The Boss speaks out
In a far-ranging interview, Steinbrenner tackles Torre, Rose and Trump
George Steinbrenner turns 74 on the Fourth of July. Renowned for his vocal, public style of leadership, Steinbrenner, now in his 32nd year of ownership of the New York Yankees, has cut back on his availability to the media in recent years. The Boss recently sat, however, for two lengthy, far-ranging interviews with me, during which it became apparent that reminders of his mortality have begun to resonate within him. The result was a portrait of the Yankees patriarch that appears in this week's issue of Sports Illustrated. What follows are some excerpts from those interviews, in which Steinbrenner gave his take on a variety of subjects, including Joe Torre, the Red Sox, steroids, Andy Pettitte, Pete Rose, Fay Vincent, Donald Trump, whether The Boss himself belongs in the Hall of Fame ... and the one thing that makes him happy.
On his improved relationship with Torre: "I feel much better about it. I never was really anti-Joe. That's been blown way out of shape by certain people. I think you would find my displeasure was with the coaching staff. [GM Brian] Cashman can speak to this as well as anybody because he urged me to get rid of certain people. I refused because I knew that those people were important to Joe and Joe put a lot of faith in their capability. I'm just not going to dwell on that."
On demanding all potential player acquisitions come across his desk: "They all do. I try not to interfere as much as I used to. I wanted the first baseman from over in Tampa [Travis Lee]. I liked him for defense. He's as good a defensive player at first as I ever saw. The other guy I wanted was Gordon, Tommy Gordon, because I saw what he did to me. Hardest slider I've ever seen. Good kid.
"I wanted [Gary] Sheffield. I always knew him here [in Tampa] and I think Sheffield could be as good an offensive player as there is in the game. We'll see if I'm right or wrong. Cash liked him, too. The people over there [in New York baseball operations] liked him. He's always wanted to be a Yankee. He's very loyal to me. Doc Gooden [Sheffield's uncle] is very loyal to me. [Sheffield] can play out in right field, too. He's got a great arm. They won't be going from first to third on him this year."
On losing Pettitte to Houston: "Neither he nor Roger [Clemens] took heat from me. My statement was they were warriors for me and they will always be that to me. You have to talk to Cashman about [Pettitte's exit]. Cashman handled that and I think he did a good job trying [to keep him]. Sure, I wanted [Pettitte to stay]. He was our go-to guy. I didn't get heavily involved in that one. I just said, 'Let's keep him.'"
On the Alex Rodriguez trade: "It was a no-brainer. [Yankees president] Randy Levine is the guy who said we had a shot [at getting A-Rod] and he thought he could make it so it wouldn't cost us any more [in payroll]. See, they keep saying we went out and got A-Rod. Well, I went out and got A-Rod but I didn't go out and pay what others were paying. And [Texas owner Tom] Hicks got a pretty good player in return in Alfonso Soriano. [A-Rod] might be the best ballplayer in the whole game. He's from New York. Oh, God, is he ever [marketable]. He's got a lovely wife. She's a real bathing beauty. I saw her in [the SI swimsuit issue]. I never miss that. She's a nice girl, too. When you have a chance for an A-Rod you better not to drop the ball. He wanted to go play [in Boston] but they had Nomar [Garciaparra]. And what did they do? Nomar is a great player and a great team leader. I love him. He can't feel good. You can't tell what he'll do next year. He married Mia Hamm. That's pretty smart, too."
On Boston and the Red Sox: "We had a lot of hard feelings in Boston. It's just too bad that 'Evil Empire' thing was ever said. I have great love and respect for the city. I wasn't smart enough to get into MIT, but I was a contributor and served on several committees there. They named a track after my father there.
"I love Boston. It's a great town but [the Red Sox] created a situation that made it very difficult on everybody, particularly on the Yankees and New York. I don't think it has to be that way or should be that way. I contribute to the Jimmy Fund because I love what it does for the city and the Red Sox. I can understand why their fans are frustrated ... and I've got to say I want to keep it that way if I can. But I don't want to to be hateful."
On Red Sox president/CEO Larry Lucchino: "I have nothing against him except I wouldn't want him in my foxhole. Look at Lucchino's history. In San Diego, he ruined that guy out there [owner John Moores]. He ruined Eli Jacobs [in Baltimore]. He's not my kind of guy. Not a good man."
On former Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley: "He was the smartest man I knew in baseball. He was a graduate of the same school I am, Culver Academy [a prep school in Indiana]. In those days the AL [owners] sat on one side of the table, the NL on the other. It was like a declaration of war. And I remember him saying, 'Mr. Steinbrenner is going to wonder why he ever got into baseball after sitting here listening to us.' Well, what Walter O'Malley wanted, he got done."
