenner. "John, take us to the office gate."
The big car stopped directly in front of the Giants office, and the three fans, holding tickets for the wrong game, approached the gateman. "We've got a problem here," Steinbrenner began in hopeful tones. But the gateman apparently recognized his distinguished guest and, without saying a word, waved the party through. There were no further questions from guards, ushers or anyone else as Steinbrenner and friends made their way to an enclosed air-conditioned box high above the floor of the shimmering new stadium. There they joked about what essentially had been a gate-crashing. "I guess we know who has the clout around here," said Kreitman, who is a bank president and the treasurer of the New York City Public Development Corporation.
But Steinbrenner was angry now. "That would never happen in my place," he grumbled.
His place is Yankee Stadium, and two days later he called a meeting in his office there. A Worried-looking group of administrators settled into chairs around the owner's circular desk. Steinbrenner's office has a fine view of the field. It has rich blue carpeting with the white interlocked NY logo in the middle and walls decorated with photographs of memorable moments in the stadium's 54-year history—the farewell appearances of Ruth and Gehrig; DiMaggio, Mantle and Stengel in solemn tableau, caps held over hearts; Maris hitting his 61st homer. Steinbrenner nodded as each employee took his seat. He is a large, athletic-looking man, exquisitely tailored on this day in a tropical suit with blue shirt and blue and red striped tie. At 47 he seems boyish, a fraternity president gaveling the rowdies into submission at a house meeting. He is too excitable to be dignified. He says "super" and "unreal" too often to be taken completely seriously.
He tapped a pencil nervously as the various staffers recited their reports, and he offered brisk suggestions that everyone recognized as commands. "We'll want plenty of radio coverage for the Toronto series. For Boston, we should have lots of pageantry—drums, bugles, that sort of thing." Then he turned to stadium manager Pat Kelly and unburdened himself of something that had been troubling him since the Meadowlands caper. Poor Kelly was lectured as if he were a scrub halfback.
"These people [the stadium ushers] are not checking the boxes," Steinbrenner said. "I want security up there like nobody's business. People are walking through unchecked. I'm warning you, Pat, this better not happen again or it'll be your head."
Kelly assured his boss that the stadium boxes would remain inviolate or other heads would roll. Steinbrenner nodded his own head and pressed resolutely on to other business: Chances are that any further dereliction would not have led to Kelly's beheading, but it could certainly have resulted in his joining the legions of the unemployed, because Steinbrenner does not lightly suffer what he perceives as incompetence, be it from stadium ushers or million-dollar outfielders. He expects, if not perfection, at least unyielding application to duty from anyone associated with him and, not insignificantly, from himself. "My employees know I'm tough on them, and I am," Steinbrenner boasts. "I demand more of them than they think they're capable of. I don't know of any other way to lead. I can't be responsible for how my people feel. I never demand more of any employee than I demand of myself. I'm not here to run a country club. I'm here to run a winning organization. And you'll notice my people are wearing championship rings."
This Prussian approach to employer-employee relations has not made Steinbrenner everybody's favorite boss. He has, as scores of former employees readily attest, quite another reputation. Not all of it is deserved. "George might be a Prussian, but he's no Nazi," says Marshall C. Samuel, the Yankees' vice-president for public relations and marketing, who has battled with and stayed with Steinbrenner for the better part of 20 years. "He's terribly impatient and he can be tough—particularly on secretaries. But he'll turn around and do something nice. He could do things more diplomatically, but he feels he gets results his way. Then, too, he has the unhappy faculty of putting his foot in his mouth and not knowing it."
"He's a tough guy to work for," says Marty Appel, the Yankee public-relations director last year, now a players' agent. "He's sort of proud of his reputation. There's no need for him to be quite as hard on his baseball employees. After all, nobody's getting rich working in the Yankees' front office. But being with him was a terrific learning experience. He likes to have meetings where all of his people participate. I found out an awful lot about running a baseball team from him. And yet, I almost feel sorry for him. He's like a teakettle that's ready to boil. He can't sit back and enjoy himself. He seems so troubled and unhappy all the time. Here he's got the world's greatest plaything—the New York Yankees—and he can't have any fun with it."
