Mister Softie? At 73, George Steinbrenner is saying lots of nice things and acting happier than ever. But nobody's relaxing in Yankeedom. The Boss still has more power than any other owner in sports, and he knows how to use it

May 09, 2004

He was getting hot, a bit sweaty and lightheaded. George
Steinbrenner had not eaten breakfast, nor dinner the night
before. The church in Sarasota, Fla., on Dec. 27, 2003, was
packed with people saying their last goodbyes to Otto Graham,
the greatest quarterback Steinbrenner had ever seen and a man
who embodied the virtues he holds dearest: leadership, loyalty
and a rugged football mentality that borders on militaristic.
They had been friends with roots in Cleveland. Graham died from
an aneurysm at 82, only nine years older than Steinbrenner.
Otto was yet another one from their generation gone.
Steinbrenner was finding himself at too many funerals these
days. ¶ That preacher. You couldn't say enough good things
about Otto, but ... damn, the preacher was going on and on and
on and ... and then the world as Steinbrenner knew it began
going dark and fuzzy and muffled, as if he were sinking
underwater in a dream, until all of it--the preacher's droning
voice, the heat of the church, the men dressed in dark suits and
the faint, musty smell of death that hangs over every
funeral--all of it went black. Steinbrenner never felt his head
whack against a chair on his way to the ground.

"Now just relax. Don't try to get up."

It was a woman's voice. A gentle voice. It was a doctor's voice.

Steinbrenner opened his eyes and, still prone, spoke to the
doctor.

"Lemme alone, for crissakes."

He was taken by ambulance to a Sarasota hospital. He was wheeled
through corridors on a gurney with a sheet pulled over his head,
as if he were dead. This was done to protect him from the news
media, hot on the scent of a huge story: The owner of the New
York Yankees had collapsed.

"That's Steinbrenner!" he heard from under the sheet, though no
one could say for sure.

Several doctors, including a neurologist, examined him. After a
day of observation the lead doctor told him they had found
nothing wrong. He had fainted, that was all. "Well," Steinbrenner
said to him, "a lot of people won't be happy with that, but it's
good news for me."

A while later he got dressed and went home. He went home feeling
fine. He went home feeling different, too.

"It makes you think," he says three months later. "You're that
close." He's talking about death, a too-familiar subject for him
recently. "It was a tough period, because you wonder whether
you're all right.... [But] I don't think it scared anybody in New
York. Why were they scared? If I had gone, so I'd be gone. They
wouldn't have cared much, I don't think."

George M. Steinbrenner III is the most powerful owner in sports.
Baseball rewrote its collective bargaining agreement in 2002 for
the purpose of getting its hands on some of his money, both to
chip away at his power and to prop up the weaker clubs. So rich
are Steinbrenner's Yankees that they will carry a $184.2 million
payroll this season, unflinchingly write checks for approximately
$70 million in revenue sharing and luxury tax, and--even figuring
in the cost of such extravagances as flying their own
groundskeeper to Japan--still make a tidy profit.

Steinbrenner is imperial, his empire impervious more than it is,
as Boston Red Sox president Larry Lucchino infamously declared in
December 2002, evil. Age has changed him. The fainting spell in
Sarasota has changed him. All the funerals have changed him. He's
softer around the edges, given to sudden jags of crying and even
more than ever ridiculously charitable with his money. However,
ruling over the Yankees--from personally ordering the signing of
free agents Gary Sheffield, Kenny Lofton, Tom Gordon and Travis
Lee last winter to banning chewing gum wrappers in the batting
cage--fully remains his life's work.

"I'm happier than I've ever been," he says about running the
Yankees. "It's the best we've ever had it."

And he has no intention of letting go. He has two sons, Hank, 47,
and Hal, 35, and two daughters, Jennifer, 44, and Jessica, 40.
Hank, Hal and Jennifer's husband, Steve Swindal, 49, serve as the
Yankees' general partners. Steinbrenner has never spoken with any
of them about a succession plan. "No, I never really have," he
says.

