Steinbrenner's death reaches Wayne County
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on July 14, 2010 1:46 PM
A good friend.
An intense competitor.
A man who persevered.
George Michael Steinbrenner III possessed all those characteristics and more. Now his legacy lives on without him after the 80-year-old owner of the New York Yankees, tabbed Major League Baseball's bombastic 'Boss,' died Tuesday from a heart attack.
Steinbrenner's early-morning death in a Florida hospital sent shockwaves throughout the sports world.
Including Wayne County.
Long-time friend Clyde King and his wife, Norma, watched in disbelief as TV broadcasters announced Steinbrenner's passing.
"I about fainted," said King. "He's been my boss for 35 years and been my friend for 35 years. We had a wonderful relationship in the game of baseball. It's going to be a big void left in the Yankee organization."
Steinbrenner is survived by his wife Joan; sons Hal and Hank; daughters Jennifer and Jessica; and 13 grandchildren. The family was expected to have a private funeral this week, followed by a public memorial service planned sometime in New York.
Goldsboro native Jerry Narron, who met Steinbrenner in 1975, expects a somber mood at Yankee Stadium this weekend. The former Cincinnati Reds manager has been invited to participate in the Old-Timers Game for the second consecutive year.
"I knew he had been in failing health, and had his good days and his bad days," said Narron. "It will be a very emotional weekend with everybody back there. I'm proud to have known him and worked for him."
In 37 1/2 years as an owner, Steinbrenner whipped a moribund $10 million team into a $1.6 billion colossus that became the model of a modern franchise, one with its own TV network and ballpark food business.
Under his often brutal but always colorful reign, the Yankees won seven World Series championships, 11 American League pennants and 16 AL East titles. Steinbrenner went on spectacular spending sprees that caused Larry Lucchino, president of the rival Boston Red Sox, to dub Steinbrenner's Yankees the "Evil Empire."
He moved the Yankees from their tradition-rich "House that Ruth Built" into a new $1.5 billion Yankee Stadium. Call it the "House the Boss Built." He appeared there just four times: the April 2009 opener, the first two games of last year's World Series and this year's home opener, when Jeter and manager Joe Girardi went to his suite and personally delivered his seventh World Series ring.
New York was 11 years removed from its last championship when Steinbrenner, then an obscure son of an Ohio shipbuilder, headed a group that bought the team from CBS Inc. on Jan. 3, 1973, for about $8.7 million net.
Forbes now values the Yankees at $1.6 billion, trailing only Manchester United ($1.8 billion) and the Dallas Cowboys ($1.65 billion).
While the majority undoubtedly viewed Steinbrenner as a shrewd and relentless business man, King and Narron saw a different side of the owner who was raised in a strict, no-nonsense home environment.
"He's a sweet, brilliant man," said King. "He did a lot for the people that you don't know about, and he didn't want you to know about it."
King recalled a visit by Steinbrenner to Goldsboro not long after he took over the fledgling organization.
The charismatic Yankee delivered a rousing speech during the annual meeting of the Goldsboro Chamber of Commerce at Walnut Creek Country Club. Afterwards, Chamber members wanted to present Steinbrenner with an honorarium, but he refused.
Steinbrenner, instead, had lights installed on the Boys and Girls Club field in town.
Narron relived his first-ever meeting with Steinbrenner.
"I was playing for Fort Lauderdale," said Narron. "He talked with us about pride and the tradition of wearing the Yankees uniform, and wearing it the right way. He told us if you wear it the right way and all of you get haircuts, I'll get new uniforms in here for you.
"At the time, we played in hand-me-down uniforms -- those awful flannel things. We all got haircuts and the very next day, we had new uniforms. For me, that spoke volumes because you had the owner of a ballclub who backed up what he said and did it immediately."
An influential owner and competitor, Steinbrenner gave his team every chance to win with every little edge he could find. King remembers Steinbrenner bartering for a player, who couldn't decide between the Yankees or another organization.
He upped the ante.
"Mr. Steinbrenner would say pay a little more if he'll come play for us," said King. "It used to make me mad when I'd hear people say that he paid for championships. Baseball is a business."
Reporters followed Steinbrenner as if he was the pied piper during spring training and winter meetings. And Steinbrenner never hesitated to go into the clubhouse.
Once he entered, you could hear a pin drop.
"He's the only owner during my 23 years as a Major League player who would come into the clubhouse and get on players about their effort and that meant a great deal," said Narron. "He always talked about the passion and intensity you needed to bring to the ballpark every day. I thought it was all about winning in every organization and it's not, believe it or not.
"With Mr. Steinbrenner, it was about winning and being accountable."
Steinbrenner was in fragile health for the past 6 1/2 years, resulting in fewer public appearances and pronouncements. He fainted at a memorial service for NFL great Otto Graham in December 2003, appeared weak in August 2006 when he spoke briefly at the groundbreaking for the new stadium, and became ill while watching his granddaughter in a college play in North Carolina that October. At this year's spring training, he used a wheelchair and needed aides to hold him during the national anthem.
As his health declined, Steinbrenner let sons Hal and Hank run more of the family business. He turned over formal control of the Yankees to Hal in November 2008.
"I learned a great deal from him and I will miss him," said an emotional King. "He was like a member of our family. I still would run through a brick wall for him if I had to."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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