We heard the stories and they painted the same picture: George Steinbrenner craved winning, hated losing, scared employees and provided for his players. We knew all that years ago.
But The Washington Examiner's Jim Williams knew Steinbrenner, working closely with him for three years in Tampa during the late 1970s. He saw both sides of him and grew to admire his numerous charitable works, often done with little to no fanfare. It's why he says he's grateful to have known him.
He saw Steinbrenner's loyalty (and knew how scared Yankee employees were of him; one PR guy called Williams from a closet once because Steinbrenner was upset and he did not want to be seen).
Here are some anecdotes that reveal the guy Williams remembers:
» One day, three Fordham University students drove down to see the Yankees in spring training and struck up a conversation with Steinbrenner. He asked when they were returning and they hesitated. Turns out they had run out of money and had to call home to have money wired to them. Steinbrenner then whipped out $200 and, after some strong convincing on his part, they accepted the gift.
» A Steinbrenner employee, Ken Rosenberg, was diagnosed with brain cancer. It crushed Steinbrenner, who called every doctor he could and flew Rosenberg to the Mayo Clinic. Sadly, it didn't help as Rosenberg died. But Steinbrenner and friends put together a trust fund for him to take care of his family.
» The Associated Press named Reggie Jackson its player of the year after the 1977 season. Steinbrenner loaned me the only video highlight copy from that season (as long as I returned it that night; he was showing it to the team at his house). When it came time for the dinner, the lens on the projector broke and the tech guy found another in his car. But it was the wrong lens, which was discovered when we played the film at the dinner: the left-handed Jackson became a right-hander who ran backwards around the bases. Afterward, I'm thinking I'm getting killed by Steinbrenner. But he said, "You know, when I gave you that footage, I had no idea you would actually do something to upstage Reggie. Anytime I can upstage Reggie, it always makes me happy."
- As told to John Keim