But the Yankees are no more of a toy for Steinbrenner than his shipbuilding business is. He gets pleasure out of work. The trouble with owning a baseball team is that what you do is so visible. "In the shipping business, the decisions you make are known to you and your shareholders," Steinbrenner says. "With the Yankees, every move you make is judged by 10 million New Yorkers."
The judgments this year have frequently been unfavorable. When Steinbrenner plucked Reggie Jackson off the free-agent list for all those Yankee millions, he touched off a series of ego conflicts unrivaled since the three Barrymores played Rasputin and the Empress. Thurman Munson was irked because the riches heaped on Jackson made his own handsome wages seem trifling. He was further piqued by aspersions Jackson cast upon Munson's leadership ability in a magazine article that appeared early in the season. Graig Nettles wanted his contract renegotiated, and when Steinbrenner refused, he stomped out of training camp. Said Steinbrenner to Nettles, "A cardinal rule in life is that when a man makes an agreement, he sticks to it." Nettles did not seem appeased. Petty jealousies erupted on a daily basis, and when Steinbrenner sought to buoy the spirits of the friendless Jackson, he inadvertently exacerbated his already precarious relationship with the Yankee manager, the tempestuous Billy Martin.
Steinbrenner's difficulties with Martin became public knowledge after the team's inglorious performance in last year's World Series with Cincinnati. "George wants to win at any cost," says another former employee, American League Assistant to the President Bob Fishel. And the Series was lost in four straight games. But a clash of wills was inevitable from the beginning between an owner who demands absolute obedience and a manager who accepts no authority save his own. Wherever Martin works, his job is always in jeopardy, and it seemed lost for certain this June when he and Jackson nearly came to blows in the Yankee dugout at Fenway Park before a nationwide television audience. After a desultory fielding effort by Jackson, Martin removed him from the lineup in a humiliating way, sending a substitute trotting into right field in plain view of 34,603 spectators and the huge TV audience. When Jackson came to the bench, he objected to this embarrassing treatment. Angry words were exchanged, and the two had to be separated. But Martin seemed to be the one who had lost control. After this incident, he was in and he was out from one day to the next. Rumors spread; the usually fatal vote-of-confidence press conferences were held; manifestos were issued.
During all of this, Steinbrenner was depicted as the man with the ax in his hands. If Martin were to survive, it would only be through the good graces of Yankee President Gabe Paul, a supposed supporter. The manager was finally spared, for this season at least, but only after he agreed to abide by a set of rules Steinbrenner set forth.
Steinbrenner mused on this prickly issue a few weeks later while watching his team play Kansas City from his open-air box at Yankee Stadium. "There was only one point when Billy was out," he insisted, "and that was after the incident in Boston. I wasn't even there. I was in North Carolina. Gabe called and said we've got to do it—to fire Billy. Then he changed his mind. Gabe and I sat down to breakfast in his Milwaukee hotel room one morning in July. I asked him what he thought it takes to be a good manager, and he took out a piece of paper—his own personal stationery—and set down six points in the form of questions: 1) Does he work hard enough? 2) Is he emotionally equipped to lead men? 3) Is he organized? 4) Is he prepared? 5) Does he understand human nature? 6) Is he honorable? As I looked at Billy then, I didn't see where he qualified in any of these particulars. He'd always say, 'But I'm a free spirit.' Fine, but that's not good enough to be a big league manager. I don't think the players were solidly behind Billy at this time, either. Here we had this super team, and we were losing. The single most disappointing thing to me was that these people weren't showing pride.
"At the beginning of the year, we knew we had all these egos and that we were in the biggest media center in the world. Something had to give. But what surprised me was that Martin was in competition with Jackson and Munson for attention. He was actually vying with them for the center ring. Now Reggie has to be the center of attention. He's a deep young man and a good young man. And Thurman is such a competitor. Give me nine like him, and we'd never lose a game. What I didn't realize was that I had to deal with Martin's ego, too. He's colorful, and he wants the spotlight. He's a showman, and that's part of what's made him popular in New York. This is a town that likes stars. We knew we'd have to take drastic steps. We demanded that Billy enforce some discipline on the ball club—there were players sitting in the clubhouse right in the middle of games. 'C.K.,' Billy said, 'give me Art Fowler [a longtime friend and his pitching coach during previous managerial stints] and you'll have discipline.' 'Fine,' we said, 'if that's what it takes.' So we give him Fowler, and he moves Reggie to the cleanup spot, which is what we had wanted since spring training. And Lou Piniella becomes the designated hitter, which we had also wanted. Pretty soon, we were back on the track.
