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At the age of 80 and after years of battling illness, former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner has passed away. Love him or hate him, Yankee fan or Yankee hater, you have to respect what he did for his organization and for the game of baseball.
I was born in New Jersey and one of my oldest memories as a child was being at Yankee Stadium. I remember, vividly, watching the Metro train pass behind the right field bleachers.
Years later, at the age of 14 and now living in California, I had a chance to go back to Yankee Stadium with my father for a special meet and greet with Hall of Fame Yankee Phil Rizzuto. But before we got to the suite where we would meet Mr. Rizzuto, we stood in a ground level hallway waiting for the elevator to take us up. When the elevator arrived and the doors opened, Mr. George Steinbrenner came walking out wearing his then typical turtleneck and sport coat.
My eyes instantly widened and I felt as if that moment couldn't really be happening.
Mr. Steinbrenner walked past with a few other members of the Yankees front office. I must have been no more than ten feet away.
I turned to my Dad and whispered, "Did you see that? God just walked by."
Now, referring to anyone as "God" seems wildly inappropriate, but think of it in the context of a 14-year-old kid who is in love with baseball and grew up a Yankee fan. George Steinbrenner was the god of the Yankees. He turned a franchise that hadn't drawn over two million in attendance since the early 50's into a perennial contender that would have only six losing seasons during his reign. All the while, turning the Yankees into one of the biggest brands on the planet.
Reggie Jackson may have been the straw that stirred the drink, but George Steinbrenner prepared the ice cubes, distilled the vodka and squeezed the orange juice.
Today, it seems that owners are more interested in making money that winning. I get it. It is, after all, a business. But where's the passion? Do these owners really care about bringing a championship to their cities?
Maybe, maybe not, but passion to win and to win for the city of New York was never in question when it came to the Yankees' owner.
One time, George Steinbrenner passed me in a hallway at Yankee Stadium. There was no interaction, no glance, nothing. There was, however, the feeling that I was in the room with the greatest owner in sports history. The owner of the greatest team in sports.
That's exactly how I will remember him.