Memories of two icons distinct and different

Lefty bat should be Yanks' first priority in the second half
Did we miss out on Jeter's 3,000th hit?

When the Yankees begin their second half on Friday night, two lost icons will take centerstage. To honor the memory of their late owner and Bob Sheppard, the only man more identifiable with the Yankees than George Steinbrenner over the last six decades, the team will don a pair of commemorative patches. It will be but one of the many ways in which the club will honor two icons.

The patches, as shown above, are a change from the Yanks’ usual armband memorials. The microphone of the Voice of Yankee Stadium will be worn on the sleeve while the GMS patch will be worn on the chest of the uniform either above the interlocking NY while in the home pinstripes or the word “York” on the away digs. These two men had not been the same since illnesses felled them both in the mid 2000s, and now they will be remembered by the Yankees throughout the season.

I’ve had both the Boss and Bob Sheppard on my mind over the last few days, and I took Bob’s passing harder than I did George’s. For me, as with millions of other Yankee fans, Bob Sheppard was Yankee Stadium. Nothing signalled summer more so than walking through the tunnels behind the stands while hearing Mr. Sheppard go over the Yankee Stadium ground rules. “During the course of the game,” he would intone in his slow and precise manner, “hard hit baseballs and bats may be hit or thrown into the stands.” Who would fail to heed such a warning?

As I grew up going to baseball games, Bob Sheppard would always be there. He announced Mike Pagliarulo with deliberation and amused the crowd when Shigetoshi Hasegawa joined the Angels. His “Der-ek Jee-tah,” heard again last night on the national stage during the All Star Game broadcast, remains as iconic an announcement as any in sports. Through thick and thin, elementary school, high school, college, 9/11, World Series’ victories and defeats, thrilling playoff comebacks and crushing collapses, Bob Sheppard’s voice — such a booming voice on a slight man — would usher fans in and out of Yankee Stadium. He and longtime organist Eddie Layton were two peas in a nostalgic pod that never grew old.

In no small way, Bob passed with the old Yankee Stadium. He fell ill in late 2007 and missed all of the lasts at Yankee Stadium. He missed the last playoff games, the last Joe Torre appearance, the last All Star Game and the entire last season. As the Yankees counted down the games remaining until their move across the street, Mr. Sheppard never made it back to Yankee Stadium. He made a video appearance during the final game, and while frail, he still had the Voice as he read the lineups one last time. Bob passed away just a few weeks after the final pieces of the House that Ruth Built, and the parallels are too eerie to ignore.

My dad was born the year before Bob Sheppard took over the microphone, and he had, until the recent spate of indistinct public announcers, known no other voice at Yankee Stadium. “Bob Sheppard,” he said in recollection, “That voice is part of my life’s soundtrack and the loss runs deeper by reason of that. For more than 50 years (beginning with my first trip to Yankee Stadium as a 7-year-old) that voice was part of my summers…a powerful, disembodied presence that was woven deep into the fabric of something I dearly loved.”

With the Boss, on the other hand, his lasting legacy is far more complicated than that. In recent years, Yankee fans have celebrated George Steinbrenner. He’s become the patron grandfather of the Yankees. As the club spends his money, he hasn’t been the same hands-on control freak he was in the 1970s and 1980s. Maybe he mellowed with age, and maybe he realized his investments would increase if he allowed his baseball minds to put a more competitive product on the field. Despite some mid-2000s hiccups, though, the Yanks have flourished under his benevolent eye since his return to the game in 1993 from a suspension.

When I myself was a seven-year-old Yankee fan, coming of age with Tim Leary, Andy Hawkins, Lee Gutterman and a cast of offensive offensive characters, I found myself with my dad at Yankee Stadium on a warm night in late July. I have vague recollections of the game on the field, but what I do remember involved a long standing ovation in the middle of a Yankee victory. The fans were reacting not to the play on the field but the drama off the field. George Steinbrenner had just been suspended from baseball by Fay Vincent for hiring Howie Spira to dig up dirt on Mr. May himself, Dave Winfield.

As coverage from the time shows, Yankee fans were none too disappointed about the news. By 1990, many Yankee fans had decided that Steinbrenner’s meddlesome ways were a detriment to the ballclub, and they weren’t afraid to say it. ”I speak for all true Yankee fans when I say that getting rid of Steinbrenner is the best thing that could happen to this team,” Bobby Ricci, a 24-year-old fan from the Bronx, said. ”Now it’s time to get rid of all the guys who Steinbrener calls his baseball people. Obviously, they don’t know much about baseball.”