"Billy doesn't have to win it all this year to keep his job. He just has to meet Gabe's criteria—and remember they're Gabe's criteria, not mine, as everyone seems to think. This is what Billy has needed all his life. I'm not trying to take away his spirit, but we're not running a popularity contest here. In the past, nobody ever kept the heat on him the way we have. In all those other places, they'd let him get away with things, complain a lot and then fire him. I don't want to do that. Now Billy's really trying. He's better prepared. He's working longer and harder. He just had to learn that everybody has a boss, that everybody is accountable to someone. I like Billy very much personally. We get along a lot better in person than we do in the papers. I'm probably the best friend he's got, because I don't want to fire him and take away his income. We'll make a better man out of him. And no, I don't mind it when he gets cheered at home plate [cheers of support, presumably, in his contest with Steinbrenner]. That's fine. But what really counts is that Billy's doing things now he's never done before."
When Chris Chambliss pinch-hit the winning home run in the eighth inning of the game that afternoon, Steinbrenner was so impressed with his manager's tactical brilliance that he instantly got on the phone to offer his congratulations. "You're lucky," he said to Martin, laughing. "Now here's how I would have done it...." Then he summoned an aide. "Get me the smallest bottle of champagne you can find and put it on Billy's desk," he ordered. "And put this note on it: 'You deserve every drop of this.' Oh...and put a red ribbon on it."
The split of champagne stood unopened on Martin's desk the next day. Martin and his watchdog, Fowler, were looking at a television showing of the vintage Hercules, starring Steve Reeves. There were photographs of Martin's idol and former manager, Stengel, all over the office walls. Martin looked at Fowler, who was shaking his head in disbelief over the idiocy on the TV screen. "I've been trying to get Art here for two years. I'm happy to have him at last," Martin said. It was obvious he felt he needed a friend. But what of his relationship with the owner? Had that improved since the critical days of midsummer?
"I don't want to discuss that," he said quietly. "I have nothing to gain from discussing that."
On the screen a woman in a stola was saying, "Very well, Hercules, but there is one thing you can't take away from me—the love we shared together." Martin smiled.
Driving away from Yankee Stadium, Steinbrenner hardly seemed an ogre. He had Lydon stop the limo amid a cluster of young fans outside the park. He signed autographs, posed for pictures and cheerfully answered questions. "Have our boys been stopping here?" he inquired of one youngster with an autograph book. "Good, they're supposed to."
"George," a boy called to him, "are you keepin' Billy?"
"Yep," Steinbrenner said, and then as traffic backed up behind the limo, he ordered his driver to move on.
"Now, that's what it's all about," he said, waving at the crowd. "Most of those kids don't have much. They'll go home to a hot, un-air-conditioned apartment. The Yankees are their summer."
The summers of George M. Steinbrenner III in the Cleveland suburbs of Bay Village and Rocky River were, though Yankeeless, much more pleasant. Born on the Fourth of July 1930, the only son of a prosperous Great Lakes ship-owner, he showed early traces of the drive that characterizes him today. By age nine he had his own company. "Dad didn't give me an allowance," he recalls. "He gave me chickens. I'd get my money through them. I had a regular egg route. I'd get up early, clean the roosts and then sell the eggs door to door. It was called the George Company. When I went away to school, I sold the business to my sisters, Susan and Judy. It became the S & J Company."
Steinbrenner's father, a former NCAA hurdles champion at MIT, impressed on his son the virtues of toughness in a tough world. "He was a typical German father—very strict, a great teacher, very difficult at times," says Steinbrenner. "He was extremely competitive, and he taught me to be. I had some great teachers in life, but it all comes back to Dad. Whatever good there is in me is him. Whatever's bad is me."
Another strong influence in forging the adamantine Steinbrenner character was Culver Military Academy in Indiana, which he entered at age 13. "It was a great, great part of my life," he says. "When you go to a tough military school as a freshman, you learn to be self-reliant. I've got skin like an alligator, and I can tough it out with the best of them now." Yankee Vice-President Samuel contends that Steinbrenner's now-celebrated opposition to long hair and beards can be traced back to his Culver education. "He never dreamed that imposing a hair code would be considered controversial," says Samuel.
