The Specter of Steinbrenner

bigstein.jpgThis seems as good a time as any to tell you about my ephemeral run-in with George Steinbrenner.

I grew up in a Cop Town north of New York City. It seemed like everyone I knew as a kid, their dad was either a policeman or a fireman in the city. (My dad was a notable exception; for most of my childhood, he veered between insurance, finance, and alcohol-aided unemployment.)

One of my best friends was a huge Yankees fan. His dad was a cop. His dad also worked the security detail for George Steinbrenner. My memory is vague on the finer points of the nature of this work; I think he may have been The Boss’s driver at some point. I don’t know if this work was actually part of his NYPD duty or something on the side. My guess is the latter.

When we graduated from elementary school, my friend’s dad got us tickets for a Yankee game. Somehow I squeezed my mom for enough money to buy a program while I was there (our family finances were mired in the Dirt Poor range at the time), because on the few occasions I got to go to a baseball game, I HAD to score it. I don’t know where I picked up this filthy habit, but it still haunts me. For four years, I brought a scorebook to every Met game I went to for the same purpose.

Midway through the game, my friend’s dad decided to give us a treat by bringing us “behind the scenes” in the Yankee offices. A security guard waved us through a couple of imposing glass doors, and then a blazer-wearing tour guide showed us around the “backstage” area, which looked more or less like any other office, except with pictures of Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth everywhere.

He then walked us through the slim hallway that backed the press booths. We stopped briefly behind the WPIX booth, where Phil Rizzuto and Lou Piniella (post-managerial stint) were manning the mics. I waved at them and Scooter waved back. I felt weirdly excited about it.

We were then brought back into the office area, and into a big office. It had a very large desk in it, and it had a fantastic view of the field, with wall to floor windows. But apart from that, it was relatively sparse: a modest bookshelf, a few chairs, and that was pretty much it. Not even any art hanging from the walls. Its only opulent feature was a couch shaped like an old fielder’s mitt, which I decided was the greatest thing ever.

A TV was on in the office. I saw that Don Mattingly had just singled. I’d been carrying my program around this whole time, attempting to keep up with the game. So I leaned on the desk to mark this down on the scorecard.

“And this,” the tour guide said, “is Mr. Steinbrenner’s office.”

I recoiled from the desk in abject terror. I felt like I’d just grabbed Genghis Khan’s spear. I’d toyed with the prize possession of a terrible, wrath-filled warlord. My friend later told me I leaped a good five feet from the desk. I thought that somehow, Steinbrenner would know I’d touched his desk. He’d just feel it, sense his aura being disturbed, and come storming up there to punish me in the most gruesome way possible. But the tour guide just laughed and we moved on.

I don’t remember anything else from that game, except that we left early because it was a night game and not an ideal era to be out too late in The Bronx (even if you were accompanied by a cop). Because I was too scared that somehow, George Steinbrenner was going to find out I’d leaned on his desk and…I don’t know, fire me?

I was way too old to be thinking such things, and I knew it, but the notion would not leave me. The specter of Steinbrenner was far too strong.