Another presciently predicted better days ahead. ”This is so sweet. Maybe it’ll save the team. Now they can build a dynasty again,” Mike Nisson said.

In a short paragraph I asked my dad to write about sitting in the stands for that game, he too remembers the joy of the crowd:

“It’s hard to overstate how satisfying it was to have been sitting in the stands at Yankee Stadium as word spread through the crowd that it had just been announced that George Steinbrenner had been suspended. As the news worked its way through the stands, a low murmur graduated into raucous cheers from fans who were jubilant in seeing retribution visited on the man who had spent years spending money on mediocre players, berating professional athletes to the point of public humiliation, repeatedly inflicting the pathological Billy Martin on the players and fans and, finally, spying on Dave Winfield. Punctuating the cheers were some shouts of disapproval from fans who expressed the opinion that a suspension was not adequate and that he should have been banned for life (I, of course, being among that chorus). That display struck me as a bit of the French Revolution coming to the venerable House that Ruth Built–and it felt great.”

That’s the real first impression I had of George Steinbrenner. It wasn’t of the loyal philanthropist or the dedicated owner; rather, it was of the mercurial interloper whose suspension was welcomed by people older and wiser than I. Even as George aged into someone who still wanted to win but could seemingly control this temper, I still wondered about the good and the bad in him. For those who didn’t know him in any personal context, he isn’t an easy man to describe.

Yesterday, as the Yankees in Anaheim gathered to talk about the Boss, Andy Pettitte‘s presence and words struck me as particularly telling. Pettitte and George Steinbrenner were never that close. For years in a row, George wanted his GMs to trade Andy Pettitte. He didn’t like his competitiveness and thought him too soft to succeed in the Bronx. Every year at the trade deadline, Pettitte would be the subject of rumors — to the Phillies for Adam Eaton, to somewhere else but the Bronx. In 2003, when the Yanks had the opportunity to let Pettitte walk, they did. It was a Boss move through and through.

Yet, Number 46 sat at the podium yesterday afternoon and looked as distraught as anyone else there. He had lost a mentor and a boss, the man who, eventually, showed enough faith in him to stick with him. Now, Pettitte has five Yankee World Series rings and forgave the Boss, as so many others have. That’s the man of contradictions that he was: flawed, temperamental, hated and ultimately accepted in New York as the wins rolled in. As he once said, “Winning is first, next to oxygen.”

Lefty bat should be Yanks' first priority in the second half
Did we miss out on Jeter's 3,000th hit?
  • Peter

    any chance those patches will be available for purchase or be sold with jerseys?

    • Benjamin Kabak

      I’d imagine they will be soon enough. In the past, the authentic jerseys sold during years with memorial armbands have contained the armbands. I’m sure the jerseys with patches will be available for sale soon enough.

      • Peter

        Thank you

      • Klemy

        This is the first time I’d consider buying a jersey where the inclusion of this mattered at all.

  • Rose

    My dad was born the year before Bob Sheppard took over the microphone, and he had, until the recent spate of indistinct public announcers, known no other voice at Yankee Stadium. “Bob Sheppard,” he said in recollection, “That voice is part of my life’s soundtrack and the loss runs deeper by reason of that. For more than 50 years (beginning with my first trip to Yankee Stadium as a 7-year-old) that voice was part of my summers…a powerful, disembodied presence that was woven deep into the fabric of something I dearly loved.”

    Let me guess, your dad is either an author…or a civil rights speaker. lol Pretty poetic to say the least. Nicely said though.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      FACT: Ben’s dad is Morgan Freeman.

      “I guess I just miss my friend.”

      • Andy In Sunny Daytona

        Red Kabak.

        • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

          WHEN, LORD, WHEN?!?! WHEN’S GON’ BE OUR TIME?!?!??!

          • king of fruitless hypotheticals

            tommie, ya gotta grow man.

            (mea culpa: i had to look up a good response)

      • Rose

        I think I recall hearing Mr. Kabak’s poem, The Gift Outright, spoken at Kennedy’s Innaguration – online somewhere.

      • tomaconda

        Should hire James Earl Jones to read this!

  • larryf

    for your daily dose of Sheppard I recommend

  • Frank

    I love the Sheppard patch. I hope they come out with a t-shirt with that logo.

  • crawdaddie

    I took George’s death harder because he was larger to life for me.

    Damn, I’m only a few years younger than Ben’s dad.

  • bexarama

    Ugh, Ben, you bastard, you made me cry with this. ;_; Very well done, seriously.

  • Rose

    It’s a tough week certainly. Bob Sheppard would have hit me harder had he not been already gone for quite a while already. At 99 years old, I never expected him to make a return – even before he officially announced his retirement. I don’t think many people felt differently either. His voice was something special and along with Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and the other casts of characters I’ll tell my children about some day…I’ll certainly have to include Bob Sheppard. Bragging about how I also got to hear the man who announced everyone from Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle to Reggie Jackson, Don Mattingly and Derek Jeter. How his voice was simply something impossible to explain in person. Just as Robin Williams described the smell inside the Sistine Chapel in Good Will Hunting, Bob Sheppard’s voice, in person during game time, was something very priceless.

  • Rose

    As for “The Boss.” I had never really thought about it before about how generous the guy really was. If you played by his rules…he would spoil you, overpay, and give you almost anything you wanted. But if you didn’t play by his rules…he may not only cut you loose but hold no remorse smearing your name in the public, among other things. He was also quite a charitable man as well.

    While his personality is viewed as something horrible during a lot of his tenure as owner…passive personalities rarely ever prosper as far as those assertive and dictator like personalities due. So without that personality people always used to love to hate…the Yankees may not have become as successful as they have under his reign. And for that we should be thankful.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      If you played by his rules…he would spoil you, overpay, and give you almost anything you wanted. But if you didn’t play by his rules…he may not only cut you loose but hold no remorse smearing your name in the public, among other things.

      The stories that keep coming out in the wake of his death say that those public tiffs never lasted long. That George always sought out those individuals he disagreed with and mended fences with them, bringing them back into the Yankee family.

      Just thought that needed to be said. He was hot-tempered and irrational, but often remorseful and apologetic for his hurtful ways.

      • Rose

        I agree. They said that he was extremely sympathetic and generously helpful to his players both past and present. Guys like Ron Guidry have had financial problems in the past and George Steinbrenner would go out of his way to either give or loan money or find some work for them to do to earn a steady paycheck to get back on their feet.

      • JohnnyC

        The pundits and gadflies who now stand in haughty judgment over the man probably committed far greater transgressions against those they loved and worked with. Their only defense is the one thing George didn’t have the benefit of — total anonymity and the apathy of the public. Save me the moral righteousness.

      • Kiersten

        Additionally, it wasn’t like he was an asshole just to be an asshole. He wanted to win and demanded perfection out of his staff and players. That’s exactly what an owner should do.

        • Rose

          Exactly. I look at him as a role model. Some things (like the Dave Winfield incident – among others) I disagree with…but for the most part – what he stood for as well as his generous rewarding for fulfilling or hoping to fulfill his philosophy accompanied by his generosity to charities all over the world is something very admirable to me. You’re not going to get anywhere in life floating around agreeing with everybody or avoiding confrontations. He stuck to his guns and turned a rag tag Yankeess business into a $1.5 billion dollar empire using his strategy, philosophy, and resources.

          One can only imagine what the baseball world would be like today had he been successful in acquiring the Cleveland Indians instead in the early 70’s like he had originally hoped for…

      • The Evil Umpire

        I recall during the baseball strike of ’94-’95 how Steve Howe needed to secure work before spring training due to his probation requirements. Howe of course did not want to cross the picket line, so George gave him some temporary office work down in Tampa to keep him legit until the end of the strike. If you were one of the Boss’s favorites, he’d find a way to help you out.

  • Kiersten

    George’s death definitely hit me harder, probably because Sheppard hasn’t announced at the Stadium since 07. If he was still working and passed away, then I’d definitely be devastated. Of course I was sad about his passing and I cried when I watched his tribute video, but he was 99, and that’s just amazing.
    Although George hasn’t been involved for a few years, I still believe that he at least had a sliver of influence over the team. Now, who knows what will happen. It just weird when I think that my kid(s) will never know Steinbrenner’s Yankees and will never hear Bob Sheppard as the PA announcer at the old Yankee Stadium.

  • http://RAB sjt

    Any idea what the plans are to honor the passing of the two legends? I would think the best thing would be a short moment of silence Friday night and then bigger ceremonies on Saturday as part of the Oldtimer’s celebration. I’m also hoping for that as I am going to the game on Saturday.

  • Sweet Lou

    I give the man credit for reinvesting his money with the team and not pocketing it like so many others do. As far as his baseball knowledge goes, he was terrible. (Hey Lou, I just won you the pennant. I got you Steve Trout!) The Yankees were saved by Fay Vincent in 1990 from his stupidity. If it wasn’t for Vincent, Gene Michael and Bob Watson, the modern dynasty never would’ve happened. Bernie and Mo would’ve been traded. He listened to his baseball people until 2002 (see Mondesi, Raul). Only when he gave control of the baseball operations to Cashman did the team start to rebuild their farm system and organization as a whole.