At Williams College, Steinbrenner was a star hurdler like his father and a football halfback. Later, as an Air Force officer, he was instrumental in organizing a sports program at Lockbourne Air Force Base near Columbus, Ohio that was credited with curbing an AWOL problem there. He stayed in Columbus after getting out of the service to coach football and basketball at St. Thomas Aquinas High School and. to marry a local girl, Joan Zieg. In 1955 he became an assistant football coach at Northwestern under Lou Saban, who is still a close friend, and during the 1956 and '57 seasons he worked as Jack Mollenkopf's backfield coach at Purdue. But coaching was neither remunerative nor conducive to a happy home life, so Steinbrenner joined the family business, the Kinsman Transit Co., in 1957.
Kinsman ships had been on the Great Lakes since 1882, but Steinbrenner's father had by this time despaired of competing against such giants as U.S. Steel. His son shared no such pessimism and, with the help of a loan from a New York bank, purchased the company, which had eight ships carrying grain, coal and ore on the Great Lakes, from his family. Except for a financially disastrous involvement with the Cleveland Pipers professional basketball team from 1959 to 1961, it was clear sailing for the shipping tycoon. He became part of a group that purchased the American Ship Building Co., and in 1967 he became its chairman and chief executive officer. By 1972 the company's gross sales were more than $100 million annually.
The hard-driving Steinbrenner style was perfected in this plunge into big business. He operated virtually around the clock, making almost impossible demands on himself and his underlings. One former employee, Jim M. Bonk, told the Wall Street Journal two years ago, "Mr. Steinbrenner would show up at 9:30 in the morning and say, 'Get an executive jet in here right away. I want to leave at 11:30 and be in New York for a meeting at 12:30. We'll catch lunch and be in Pittsburgh for a meeting at three and be back in Cleveland by five.' I sometimes had the feeling he just wanted to have somebody there to jump."
This fierce energy flowed over into an amazing number of civic projects. He became one of the country's chief fund raisers and a philanthropist of unflagging generosity. He was the chairman of the Junior Olympic Executive Committee, which financed a track and field program for youngsters. He organized and directed the Cleveland March of Dimes campaign in 1960 and increased collections by 37%, the biggest improvement in the nation for any health-fund drive that year. He prepared Cleveland's Little Hoover Commission report on harbors and airports. He founded Group 66, an interracial organization of young businessmen working for civic improvement. He was the director of the Cleveland Now program and the Greater Cleveland Growth Corporation. He helped finance a sports banquet for black athletes, sponsored by Cleveland's black newspaper, the Call & Post. He raised money to send the winners of the Ohio Olympics for the Retarded to the international finals in California. He personally helped finance the college education of some 70 underprivileged students. He was appointed to the Ohio Board of Regents. He was the Cleveland and Ohio Junior Chambers of Commerce Man of the Year for 1960. FORTUNE magazine cited him as one of 12 "movers and shakers" in the country. He was chosen by the American Academy of Achievement in Dallas to receive the Golden Plate award for "extraordinary leadership." And Penthouse magazine named him the country's best-dressed businessman.
He was, beyond argument, a big man in Cleveland. And he soon branched out. He formed a partnership with theatrical producer James Nederlander, and they produced the road-show versions of George M, On a Clear Day and Funny Girl. On Broadway, they did Seesaw and the 1970 Tony Award winner, Applause. "If George were in the theater exclusively, he'd be another Mike Todd or Ziegfeld," says Nederlander.
Steinbrenner also went into horse racing. He is a general partner in Kinship Stables, a racing syndicate based in Ocala, Fla., and the owner of the 860-acre Kinsman Stud Farm. In 1972 he bought a 10% interest in the Chicago Bulls of the NBA. And in November of that year he met with Mike Burke, then president of the Yankees, to discuss buying the team from CBS, which was anxious to get out of baseball, having lost $11 million. An agreement was announced on Jan. 3, 1973. A group of investors headed by Steinbrenner had purchased the Yankees for $10 million, nearly $3 million less than CBS had paid for the team in 1964. "George's principal reason for buying the Yankees was to cease being anonymous and become a celebrity," says Burke, who resigned several months after the purchase. Steinbrenner would become one all too soon.
