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The end of an era and childhood: the passing of George Steinbrenner and Bob Sheppard

My brother and I will be heading to NYC this weekend to go to a Yankee game, something we haven’t done in decades. It will be Old Timers Day, and since we’ve had the tickets for some time, and we were looking forward to the nostalgia of going to the games when we were young whippersnappers. How little did we know that two icons of the Yankee family would pass this week — first the voice, Bob Sheppard, and now today George Steinbrenner. What can you say about George Steinbrenner? The NYDN:

George Steinbrenner, a towering and intimidating figure who dominated the New York sports scene for 35 years, winning 11 American League pennants and seven world championships as owner of the Yankees, in and around two suspensions from baseball and multiple feuds and firings, died Tuesday morning in Tampa after suffering a massive heart attack. He was 80.

…Steinbrenner’s operation of the Yankees was one of constant upheaval, turmoil and instability. This was no better evidenced than by his hiring and firing of 12 managers (including Billy Martin five times) between Ralph Houk (whom he inherited in 1973) and Torre. And prior to Cashman’s ascension at age 30 to the Yankee GM role in 1998, no less than 14 people (including Michael twice) held that position before ultimately finding the working conditions intolerable and, in many cases, hazardous to their health.

…Through the years, Steinbrenner had acrimonious fallings out with many of his star players such as Reggie Jackson, Lou Piniella, Goose Gossage, Graig Nettles and Sparky Lyle, only to later patch things up and welcome them back into the Yankee fold. With Yankee icon Yogi Berra, however, the feud was a lasting one. Berra, who Steinbrenner fired as manager just 16 games into the 1985 season, vowed never to return to Yankee Stadium “as long as (Steinbrenner’s) there,” and was estranged from the organization until January of 1999 when a peace pact was finally brokered between the two with Steinbrenner issuing a public apology to him.

My personal favorite obit for The Boss comes from Mike Lopresi of Gannett. He captured what I felt when I heard the news.

Everything and everybody in baseball took a back seat to The Boss on Tuesday. George Steinbrenner was born on the 4th of July and died the morning of the All-Star Game. Somehow it all fits.

He was so, so American – an enthusiastic master of capitalism, not to mention free speech. How paler would his legacy be, had he spent less and talked softer?

… the Steinbrenner story will forever be a mixed one. Many men live long enough to win. He lived long enough to not only win but to be loathed, lampooned – and somehow in the end, revered.

In the past 37 years, the other 29 teams in major league baseball have had more than 100 owners. The Yankees have had one. Time enough to remake a franchise’s mystique, not to mention his own.

The tantrums, the firings, the moments of loutish behavior – they all deserve mention in the Steinbrenner final box score. But it is striking how his black marks faded into the past. As the memorials poured in Tuesday, the most popular proclamation was that here was the greatest and most significant owner in the history of sport.

Few voices dissented. Not even those with Steinbrenner scars.

And former announcer Bob Sheppard, who died two days ago, was indeed the Voice of God. It was soothing to hear his mellifluous voice announce the lineup. He retired in 2000, so I have never been to a game when it was other than his voice on the PA. Below is a tribute video for his retirement, filled with players Tim and I watched play on the field back in the day — Reggie Jackson, Graig Nettles, Don Mattingly and more.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding