It’s our first spring in the modern baseball era without The Boss. Every time he opens his mouth and tries to be like his dad, Hank reminds us how engulfed he is by his father’s shadow.
Even if you never watched a sports contest in your life, you knew who George Steinbrenner was.
For the past 40 years, he has been a figure that transcended sports and became the symbol of greed, excess and excellence in America.
He is arguably the most successful and controversial owner in sports history. His work with the Olympics, his funny commercials and "Saturday Night Live" appearance and his place in "Seinfeld" lore introduced him to an entirely new audience as a shocking model of self deprecation.
I was fortunate enough to see a much different side of the legend.
You see, the man we called The Boss was actually my boss.
I was hired to work for the New York Yankees at the end of 1995. A year later, soon after the Yankees won their first World Series in 18 years, I was named director of publications for the team.
My manager left and at just 23, I felt I could handle the gig. Luckily for me, George Steinbrenner thought so, too.
I ran into The Boss in spots during the 1996 season, but it was not a meeting you ever wanted to have.
Steinbrenner was mostly based in Tampa, but when he would come to Yankee Stadium, the entire building went on high alert. Employees literally had anxiety attacks in anticipation of his arrival.
When I saw one such minion taken out by ambulance minutes before Steinbrenner's first visit to the stadium in February 1996, the words of a co-worker suddenly went from a joke to solid advice.
The team's videographer and a fellow Fordham grad, Joe Violone, greeted me on my first day by holding out his hand and saying, "Congratulations. Get out while you can."
An innocent elevator trip turned into my first encounter with Steinbrenner. My offices were in the guts of the stadium in a makeshift office suite above the main front offices.
Four months after I was hired, I needed to talk to the media relations director about a photo for the yearbook. The elevator missed the second floor and went to the lobby, where Steinbrenner and his bodyguard got into the elevator.
To this day, I remember the lobby guard Jack giving me a bug-eyed look as if to say, "Nice knowing you, kid."
Steinbrenner didn't say much, but he gave me an up-and-down glance like a lion scoping his prey.
As the elevator opened, he looked at me and said, "Nice tie, young man. Very sharp. Dignified."
I said thank you and opted to head back to my office to restart my heart and change the undergarments.
His body man, Eddie Fastook, saw me later that day and smiled.
"You did good, man. You did good. Talk only when talked to and never let him smell fear," he said. "From that moment, he owns you."
It was the best advice I ever received. When I took over as head of the department, I was suddenly called into every directors meeting with The Boss.
The infamous phone calls started soon after I took over in late 1996.
"Young man, I want to talk to you about this magazine cover," he said during one of our first private phone calls. "I'm concerned about the wording. Tino is a good man. He's done great things for us. But we can never be disrespectful to Donnie."
He was referring to a pre-print proof of the latest Yankees Magazine cover. I used the wording "The New Hit Man" in a cover story on Tino Martinez.
The problem? Don "Hit Man" Mattingly was a Yankees legend who had retired before the 1996 season. Martinez took over his spot.
"I remember that poster, young man. I know they all called him Donnie Baseball, but I still have that Hit Man poster," The Boss said. "The New Hit Man? Blasphemy. Change it."
Click. That was that. I didn't even get a chance to say, "Yes, sir."
Six months later, the Yankees were losing a May home game to the Red Sox at the Stadium. The Yanks blew a five-run lead in the top of the fifth. The first commercial to run after the half inning was a new spot for Yankees Magazine. We had then-outfielder Gerald Williams looking down at a cover showing Derek Jeter doing his trademark jumping double play turn at second base.
I was in my office when I heard the phone ring.
"Tim, you need to get down here right now," said one of his yes men.
I ran as fast as I could through the stadium guts to The Boss' office. What I endured for the next 15 minutes was something that words can't do justice.
It was an obscenity-laced tirade about how the commercial was so idiotic. Every so often, he would pause from using swears I'd never heard, take a breath and say, "Gerald's an outfielder. He'd never make that play. This makes no sense."
The diatribe ended with a four-letter-word filled "You're fired!"
I had been told about this drill when I was first hired, but I'd laughed it off.
If he ever fires you, I was told, go to your office and wait 45 minutes. A minion will call you and you'll still have a job.
It was the most somber 48 minutes of my adult infancy. When 45 minutes came and went, I called my wife Debbie and said, "Well, that's that."
Thankfully, the phone rang soon after. Another henchman.
"You're good, Tim. Come in tomorrow. It never happened."
These are the more extreme memories. Truth is, most of my interactions with Mr. Steinbrenner were positive. He awarded me a 1996 World Series ring with a nod and a "Keep up the good work, young man."
But I watched him treat his staff horrifically and minutes later, give front-row seats to a stranger. He demanded 100-hour work weeks even in the offseason. There was always more work to be done to stay on top.
I simply wore out after a couple years. It was be married to the Yankees or be married to my wife. I chose actual marriage, but there's not a day that I don't miss driving into work at Yankee Stadium.
He was the greatest businessman I have ever known. The attention to detail was legendary, to a fault. Folks like Violone told me on my worst days that if you can work for George, you can handle anything.
They were right. Everything since my Yankees days has seemed pedestrian. In a sick way, I miss the mania.
We're left with memories now. I watched him terrorize people and shower others with incomparable affection minutes later.
Friends like former ticket director Frank Swaine survived under George decades longer than I did. Frank saw a loyal and compassionate Boss, the kind of caring man who consoled Swaine after his son died and made sure the fallen member of the Yankee family was honored in a Stadium ceremony.
These are the moments that come to the surface more and more since his passing. Steinbrenner insisted that most of his acts of kindness stay anonymous. Was it humility or a conscious effort to keep his more known persona intact?
We’ll never know, but it’s clear that the more Baby Boss Hank tries to mimic his father’s signature moves, the more he looks and sounds like a joke of a knockoff.
Thankfully, his son’s lunacy inspires fresh recollections of a man that had more passion about one thing—winning—than I'll ever see in my life.