The opening ceremonies were but a distant memory by the time the All Star game merifully ended close to 2:00 a.m. but the sight of George Steinbrenner being carted around the field will be the image I remember most. There was the Boss, with his trademark navy blue blazer and aviator sunglasses, sitting next to his daughter, his son Hal right behind him, bawling like a baby, overcome with emotion. The Fox cameras tastefully kept their distance until Steinbrenner's cart reached the pitcher's mound. There, his daughter handed him a plain manilla envelope. The Boss took out four baseballs and gave one each to Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Goose Gossage and Reggie Jackson. Ford leaned over and kissed George on the cheek, so did Yogi. Paying their respects to The Godfather. Steinbrenner was then quickly ushered off the field, perhaps for the final time.
It's funny how things turn out. For as long as I can remember, Steinbrenner has lorded over his team as The Boss, commanding the back and sometimes even the front pages of the local newspapers, hiring-and-firing managers and general managers at an alarming rate, throwing buckets of money at free agents, harassing his employees, berating his players, building championship teams and then tearing them down. He was boorish, obnoxious, paranoid, driven, obsessed. He was also generous, charitable, and unfailingly patriotic. Steinbrenner was a lot of things, and most of all, he was vital, a force.
In 1989, when I was a senior in high school, I honestly believed that the Yankees would never been a winning organization again until Steinbrenner was gone. I was wrong of course, and the Yankees' run in the nineties was more spectactular and satisfying than the one in the late seventies. Steinbrenner deserves credit for that, even if the team was carefully re-built while he was serving his second suspension from the game, and even if Joe Torre gets most of the ink for the teams' great run.
Again, it's interesting to see how things turn out. Instead of a dramatic departure, Steinbrenner has slowly faded, like the air fizzling out of a birthday ballon that is three weeks old. It is humbling. And his many critics have laid off of him as his health has declined. Mike Lupica, one of his biggest foes, has written nothing but glowing things about Steinbrenner for the past few years. And so even an orge gets a moment of grace.
I enjoyed the pre-game introductions. Thought it was typically crass of Willie Mays to ignore Josh Hamilton when the young center fielder took his place next to the Say Hey Kid. Also, is New York the only place in the world where you can get away with following-up Hank Aaron with Reggie Jackson or what? And yo, you had to love them saving Yogi, the best, for last.