It is a sensitive subject. He knows, his associates say, that his
sons may not be interested in running the Yankees. Hank spends
most of his time with his father's horse racing interests. He
only dabbles in baseball, such as in 2002 when he argued at a
meeting of Yankees baseball operations executives for the team to
trade for overpriced Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Raul Mondesi,
who turned out to be a bust. "The Yankees go out and make the big
deal!" Hank told general manager Brian Cashman, who opposed the
trade. "It's what the Yankees do!"

"I'm not sure Hank understands me," Steinbrenner says. "He does
not like the turmoil that's around [an owner]. He chooses to not
be too much in that. Hal I'm very proud of, because he's as tough
as they come."

Anyway, who ever heard of a king retiring? "Well, I don't look
for any point that I'm going to retire by this time or that
time," he says. "I'm an old coot who will hang around. I'll be
around for some time, as long as the New York fans want me. I
hope they understand they're Number 1 with me. I care about New
York dearly. I like every cab driver, every guy that stops the
car and honks, every truck driver. I feed on that. That keeps me
working hard to be able to afford to do the things that we do."

Until....

"For years he's talked about, 'Is it time to turn over the reins
to the family?'" says Harvey Schiller, a former chairman and CEO
of YankeesNets LLC and a friend for more than 25 years. "But it's
hard for some people in his position. I liken it to
entrepreneurism. When you've built up the business so well, it's
not easy to let it go. And I don't think he should give it up."

Until....

"George will have full control," says Tampa Bay Devil Rays
manager Lou Piniella, a friend, a former Yankees player and the
New York manager from 1986 through '88, "as long as he's
breathing."

Winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing.
Breathing first, winning next.
--G.M.S., 1998

Sunshine and heat are not allowed into Steinbrenner's Tampa
office, which, behind translucent curtains, overlooks Legends
Field, the Yankees' spring training home. The office is kept dark
and cool--chilly enough that Steinbrenner wears a dark-blue
Yankees windbreaker while seated behind his desk, taking calls by
speakerphone. As always--always--he is fastidiously groomed, his
gray hair perfectly combed, his gray trousers and white shirt
without a wrinkle. He wants nothing out of place.

Several years ago, at the Florida State Fair, he had bent over to
pick up some trash when a man stopped him.

"Hey, aren't you George Steinbrenner?"

"If I were George Steinbrenner, would I be picking up trash?"

"Oh. Right. Sorry."

Of course, that's exactly what George Steinbrenner would do.

Another time, three hours after Steinbrenner made his first visit
to the office of his current physician in Tampa, a carpenter
showed up at the doctor's office with his tools.

"Can I help you?" the receptionist said.

"Mr. Steinbrenner sent me. I'm here to put a coatrack on the back
of the door."

In his Legends Field office the Yankees' owner sits inside the
curve of a wooden semicircular desk, which abuts a long
conference table. Literally, no visitor is able to sit
immediately across from him, to take him on directly.

Steinbrenner loves aphorisms, loves how the complexities of life
can be boiled down to fit inside quotation marks. He hangs
placards with some of his favorite sayings in the clubhouse and
hallways of Legends Field and Yankee Stadium. Wisdom--more than
that, inspiration and motivation--for his highly compensated
ballplayers. But among all his aphorisms the ones that mean the
most to him are kept under the glass atop his desk, right in
front of him.

"The measure of a man is the way he bears up under misfortune,"
Steinbrenner reads aloud to his visitor. "Plutarch."

"Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no
path, and leave a trail. Ralph Waldo Emerson."

"You can't lead the cavalry if you can't sit in the saddle."

"The speed of the leader determines the rate of the pack."

This is the one he likes "probably most of all," he says: "I am
wounded but I am not slain. I shall lay me down and rest awhile,
and then I will rise and fight again. Anon."

Steinbrenner himself was once a walking, unabridged Bartlett's.
In the 1980s Yankees beat writers privately referred to him as
Mr. Tunes because tales and outrageous quotes blasted from his
mouth as easily as songs from a jukebox. He ripped his players,
coaches and managers seemingly at the drop of a coin. He once
said that relievers Dave Righetti and Brian Fisher should have
been so embarrassed by their performances that "they should have
gone home with the vendors."

