Open Thread: Ceremonies for Bob and George

When the Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays resume play for the second half tomorrow night, the Bombers and their fans will turn out to the stadium with heavy hearts. Both Bob Sheppard and George Steinbrenner have passed away since the team’s last home stand, and the the Yankees announced this afternoon their pre-game plans to honor these two Yankee icons.

While the team is still firming up all of the details, the club is asking ticket holders to be in their seats by 6:45 for the ceremony. Currently plans include a video tribute to George Steinbrenner and a moment of silence for both men prior to the game. “Further tributes,” the Yankees said, “to Mr. Steinbrenner and Mr. Sheppard will be revealed during Friday’s ceremony, and additional ceremonies will be held during Old-Timers’ Day events on Saturday, July 17.” I hope they can produce a video tribute for Bob Sheppard as well. He deserves one.

In addition to these memorials, the Yankees will place a wreath in front of the Boss’ statue in the Gate 2 Executive Lobby and in front of Bob Sheppard’s plaque in Monument Park. United States Army Sergeant First Class MaryKay Messenger will perform the National Anthem.

Under George Steinbrenner, the Yankees have always honored their history and remembered the players lost to the passage of time. Friday’s events will be emotionally charged as a fanbase begins to say good bye to two beloved Bronx figures.

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This thread can serve as the open thread for the evening. It’s the last night of the All Star Break without Yankee baseball, but a handful of other teams are in action. The Red Sox play the Rangers at 7:10 p.m., and the Mets face the Giants at 10:10 p.m.

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A fond send-off from an almost-Yankee

As the celebrity memorials about George Steinbrenner have appeared, we haven’t linked to them simply because they’re too numerous to count. Everyone deserves to have his or her voice heard, and the Boss had a direct impact on thousands of people’s lives. There is one, however, from an unlikely source that I believe warrants some attention.

Over at ESPN Boston, Curt Schilling, almost a Yankee once and always a hated enemy of Yankee fans, penned a moving tribute to George Steinbrenner. The Boss, Curt said, was one of the people in baseball he most respected. George was, writes Schilling, responsible for baseball’s economic strides. He revitalized the game, he revitalized the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry, and he belongs in the Hall of Fame.

A certain passage from the piece leaped out at me:

After we beat the Yankees in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, he stopped me outside the media room in the tunnel under the stadium. Here he was, I knew he was crushed, but even so he went to great lengths to talk to me and say things I’d forever remember and cherish.

Mr. Steinbrenner was the No. 1 reason I wanted to initially go to the Yankees when I learned the Diamondbacks wanted to move my contract. I loved playing for Mr. Colangelo and I saw Mr. Steinbrenner as an older, more passionate version of him. As a player, what more could you ask from the owner of your team? He did everything in his power, and sometimes things outside his control, to take care of his players and his fans, and made no qualms about who he had to bull over to do it.

So many people looked to him and the Yankees organization as being a big contributor to the unbalanced financial playing field in baseball. I say baloney. If every owner poured the percentage of his resources into their teams as Mr. Steinbrenner did, there would be far more happy fans in many more cities.

As Schilling readily admits, he and George had personality traits in common. They were both loud, brash and overbearing, and they both had a very strong desire to win. In fact, it was George’s ability to grate on people that had the Diamondbacks asking for Alfonso Soriano and Nick Johnson from the Yanks while they settled for much less from the Red Sox.

A few months ago, I wrote a piece on the almost-trade of Schilling and posited that he was almost a Yankee and almost a Yankee fan. I still get the sense reading his words about the Boss that Curt cheers on the Bronx Bombers even as he embraces Red Sox Nation. He respects the team; he respects the pinstripes; and he admired the Boss just as so many others did.

Secondary market prices up 77 percent for Friday

Our partners at TiqIQ have put together the following graphic on ticket prices since George Steinbrenner passed away yesterday. With the Yanks out of action until Friday, tickets for the game have increased by 77 percent since Tuesday morning. Those seats that are generally the least expensive have seen the biggest increase with Grandstand prices spiking by nearly 200 percent. For those looking to buy and those looking to sell, the market strikes me as capitalism the Boss would have loved.

Memories of two icons distinct and different

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.”