As Steinbrenner tells it, his troubles began in 1969, when he was asked by the Democratic Party to chair the Democratic Senatorial and Congressional Dinner. With customary zeal, he ran the most financially rewarding dinner in party history: the contributions exceeded $800,000. In 1970 he was again asked to take charge, and this time more than a million dollars was raised. While organizing these events, Steinbrenner formed a number of close relationships with important Democrats, not the least of whom was Senator Edward Kennedy. Although he protested that he was a political independent, Steinbrenner's Democratic fund raising and chumminess with the Kennedy clan did not sit well with the Nixon Administration, from which he had been seeking legislation favorable to Great Lakes shipping. American Ship quickly found itself the subject of antitrust investigations.
At the time he agreed to organize the dinners, Steinbrenner had been warned by Cleveland Democrats of the Nixon team's capacity for vindictiveness. The pressure was suddenly on him in 1972, Steinbrenner says, to avoid further difficulties by contributing substantially to the now infamous Committee to Re-elect the President. The manner in which he chose to do so proved his undoing. Eight company officials were alleged to have been awarded "bonuses" of $25,000 with the understanding that the money would then be donated to the Nixon campaign committee. Steinbrenner personally contributed $75,000. Prosecutors said Steinbrenner and the company then attempted to conceal the illegal "phony bonus" contributions. Steinbrenner was indicted on 14 different counts in April of 1973.
He pleaded guilty on Aug. 23, 1974 to one count of conspiracy to violate the campaign-funding law and to another of attempting to cover up the donations and was fined $15,000. In November of that year Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn suspended Steinbrenner for two years, declaring him "ineligible and incompetent to manage or advise in the management of the Yankees." The suspension was lifted 16 months later, in time for the opening of the 1976 baseball season. Steinbrenner resigned as chief executive officer of American Ship, taking a salary cut of nearly $90,000—to $50,000—while continuing to serve as board chairman. He moved with his wife and four children to Tampa, Fla., where American Ship maintains an office.
Steinbrenner says he was advised by attorneys that his way of contributing was legal. Bad advice, he now ruefully acknowledges. He also contends that he pleaded guilty to avoid the time and expense of a trial and to spare others involved. "I thought it was legal," he says. "This is something that will be with me for the rest of my life. I'm sorry that it happened. It's past now and I took my medicine. And I didn't drag anyone else down with me. It's a burden I must bear, a burden my family and I must bear."
Steinbrenner tried to put his woes behind him by plunging even deeper into work—this time with the Yankees. "It was a whole new ball game after the suspension," recalls Appel. "Gabe Paul was no longer the man we worried about."
"Nothing is done without George's authority," says Fishel. "Not even picking the hotel on the road."
Or the cutting of hair. Steinbrenner's grooming edict still raises hackles. One former Yankee, White Sox Oscar Gamble, called his ex-boss "the Yankee Clipper." Piniella posted a mock drill schedule on the clubhouse bulletin board. And when Munson wished to express his displeasure this year, he did so by starting to grow a beard. Steinbrenner fails to see why everyone is so ruffled. "I have nothing against long hair," he says. "But wearing a Yankee uniform represents tradition. I think a Yankee should look well-groomed. If your hair is long on a hot day, you can't possibly look that way. After all, I'm paying the bills and issuing the paychecks around here, and I feel a certain way about Yankee tradition. When these guys walk into a town, people are impressed. 'The Yankees are here,' they'll say. It's important that this tradition be continued, not only for us but for the American League and baseball."
Although hair has been the main concern in Steinbrenner's grooming campaign, his interest has not stopped there. As recently as two weeks ago, when New York was still battling for the division title it clinched last Saturday, Steinbrenner was, it seems, using his sock on the team's socks. Before a Sunday double-header, Willie Randolph, Bucky Dent and Mickey Rivers found new pairs of dark blue Yankee hose in their lockers. When they inquired about this, they were told that club officials thought the stirrups on their old socks were too high, that not enough blue was showing below their trouser legs.