"I told Righetti that?" he asks now, smiling. He doesn't remember
it. "I used to give them a little hard-ass sometimes. That's the
old coach in me."

Other than some relatively tepid sniping, Steinbrenner hasn't
gone public with his hard-ass routine in five years, not since he
called Japanese righthander Hideki Irabu "a fat, pussy toad." He
rarely sits for extensive interviews anymore. He communicates by
statements issued through a private public relations firm. They
typically are so overwrought with aphorisms that radio station
WFAN reads them to the accompaniment of military music. He is
baseball's General Patton. After the Yankees had lost to the Red
Sox for the sixth time in seven games to fall to 8-11 on April
25, Steinbrenner simply issued this statement the next day: "I
have a great manager in Joe Torre and general manager in Brian
Cashman, and have confidence in both of them. It's in their
hands."

Yankees officials have urged him not to speak extemporaneously
anymore ("You never know what he's liable to say," one
high-ranking team official says), and they've kept him off the
backs of his players and out of the New York tabloids.
Steinbrenner has agreed to the arrangement and is perceived less
the villain for it.

Why the public restraint with his team? "Because I'm not a coach
anymore," says the former assistant with the 1955 Northwestern
and '56 Purdue football squads. "Joe Torre doesn't ask me for
help anymore, so I don't give it to him. I don't call down to the
dugout anymore. I used to put my nose into it more when I first
came into baseball [because] I was still a gung ho coach."

Sometimes the old coach can't help himself. When Steinbrenner saw
that SI had put the Yankees No. 2, behind the Chicago Cubs, in
its preseason rankings of the 30 major league teams this year, he
ordered an underling to make copies of the list and put them
inside the lockers of all the players. (The order was never
carried out.) "It's the football coach in him," one high-ranking
Yankees source says. "He thinks it's bulletin-board material, as
if it's going to motivate the players."

Inside his fourth-floor sanctum at Legends Field, a relaxed, fit
Steinbrenner seems glad for the company, glad to be off the
corporate leash and able to "just bulls---," as he says. He's in
a splendid mood.

The day before, Steinbrenner had won an arbitration case against
Cablevision, which must carry his YES network on basic cable and
pay him $1.85 for every subscriber last year plus annual 4%
increases over the next five years. That night he celebrated over
hamburgers with Ron Guidry, the former Yankees lefthander. He
told Guidry he remembered talking to him in 1978 after New York
had lost its regular-season finale to the Cleveland Indians.
Guidry, standing outside the clubhouse holding his baby daughter
Jamie, was scheduled to start a one-game playoff in Boston the
next day.

"Don't worry, Boss," the pitcher told him. "I'll win it." He did,
5-4.

Jamie is 27 years old now.

"Oh, jeez, it really does seem like yesterday," Steinbrenner
says. "Those are the great things I have to remember in my life.
Good things."

Memories. He is surrounded by them. The walls, shelves and other
flat surfaces of his office are crammed with pictures, mementos
and trinkets, so much so that dozens more pictures lean in a pile
against a wall. Steinbrenner stops at the pile. There's one of
Joe DiMaggio.

"I was with him in his last minutes," Steinbrenner says. "I flew
[to Hollywood, Fla.]. They took me into this house he had. They
had sat him up in bed and put him in a shirt and tie. I'm looking
at this guy who was in his last days--they told me that--and he
wanted to have a tie on when I saw him. He never lost that
majesty he had."

He flips to the next picture. "Here's my dad winning the Penn
Relays," he says, staring at the photo for several moments. "Got
to put these things up."

Henry G. Steinbrenner, a national collegiate champion in the
220-yard low hurdles, graduated first in his naval architecture
class at MIT in 1927. He became an executive with Kinsman Marine,
his family-owned shipping company. At home he was a stern
disciplinarian. If you weren't seated at the dinner table at
precisely 5:45 p.m., you went without food for the night. His
dream was for his only son to follow him to MIT and run hurdles
there too. Henry submitted an application for his son, but MIT
did not accept George. The rejection hurt Henry.

