When my publisher asked me to write something about the announcement that George Steinbrenner was on the Today’s Game Era Ballot to be considered for election to Cooperstown in December, I wasn’t comfortable about it. To me, it’s a “no brainier.” George Steinbrenner revolutionized the game of baseball. I say this until I’m blue in the face.
I have read what all the other writers say, positives and negatives, however, the good far outweighs the bad. Seventy percent of people that work at stadiums today should forever be grateful to the Boss because before he came into the picture in 1973, these jobs didn’t even exist. Over a dozen jobs alone created, working directly with the team, including a second trainer, that position going to Herman Schneider, who today is the head trainer for the Chicago White Sox.
The Boss felt that one trainer per team just wasn’t good enough for the Yankees and two would make us stronger. It’s no coincidence that the injuries were down and we were World Champions in 1977 and 1978. The Boss would also add a bullpen catcher to the team- today every team has one or two. The position went to former Oakland A’s farmhand Dom Scala. Dom was so good at what he did that the Boss would say that Scala was more like a coach that just a bullpen catcher. Dom would be known on the team as “Disco Dom.” It was the disco era and when we went out to the discos while on the road, all the players would love to see Dom dance. It was like a scene out of Saturday Night Fever. One time when we were in Chicago at the disco, the Boss showed up because he knew that was where the players would be after the game. He sat at a table with myself, Piniella, Munson and Rivers and he said,”When is that discotheque Dom guy going to dance?” We all laughed like crazy and then Dom proceeded to put on a show. The Boss thought it was great for the morale of the team. Dom would later become a scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates and today is great college coach at a Adelphi University.
The Boss created many positions around the game of baseball and a lot of opportunities for students coming out of college who loved the game of baseball so much that they were willing to work for free.
When I started with the Yankees in 1973, you could count the number people who worked for them on one hand. Now you can fill a phone book, three buildings and two cities, Tampa and New York. You also need a human resources person to explain all the positions in the organization.
I remember when the Boss started all this in the 70s and all the other teams would walk around the stadium in amazement at what the Yankees were doing for their players. They were shocked at the fact that we had a gym in the ballpark and let me add, our own masseuse. Players also loved the fact that we had a video machine in the clubhouse. Today, all of this is standard practice.
This is my 44th season in baseball, and today I walk around Yankee Stadium amazed at the fact that one man’s vision could really do all of this. Could he be crazy? Yes, but he was also a lot of fun. Was he intimidating? No question, but he was also the best friend that anyone could have in this game. He could “kick your butt” one minute, and make you feel like a million bucks the next. If you didn’t know him like I did, I feel sorry for you because you missed out on one of the great pioneers of baseball- who really was a good guy.
George Steinbrenner was honored by the Ted Williams Hall of Fame in 2008 but wasn’t well enough to attend, so his daughter Jennifer accepted for him. Ted Williams was a very big fan of George Steinbrenner because he understood what the Boss meant to the game of baseball and to the average person in general. They enjoyed each others company and the last time they were together, Ted actually told him that someday the Boss would be in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. The Boss’s reply was,”I doubt it.” Ted Williams said, “I think I know baseball more than you do George and I know what I’m talking about.”
Well Mr. Williams, my money is with you and I’m banking on baseball’s greatest owner getting into Cooperstown someday.