"Who'd it come through?" barked Martin when he heard about the order for the new socks. "It should've come through me, and I don't like it. We can't be worrying about socks in a pennant race." Then, in an apparent reference to the only former backfield coach in the organization, he added, "Maybe they do that in football."
Another Steinbrenner idea that has drawn nearly as much ridicule as his appearance code is the walkie-talkie system he set up during last year's playoffs and World Series and revived this August. Gene Michael, a former Yankee in-fielder who is now an administrative assistant with the team, is seated in either the press box or the stands. From his Olympian perspective he communicates with the dugout on tactics. What he talks about is a matter of some conjecture. It is not, Steinbrenner insists, the opposing team's signs. Michael's only responsibility, Steinbrenner says, is positioning the fielders. Opposing managers and owners are so suspicious of Michael's intentions that he sometimes has a problem getting a seat, but what is more galling to Steinbrenner is that a few owners have chosen to make a joke of the operation. In Chicago, Bill Veeck assigned an aide, Dan Cohen, to shadow Michael around the park, bugging him, as it were. Meanwhile, First Base Coach Minnie Minoso appeared on the field wearing a headset, complete with telescoping antenna.
"Oh, they can make fun of the earphones if they want," Steinbrenner says. "But remember how much success that system has had in football. Pretty soon, you'll see other teams doing it. It's one more advantage for your side, and that's what sports are all about."
It is at Steinbrenner's insistence that such patriotic airs as The Yankee Doodle Boy and Over There are played during Yankee games. Not insignificantly, the songs were composed by George M. Cohan, who was further immortalized a few years ago in the Steinbrenner-Nederlander production, George M. And, of course, Steinbrenner is not only a George M. himself, but also like the Yankee Doodle Dandy, an Independence Day baby.
These are details, but nothing is too small for the Yankee owner. During a recent game, Steinbrenner watched with dismay as his ground crew swept the infield with what he regarded as a singular lack of gusto. "We ought to get a guy out there who can strut like that guy in Detroit," he said to Samuel. "We can't overdo it. We got to have a guy who looks spontaneous. But we need a strutter, the old darktown shuffle."
When plastic beer mugs with Yankee photos on them were suggested by his promotion department as gifts for Fan Appreciation Day, Steinbrenner seemed vitally interested. "Yes, that's good, but you've got to make sure we have enough of them," he said. "We can't give out 30,000 mugs if we're going to have 50,000 people in the park. From a public-relations standpoint, it would be murder. The only thing that can hurt us is ourselves. It's happened before right here, and it's happening now across the city." To Steinbrenner, "across the city" means the Mets, and he has as much use for them as he has for punk-rock musicians. He is still steamed at what he considered to be their arrogance during the Yankees' two years as tenants in Shea Stadium. The Mets' disastrous performance this season displeased him not in the least. "They owned this city," he is fond of saying. "We were just tenants. Now look what's happened."
Steinbrenner's record of good deeds persists in the Bronx. The Yankees financed a $40,000 restoration of handball courts across the street from the stadium. They have contributed $5,000 toward the construction of Babe Ruth Field, also across the street. The team underwrote the recent Morgan State-Grambling charity football game for black college scholarships at the stadium.
For all of this involvement, Steinbrenner insists that he is slowly phasing himself out of the Yankee picture, that all he is doing now is organizing a staff he can trust so that in a few years he can repair to his Florida digs and commune with his horses. In the meantime, his fingers will be in the pie. "As baseball is constituted today, an owner who doesn't get involved is in trouble," he says. "I rely very strongly on the judgment of my baseball people—Gabe and Billy—but baseball men are not businessmen. There are millions of dollars invested in this organization. To just sit back and go to an occasional ball game is just crazy."
Charm seems an unlikely word to be applied to so volatile and abrasive a personality as Steinbrenner. But it is heard. "He's a real charmer," says Fishel matter-of-factly. Even disgruntled former employees speak of his "Jekyll and Hyde" personality, conceding that he is at least two parts Jekyll and one part Hyde. Samuel, who was once fired by Steinbrenner in the pre-Yankee days, says, "I just have this great respect and love for the guy."