"It did," Steinbrenner says. "He was a legend.... I didn't belong
in MIT. I wasn't smart enough. I was not good enough in math or
engineering. I was never a great student. He didn't let me know
it, but I think he was [disappointed]."

Steinbrenner enrolled at Williams College, earned a degree in
English literature and eventually took over his father's shipping
business. In 1973 he pulled together a group of investors and
purchased the Yankees from CBS for $10 million--or $8.8 million,
as Steinbrenner prefers to say, because CBS threw in parking lots
that he sold to the city for $1.2 million. Steinbrenner's initial
equity contribution was $168,000.

Four years later Steinbrenner invited his father to throw out the
first ball of a spring training game in Fort Lauderdale. A family
friend who was there, Allister Guthrie of Duluth, used to always
tell Henry, "Don't be so hard on George. He'll be O.K."

On that day--the Yankees were the reigning American League
champions for the first time since 1964--Henry finally was not so
disappointed in his son. According to Steinbrenner, Henry said,
"Well, the kid finally did something right."

More pictures waiting to be hung. Teddy Roosevelt--now there was
a leader.

Steinbrenner walks behind his desk, where a table is filled with
even more framed photographs. Gen. George S. Patton from the
chest up, his eyes diverted downward. A soldier behind him is
smirking. "This is Patton pissing in the Rhine," Steinbrenner
says. A friend who was on Patton's staff gave him the picture.

Steinbrenner loves history, loves the military--he graduated from
Culver Military Academy and, after Williams, joined the Air Force
in 1952 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant--loves
discipline, loves generals. He has been reading books about
Patton and Custer. "Everybody said Custer led them into [the
Little Big Horn disaster]," he says. "He was let down by the men
around him."

Another photo, sepia tone. A man in starched collar and vest
sitting at a desk. He has a serious look about him. "That's my
grandfather," Steinbrenner says. "He was in the ship business.
Married the daughter of a German immigrant. He was the start of
the Kinsman ship line. He was George M. the first."

Memories. The office is an archive. The people in most of the
pictures are gone. DiMaggio? Dead. Henry? Dead. Roosevelt?
Patton? Custer? George M. the first? All dead.

Now his contemporaries and friends are dying. Otto Graham. That
friend on Patton's staff who gave him the picture. Swindal's
father, a former Marine in the Pacific. One of his longtime
limited partners with the Yankees. All died recently.

"A lot of times he'll come in by himself," says Christine
Holloway, the manager at Malio's Steak House in Tampa, where
Steinbrenner eats two or three times a week and has his own table
and telephone. "And he may sit and talk with me about friends who
have passed on. That really gets to him. He knows how short life
is."

I will never have a heart attack. I give them.
--G.M.S., date unknown

Steinbrenner was home watching the evening news one night in
February when he saw a report that because of custodial budget
cuts, schools in Florida's Hillsborough County were riddled with
broken fire alarms, faulty fire equipment, escape windows that
were screwed shut and other fire-code violations. The next day he
pledged an undisclosed amount of money to help make the necessary
repairs.

People in Tampa are accustomed to this sort of charity from
Steinbrenner. He's a pushover when it comes to kids, the military
and education. He once met an unusually quiet boy while signing
autographs after a Yankees exhibition game and said, "What's the
matter? Cat got your tongue?" The boy's brother explained that
the boy was deaf and could not speak. Steinbrenner flew the boy
to New York to be examined by doctors, and he paid for follow-up
sessions with a Tampa speech therapist. The boy learned to speak.

A waitress at Malio's was found to have a thyroid problem. She
had no insurance. Steinbrenner sent her to the finest doctors in
Tampa and paid for the treatments. She has recovered fully. "I
thanked him for what he did for her," said Malio Iavarone, the
restaurant owner, "and he said, 'I didn't do anything.' He didn't
even admit it."