    That being said, he was a very charitable individual and I’m sorry that he’s passed on. RIP Big Stein…

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      He listened to his baseball people until 2002 (see Mondesi, Raul).

      What a fat-ass.

      (In all seriousness, though, we traded Scott Wiggins for the Fattest Centerfielder Ever and during his brief year in extremely stretched and distended pinstripes, he was worth a solid 2.0 WAR. There wasn’t really much to complain about the Raul Mondesi adminstration, other than the scarcity of pernil and mofongo available for purchase in the South Bronx while he was here. Sure, we paid him a ton, but in a dollars-to-pounds-to-production ratio, he was quite effective.)

      • Dirty Pena

        I have no clue if this is a joke or not, but Raul played RF…

        • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

          It’s a joke.

          • Dirty Pena

            DFA me, barkeep.

    • ZZ

      I said something along these lines yesterday, but if people really think The Boss, was not involved at all or had no influence during his suspension you are dreaming and not really listening to all the things being said about him.

      When the man wanted something to get done, it got done.

  • Ross in Jersey

    Sam Borden just reported that every Yankee affiliate – AAA through GCL – will wear the Steinbrenner patch. A nice touch.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder


    • Matt Imbrogno

      I like it.

    • Dirty Pena

      George Steinbrenner is actually going to be buried in a suit with a Gary Sanchez patch.

      • Rose

        I heard the patch had Mel Gibson’s Career on it…

        • DCBX

          Thanks, I needed that after the past few days. Hilarious!

  • Rose

    The first thing George Steinbrenner did when he got to Heaven was tell Jesus he had to cut his hair and shave his beard.

    The second thing George Steinbrenner did was fire Billy Martin.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      Then he converted all the ornate wooden desks in heaven to flat lucite tables with four legs.

  • Andy in Buffalo
  • Ram’s Bladder Cup

    I’m pretty sure the Ban in 1990 was a lifetime ban, then later he was re-instated.

    /turd in the punchbowl’d

    • Dirty Pena

      You are correct. HOWEVAH, it’s probably best to e-mail the author to correct him rather than post here.

      • Ram’s Bladder Cup

        Good point..

        I will DFA myself for at least 24 hours..

        • Steve H

          Once DFA’d you can’t be called back up for 10 days unless it’s due to injury.

          • Ram’s Bladder Cup’s Agent

            Ram’s Bladder Cup has told me to tell you that he actually has been turned into a Newt. But he will probably “Get Better” soon.

  • Chris0313

    Does anyone know where one can find a George Steinbrenner poster these dies?

    • Chris0313

      days days days days*

      • Ross in Jersey

        Holy typo Batman.

  • Steve H

    George was like A.J. Burnett. Before the Winfield suspension he was like Bad AJ and after he was like Good AJ. Maybe during the suspension Roy Halladay taught The Boss how to handle himself?

    • Ross in Jersey

      Heh, nice, though the Yankees did win in the late 70s before Winfield fueled in part by George wanting and getting Reggie Jackson. So, more like he was Good AJ then Bad AJ then Good AJ again ;)

  • yankthemike

    beautiful piece Ben- I too was more saddened by the death of Bob Sheppard even though i suppose most of us were more prepared for it. He embodied the dignity that I will always associate with the Yankees. He’s also what I miss most from the old Yankee Stadium by far.

  • ZZ

    To a lot of people Steinbrenner is like one of those hardass Dads. He was always busting your ass and making your life miserable.

    But, at some point you grow up and realize that you are a much better person for having him in your life.

    Also, it is amazing how many stories are coming out about the people he has helped over the years. I imagine this is only the tip of the iceberg as many if not most of the people he helped have no idea it was him. His charity really was for the right reasons, and that is incredible given his reputation in the media and how much good publicity that could have provided. I have no reservations saying he was a great man.

    At the end of the day, we all have flaws and those flaws make up who we are. Without the bad, you probably never get the overwhelmingly amount of good.

    • CS Yankee

      Well said.

  • Kiersten

    This was posted on Deadspin this morning, but for those who didn’t see it, you really should read it. I cried. (safe)

  • Mike HC

    I heard they were seriously considering killing the Core 4 and burying them with Steinbrenner

    /Ancient King’d

  • 28 in ’10

    Best tribute to the Boss, insofar as remembering how badass he was, comes from Beantown.

  • wilcymoore27

    Good article, Ben. Accurately sums up what many Yankee fans – including me – feel about both men.