It is Steinbrenner's obsession with toughness that detracts from a more sensitive nature. He is the man on the move, the one who taps his pencil if the talk is not fast enough. But his pose as a martinet can swiftly dissolve into bluff affability, particularly if he is in the company of other high rollers. His political and show-business connections have brought him close to any number of national celebrities, but he seems on less comfortable terms with the stars in his clubhouse. During a stretch this year when Steinbrenner was traveling from city to city to inspect the performances of his minions, there was even a player who said, "The more we lose, the more often Steinbrenner will fly in, and the more he flies in, the better chance there is of a plane crashing."
"There are some guys who dislike George out of misunderstanding," says Jackson, who after eight years with Charles O. Finley knows full well how disagreeable an owner can be. "It's human nature to want to win and to be included in the winning. It makes you feel you're part of something. A lot of the guys don't understand that. All an owner wants is for you to acknowledge him, to come up to him sometimes and call him 'Mr. Steinbrenner,' to give some respect. George likes to talk with the boys, to bring his executives into the clubhouse and show off a little. What's wrong with that? Like the other night, I saw George with some people over at Jimmy Weston's, so I sent over a round of drinks. I think he appreciated that."
Steinbrenner is often seen at Weston's, a 54th Street boite frequented by the sporting crowd, including some of his own ballplayers. He is recognized there, treated with deference. Weston's has inherited many of the old Toots Shor's customers, and Steinbrenner likes the masculine atmosphere. He feels none of the hostility there he might attract elsewhere. On a sultry August night, he was having dinner at Weston's with his friend Mike Forrest. Steinbrenner was no tough guy this night. The next morning he would attend the funeral of Lou Saban's wife in Buffalo, and he was considerably saddened by the prospect. The hard-fisted magnate was reflective.
"There has to be a heavy in everything," he said, remarking on the role he seems to be playing. "He's always the guy who has to make the tough decisions, the boss. I realize I'm going to be a heavy in a lot of things, but I'm going to do what I can to bring the Yankees back all the way. This country didn't get where it is without a lot of heavies." He paused, calling back some of the great heavies of history. "Harry Truman was the heavy in the MacArthur decision—I saw that movie just the other day. But time has vindicated him. My vindication? Well, we won the pennant last year for the first time in 12 years and drew two million for the first time since 1950. And we're doing it again. That's vindication."
Glenn Covington, who plays piano and sings in a neo-Fats Waller manner, stopped to chat with Steinbrenner before going onstage. He is a round-faced, chocolate-colored man who was dressed this night in a safari suit. He is also an enthusiastic Yankee fan. "How about that game today, Mr. Steinbrenner?" he said, plopping into a chair next to the owner. "Chambliss came through again."
"Yeah," said Steinbrenner, happily. "Super. Unreal." He placed a large hand on the entertainer's shoulder. "Say, would you play Country Road first tonight. I've got to leave pretty soon. Funeral tomorrow. Have to fly to Buffalo."
"Sure, Mr. Steinbrenner."
As it happened, the table next to Steinbrenner's was occupied exclusively by West Virginians, who rose to their feet and cheered at the mention of their home state in the lyrics. Steinbrenner seemed pleased to have made so many people happy. "How about that? Unreal." He departed immediately after the song, waving his thanks to Covington. He stepped out into the heavy night air and stood for a moment watching the cabs buzz by. The man from Cleveland, an outsider somehow.
"I'm so happy with this city," he said. "It deserves a winner. You get a lot of pride out of being a part of the New York Yankees, of being a part of that tradition. The pride of the Yankees. That's it. What a movie. The kind of player I want is the kind who'll have tears in his eyes every time Gary Cooper steps to that microphone to say, 'I'm the luckiest man on the face of the earth.' People who say I'm not involved with this city are dead wrong. Maybe the silk-stocking guys don't like the way I run this ball club, but the little guy—the bartender, the guy pushing a cart, the cab drivers—they're the ones who need the Yankees. My involvement is not sipping cocktails in all the fashionable places. My involvement is with the roots of the city. Why, just the other day a cabbie picked me up and took me back to the Carlyle. When I started to pay him, he said, 'No, Mr. Steinbrenner, this one's on me. I want to thank you for what you've done for the Yankees.' Isn't that super?"
In high spirits now, he hailed a cab. "The Carlyle, please," he said. "Sure," said the cabbie, who quite obviously did not know George M. Steinbrenner III from a hole in the ground.