When Malio's fell on lean times in recent years, Steinbrenner,
unbeknownst to Iavarone, picked up the $1.1 million mortgage on
the restaurant. He then reduced Iavarone's monthly payment from
$9,200 to $3,200.

According to The Tampa Tribune, Steinbrenner saved the Florida
Folk Festival with a contribution of $78,000, gave $1 million to
the Warrior Foundation (which pays the educational costs of
children who lost a parent in the line of duty while serving in
military special operations), founded the Silver Shield
Foundation in New York to assist children of fallen police
officers and firemen, and a Gold Shield Foundation in Tampa for
the same cause, underwrote the cost of a student center at
Berkeley Prep in Tampa, sponsored a high school sports coaches'
fund-raising luncheon in Tampa, paid the burial costs for a
longtime Yankees television cameraman and gave $10,000 last year
to the Jimmy Fund in Boston. Such benevolence is but a partial
list, since Steinbrenner is more likely to compliment the Red Sox
than he is to acknowledge his charity.

"I believe the good you do for others comes back to you," he
says. "But if you do something good for some person and more than
two people know about it--you and the other person--then you
didn't do it for the right reason. The desire to give back is
from my mother. She was a little Irish woman, 5'2". Named
O'Haley. She changed her name when she came to this country, to
Haley. Rita Haley. She was very spiritual, very religious. Boy,
everyone loved her."

Steinbrenner, however, typically does not act charitably toward
those in his employ. "George is a great guy," Piniella says,
"unless you have to work for him. My relationship with him is
great, better than it's ever been. That's because I haven't
worked for him in years."

He has been known to give his employees lie-detector tests.
(After a trade rumor appeared in a newspaper, Gene Michael, one
of his advisers, famously said he would take the test only after
Steinbrenner did, claiming, "I know who the leak is: you!")
Flustered when he could not reach an employee by phone,
Steinbrenner once ordered his staff to notify their supervisors
when they left their desk for more than 20 seconds and to carry a
walkie-talkie tuned to a designated channel at all times, even
when they went to the bathroom. "Failure to comply with this
directive will result in a $100 fine," a memo said.

At times he can seem oddly like his over-the-top TV doppelganger,
the George Steinbrenner voiced by Larry David on Seinfeld. One
such time occurred when Steinbrenner was eager to listen to a
music CD that the Yankees had made to send out with their
Christmas cards. When no one could find a CD player around the
office, he sent someone to buy one immediately. He then popped in
the disc and hit the play button. The first cut was a rap tune by
Run DMC. As secretaries started to dance, Steinbrenner, no fan of
rap, pounded his fist on the table and barked, "Cut that out!
Find out who's responsible for this!"

The offending party was identified and hauled before
Steinbrenner.

"Are these friends of yours?"

"Uh, no, Mr. Steinbrenner. That's Run DMC."

"Well if I find out these are friends of yours, it's your ass!"

Steinbrenner had the man's desk, which had been two doors down
from the general manager's office, moved into a storeroom.

When Steinbrenner's players do not perform well, his front-office
executives suffer. As the Yankees were being swept at home last
month by Boston, for instance, Steinbrenner lambasted Cashman
repeatedly by phone from Tampa. "Brian bears the brunt of it,"
one Yankees official says, "but he'll give it right back when he
has to."

After taking insults from Steinbrenner on one occasion, Cashman
said calmly into the phone, "I'm not hanging up on you. I'm just
ending the conversation." And then the line went dead.

Not even Reggie Jackson, the Hall of Fame slugger who is a
Yankees adviser, is immune from the barbs. When a player whom
Jackson had touted was mired in a slump recently, Steinbrenner
asked Reggie, "When's your birthday?"

"May 18," Jackson responded. "Why?"

"Because I'm giving him to you as a birthday present. You can pay
him!"

Says Jackson, "He still can be volcanic and volatile, and you
better get out of the way when things aren't right. He's going to
do something irrational to get your attention. That permeates the
whole organization. You fear it. You respect it. You don't like
it. It makes you uneasy. There is a constant threat of it.