Major League Baseball remembers the Boss

Just a few days after George Steinbrenner celebrated his 80th birthday, I pondered Cooperstown for the Boss. Despite his temper and problems with baseball’s top authorities, George has been one of the most influential and revolutionary owners in professional sports. He turned a $10-million investment in 1973 into something worth over $1 billion in 2010, and he of course made enemies along the way.

But while baseball history is littered with the names of those fired by Steinbrenner, the Boss had another side that didn’t make headlines. His charitable contributions were immense, and employees past and present say George, even at his worst, was always loyal to those loyal to him and the Yankees organization. He wasn’t all bad; he wasn’t all good; he just was.

For the Yankees, today is a day of mourning. George had been the face of the organization for 37 years, and during that time, the 29 other baseball teams had changed hands 100 times. Yet, the Steinbrenners endured. In George’s first year as owner of the Yankees, there were just 24 Major League teams. Today, they are 30, and the Yankees, winners of seven World Series trophies on his watch, rule the roost, and even as Yankee fans can forget how George’s meddling mired the franchise in 1980s mediocrity, those around baseball remembered the man today.

“This is a very sad day for me and Carmen and all of baseball,” Yogi Berra, who had a 15-year feud with Steinbrenner, said. “My sympathies go out to the Steinbrenner family. George was The Boss, make no mistake. He built the Yankees into champions and that’s something nobody can ever deny. He was a very generous, caring, passionate man. George and I had our differences, but who didn’t? We became great friends over the last decade and I will miss him very much.”

Bud Selig, who banded together with other owners in frequent attempts to rein in Steinbrenner’s spending, spoke: “I have known George ever since he entered the game in 1972. He was my dear friend for nearly four decades. Although we would have disagreements over the years, they never interfered with our friendship and commitment to each other. Our friendship was built on loyalty and trust and it never wavered. We were allies and friends in the truest sense of the words.”

Don Zimmer, another baseball figure who had a falling-out with Steinbrenner, wanted to remember the good times. “I would prefer to remember him just as he was the first time I met him. I was managing the Red Sox and sitting in the dugout several hours before a game at Yankee Stadium. He was on the mound in a white shirt pitching batting practice to his son. A father throwing to his son,” the Rays’ adviser said. “His impact on the game is impossible to measure. If you were a Yankee fan there was no better owner because he would do anything at any cost to put the best team on the field.

The Red Sox will honor George Steinbrenner with a moment of silence before the Thursday game at Fenway Park. “I had the good fortune to call George Steinbrenner both partner and friend,” current Boston owner and former Yankee partner John Henry said. “I had the privilege to watch George as he built a system that ensured his beloved Yankees would have a strong foundation for sustained excellence. And then we fiercely competed in the American League. George Steinbrenner forever changed baseball and hopefully some day we will see him honored in baseball’s Hall of Fame as one of the great figures in the history of sports.”

Echoed Larry Lucchino, who once called George’s Yankees the Evil Empire: “My respect for George went beyond the baseball field because of his sincere and longstanding commitment to charity, and to people in need. He had a giant heart, often well hidden from public view. Part of his legacy here in Boston will be the profound kindness he showed to numerous local philanthropic causes, especially as a regular and generous contributor each year to the Jimmy Fund of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.”

John Sterling, the homerist of Yankee homers, spoke about the Boss’ contradictions. “I’ve heard one million George Steinbrenner stories of things he did for people that would bring a tear to your eye. So he was a combination,” he said. “Was he a tough boss? Boy, you bet he was. But he also had the softest side to him. In my own way, I really loved him. He took care of so many people in so many ways. I’m really very sad today, but he did phenomenal things for the Yankees.”

Joe Torre, the last manager to be kinda, sorta fired by the Boss, added his own comment: “I will always remember George Steinbrenner as a passionate man, a tough boss, a true visionary, a great humanitarian, and a dear friend. I will be forever grateful that he trusted me with his Yankees for 12 years. My heart goes out to his entire family. He will be deeply missed in New York, Tampa and throughout the world of baseball. It’s only fitting that he went out as a world champ.”

It is indeed only fitting that George went out on top. His Yankees are World Series champions with the best record on baseball. He wouldn’t have had it any other way.

After the jump, a video from CNN of George in his own words. [Read more…]