"But there's a very sensitive inner core under the gruffness.
George has changed. He's going through the normal process of
understanding mortality as people age. [But] I don't think his
commitment to the team, to the city and to the tradition of the
Yankees has relented one bit."

Joe Perello, who left last year as the Yankees' vice president of
business development to be chief marketing officer for New York
City, told Reveries magazine, "Working for George Steinbrenner
was like doing two tours in Vietnam and not getting killed. It
was the craziest 2 1/2 years of my life.... Basically, it didn't
matter what I did, George Steinbrenner was going to kick my ass.
If I walked into his office with a briefcase full of a million
dollars, he would have yelled at me that they weren't $100 bills,
that they were 20s. So, first you have to know that it doesn't
matter what you do, he's going to kick your ass. Once you realize
that there's only one thing to do--whatever's right--it's easy to
do your job because you're just going to do what's right."

One high-ranking Yankees official, when asked last year how often
Steinbrenner showed his charitable side to his employees,
replied, "Never. He'll do that charity stuff, and the public will
see it and know about it. I'm not saying that's why he does it. I
don't mean that. I'm just saying he doesn't do anything like that
for the people who work for him.

"It's like he doesn't trust anybody. When you work for him it's
like he's convinced that all of his employees are stealing from
him. So, no, I don't see that charitable side. But if anyone gets
sick, the way Joe [Torre, prostate cancer] and Mel [Stottlemyre,
bone-marrow cancer] did in recent years, he can't do enough for
you. Whatever you need then, it's done."

The same Yankees official, however, admits Steinbrenner has been
easier to work for this year. Another official, part of the
Yankees' baseball operations team, said, "He's been in a great
mood all spring. It's been business, but there's been fun too.
Laughing, telling jokes. He's been great."

Torre was convinced last season that Steinbrenner was attempting
to force him to quit. Torre admitted the job was not as fun
anymore, not with Steinbrenner keeping him out of the loop and
taking swipes at his coaches. He expected this year to be his
last.

Then Steinbrenner walked into Torre's office on the first day of
spring training. "What would you like to do next year, Joe?"
Steinbrenner asked.

Says Torre, "Everything changed."

Steinbrenner invited him to dinner and told Torre how much he
wanted him to remain as manager. Torre, after Steinbrenner
assigned Swindal to handle the negotiations, signed a three-year,
$19.2 million extension last month.

Cashman, the G.M., also thought he was about finished with
Steinbrenner. His contract included an option for 2005, and he
was ready to work someplace else--someplace a little more sane.
One bad game by the Yankees, one bad day by a player Cashman had
obtained in a trade, and Steinbrenner, using as leverage the rare
off days he ever allowed Cashman, would tell him, "And you can
forget about that Saturday off!"

After the Yankees beat Boston in an emotional seven-game American
League Championship Series last year, Steinbrenner called Cashman
to a meeting at a New York restaurant. Cashman girded himself for
a confrontation. When Steinbrenner walked in, the entire
restaurant stood and applauded. Steinbrenner broke down, crying
uncontrollably. There would be no confrontation. In December,
Steinbrenner picked up the option on Cashman's contract. He
agreed to allow his G.M. designated vacation time. He doesn't
threaten to take away off days. Sometimes a day or two actually
will pass without Steinbrenner calling Cashman.

"It's been great, better than it's ever been," Cashman says about
his relationship with Steinbrenner this year. "I've been in this
organization since '86. I was trained here and know what's
expected. I think he's established a level of trust with me doing
the job."

Steinbrenner last month also signed assistant G.M. Jean Afterman
to a contract extension. He did likewise with Rick Cerrone, the
team's media relations director. Michael signed a six-year
extension last year. Steinbrenner's Yankees have never had such
stability. "It's been a happy time for me family-wise, and it's
been a very happy time for me Yankee family-wise," Steinbrenner
says. "We have a great staff, and they've performed well. It's
been the best organization I've ever seen on a staff anywhere."

It was after midnight on April 1 when the Yankees returned to
Tampa from their season-opening trip to Japan. Steinbrenner
always wants his players and staff dressed in sports coats when
they travel, but this was a charter flight landing at an obscene
hour. Cashman figured no one would be at the airport. He walked
off the plane unshaven, wearing blue jeans and a sweatshirt. But
there was one person standing there waiting for the plane:
Steinbrenner. He had driven himself to the airport in the middle
of the night to greet his team, to welcome the kids back from
camp. He had a comment for every one of them, including a crack
for Cashman about his outfit.

He grabbed YES announcer Michael Kay and told him, "Great job.
That's the best I've ever heard you!"

Then third baseman Alex Rodriguez walked by. Steinbrenner
playfully pinched his cheek and said, "You're going to be all
right, kid."

Owning the Yankees is like owning the Mona Lisa.
--G.M.S., 1981

Steinbrenner's meeting room at Legends Field is down the hall from
his office. A long rectangular, gleaming wood table fills the
center of the room. This is where he runs many of his
organizational meetings. Tucked inside an ornate breakfront is a
small white refrigerator with a yellow sign taped to it: FOR GMS
ONLY! It is filled with bottled water, soft drinks and iced tea.
Steinbrenner does not drink or smoke. His weakness is sweets.

His secretary brings in a basket of his favorite buttered
kettle-corn popcorn and a small stack of styrofoam cups, which
are to be used for scooping out the popcorn. Steinbrenner doesn't
want fingers rooting through the basket.

It's early afternoon, and Steinbrenner bursts into the meeting
room through the frosted-glass double doors. The air is
immediately charged. He is a portable ionizer and knows it, clad
in the white turtleneck-blue blazer combination that has become
his dress uniform. He pours himself a cup of coffee and sits at
the head of the table to face a reporter.

"I do my workouts from about six to nine every morning," he says.

Three hours?

"Well, six to eight, anyway," he corrects. "I do some weights,
and I ride the bicycle. I've got a bum knee, and I haven't chosen
to get it fixed. I never want to repair an old wound with a new
part. I don't believe you can do any better than what Mother
Nature gave you, if you can suffer with the pain."

Suffering is another virtue to Steinbrenner. You know, Plutarch.

"Every single day of my life I try to do two things that I don't
like doing," he says. "[Eating] broccoli is one of them."

He often eats alone. Before the sixth and final game of the World
Series last year he ate chocolate ice cream by himself in the
restaurant of the Regency Hotel. The staff at Malio's knows when
to leave him alone and when he wants conversation. His table is
always reserved. "I could be packed and people will say, 'There's
a table,'" Iavarone says. "And I'll say, 'That's Mr.
Steinbrenner's table.' They'll say, 'I don't see him.' And I'll
say, 'Well, I do.'

"George may order coconut ice cream. Well, we don't have coconut
ice cream. But we'll go get it. He'll say, 'Let me have some of
that Arizona raspberry iced tea you have.' We don't have it. I'll
jump in the car and run to 7-Eleven to get it. He'll order some
kind of salad we don't have. Maybe he had it somewhere else.
We'll ask him, 'Now, how did you like that again? What was in
it?' We'll go back and make it for him. He'll say, 'I told you
you had it.'"

He is, after all, 73. He turns 74 on the Fourth of July.
According to Steinbrenner his father succumbed to prostate cancer
when he was 79. His mother died at 90 of natural causes.

Says Tom McEwen, a close friend in Tampa, "George is getting
older. He's getting into that stage where you feel it more. He's
very much aware of his age and losing so many of his friends.
He's losing people almost daily in Tampa. He'll cry at almost
anything."

Steinbrenner cried in front of reporters after the Yankees beat
Boston in a regular-season game last July. He never showed in the
Yankees' clubhouse to accept the American League championship
trophy last October after Aaron Boone hit the series-ending home
run in the 11th inning. That's because he couldn't stop crying in
his office. "I was very emotional," he says. "It made me realize
how I felt about my players, my manager and all the fans."

It was 14 years ago, on a July evening at Yankee Stadium, that
the few fans who bothered to come out to the ballpark burst into
a 90-second standing ovation when it was announced that
Steinbrenner had been thrown out of baseball by commissioner Fay
Vincent, essentially for paying gambler Howard Spira $40,000 to
dig up dirt on Dave Winfield, the Yankees star with whom
Steinbrenner was often at odds. The team finished in last place
that year, drew two million fans and ranked seventh in payroll.

Today the Yankees are arguably the biggest attraction in sports.
They sold nearly three million tickets before a game was played
this year and figure to sell more than 3.6 million in all. They
have won six of the past eight American League pennants. They
start an All-Star at every position except second base--and that
may yet be rectified. That new labor deal? Not even a nuisance.

"He's gotten to the point," says one Yankees executive, "where
he's got the golden goose, and he knows it can't be killed."

Getting Rodriguez in a mid-February trade with the Texas Rangers
energized Steinbrenner, especially knowing the Red Sox had blown
their chance to do so. Cashman said he waited through "five or
six days" of spade work before he told Steinbrenner that
Rodriguez was available, and even then he fibbed and said, "It's
Mount Everest, it's probably not going to happen, but...."

"I know with George, if he hears about something he likes, it
becomes, 'You better get it done,'" Cashman explains.

The golden goose went on display before the cabbies and the truck
drivers at the Yankees' home opener on April 8. About an hour
before the first pitch, the old ballyard teemed with a chaotic
yet thrilling din. Under the stands a golf cart, with
Steinbrenner riding shotgun, whirred through the main service
tunnel, a narrow artery framed by spaghetti strands of pipes and
wires. Young military men and women in their dress uniforms,
awaiting an on-field ceremony, pressed against both side walls to
allow the cart through. The old baseball general looked into
their bright eyes and started to choke up.

He was still thinking about the soldiers, their clean, youthful
faces that could soon be shipped off into the dirty hell that is
war, when he stepped onto a makeshift platform in leftfield for a
live television interview and the fans in the adjacent bleachers
began to chant, "Thank you, George!"

Now, that was too much. It was the other George, the other
general, his man Patton, who once said, "If a man does his best,
what else is there?" Steinbrenner had done his best, at least in
that crazy, audacious way he knew how, and the people were
thanking him for it. They cared. He lost it--just starting
bawling from behind dark glasses on live television. And just
maybe, at that moment, the old, gray patriarch was never so
alive.

SI.COM
More of Tom Verducci's interview with George Steinbrenner at
si.com/baseball.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY HOWARD SCHATZ PICTURE OF HEALTH After collapsing at a memorial service in December, Steinbrenner was relieved to hear he had simply fainted. "I'm an old coot who will hang around," he says. B/W PHOTO: COURTESY OF WILLIAMS COLLEGE ARCHIVES AND SPECIAL COLLECTIONS (LEFT) COLLEGE TRY A track man at Williams, then a football assistant at Northwestern in '55. B/W PHOTO: COURTESY OF NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY [See caption above] B/W PHOTO: JOHN F. JAQUA FLOOR GENERAL Clearing space at a Culver Military Academy alumni game in '73. B/W PHOTO: SPORTING NEWS/ICON SMI THE REAL BOSS? With wife of 48 years, Joan, who runs the Tampa household, in '75. B/W PHOTO: CORBIS HOOP DREAM As ABL Cleveland Pipers owner landing Jerry Lucas (with wife) in '62. B/W PHOTO: BETTMANN/CORBIS WHERE THERE'S SMOKE ... After hiring Billy Martin as manager for the third time, in '83. COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER FIRST TITLE A champagne shower from Thurman Munson after winning the '77 Series. COLOR PHOTO: LANE STEWART (LEFT) BOX SEAT Monitoring his Yankees from on high in '77. COLOR PHOTO: CHARLES BENNETT/AP GRAMPS With granddaughter Julia in '97.

"George is very much aware of his age and losing so many of his
friends. He'll cry at almost anything."

"I don't call down to the dugout
anymore."

"Every day I try to do two things I don't like
doing."

"My relationship with George is great," Piniella says. "That's
because I haven't worked for him in years."

"George will have control as long as he's breathing."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)