On his 1990 suspension from baseball: "I went through some tough times. I got suspended twice. I don't hold any resentment toward [anyone about] the second suspension at all. Fay Vincent, I think he did what he felt he had to do, which was suspend me, but . . . on the [Howard] Spira matter, I really wasn't intending to do anything wrong. (Steinbrenner was banished from the game for associating with Spira, an admitted gambler, and for paying him for damaging information on Dave Winfield.) And it wasn't Winfield. I tried to explain that to David later. We made up and I think he understands. Al Frohman, his agent, didn't do right by David or by us. I don't blame him, but I think he was misguided in what he did with some of David's money and some of our money. But David Winfield was a warrior and he was a great player."
On his sons, Hank and Hal, and his son-in-law, Steve Swindal, and their future with the Yankees: "They're starting to get involved [with] the business side, baseball operations. Hank [oversees] all the horse operations but he also is a very sharp and smart guy on baseball talent, particularly pitching. I think [Vice President of Player Personnel] Billy Connors will tell you [Hank] contributes a lot on the pitching [decisions]. He believes you have to have a lot of good pitching and he stresses it all the time in the meetings. Steve is taking over basic business operations. Hal is very involved in the Warrior Foundation [a Tampa-based charity]. He very dearly cares about the troops and the people that are [serving] in special forces."
On his daughter, Jennifer, and charitable endeavors: "Jenny is heading America's Second Harvest, [a food bank that serves more than 40,000 people in West Central Florida] the feeding of the poor. We've got to take care of the needy people in our own country before we take care of the world. The British Empire went literally broke trying to take care of the world. They had these colonies all over and were trying to do everything for everybody. They found out they just couldn't do it, and we're going to find out the same thing. We have to take care of our own at home and then we worry about everybody else."
On the demands he places upon his employees: "I am tough. Sometimes I'm unreasonable. I have to catch myself every once in a while. I remember . . . who was it that went to the Miami Dolphins? [Former Yankees PR director] Harvey Greene. I remember Harvey trying to compare who was toughest to work for: [Don] Shula or me. I was probably right up there with Shula. It's hard for me to catch myself sometimes. I remember one time I made Greene stay in his room to get calls, I said, 'You're my PR man, you be in the room if I need you.' I was going through tough times then."
On Donald Trump: "He is my friend, because he would do anything for me and I would do anything for him. I have great admiration for Donald and what he's done for television, this 'You're fired' deal. I can remember when Donald didn't have a nickel. That was in the old days with Sonny Werblin and his dad. I can remember [Trump's] father saying, 'What the hell am I going to do with my son?' I said, 'Don't do a thing with him. Just let him grow and he'll be fine. He'll embarrass us all [with riches].' So I also stayed loyal to him and he never forgot that. I'm still loyal to him. He's a good man. He's probably one of my closest [friends]. He was a good athlete and a good baseball player."
On naming his other friends: "Bill Fugazy [head of the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations] in New York was always in that circle. I have my own set of friends I'm very comfortable with outside of baseball. I don't want to leave anybody out because I've been fortunate enough to have a lot of good friends."
On owning the Yankees: "I still believe that I own the Mona Lisa. If you own the Mona Lisa, that's supposed to be an art form, a great thing. If you own the Mona Lisa, and you're associated with it, that says something about you. The association, not the ownership, the association. As strange as it may seem I consider this New York's team."
On the key to success: "Surround yourself with the smartest people you can, even though they bury you. I was never a good student. I never did well. Hiring people smarter than you are can make you look brilliant."
On steroids: "I'm against steroids. I understand Don Fehr's position. He's got to protect his players. I think the cheating has to stop. I think it will stop now. I will never be for [steroids] because that doesn't send the right message to young Americans. If you're on one side of the line and he's on the other side, you're fighting for your position against him, and he's strong and you have to be just as strong? What goes through their minds, I don't know. Too much in sports today is predicated on getting ahead and 'What do I have to do to beat this guy? I've got to be as strong as he is or I'll lose my job.' They're trying to make it now so that in sports -- college sports, high school sports -- that everything in your life is based on whether you get a pro career and make a lot of money. That's too bad. I think a lot of young athletes are paying a tough penalty because of that."
On Babe Ruth: "You know the amazing thing? I love Henry Aaron. I think he's a wonderful guy and a great credit for baseball. To break Babe Ruth's record he went to bat 2,000-some more times than Ruth. When you look at it that way you see how great Ruth was. Ruth was probably the greatest athlete to perform in any sport. Never has there been anybody like him. Look at him. They talk about steroids. Nobody can argue he had steroids. He just ate. He was a great one."
On the Hall of Fame: "I don't want to be in the Hall of Fame. I don't think owners should be. Maybe Connie Mack. But not George Steinbrenner. No way. It's for players. If they have an owners Hall of Fame, I'll consider it, but believe me, I don't want to be in the Hall of Fame. I don't belong there."
On Pete Rose: "I like Rose as a person. He played with great passion. I think he made a tragic mistake. We all make mistakes. You forgive and you move on. But Rose made a tragic mistake in not telling the truth. That's a tough nut for Bud [Selig] to handle. It was a sickness with [Rose]. He'd go to the dog track and he'd bet two or three thousand dollars on the dog running. He loved the action. You shouldn't have any betting in the locker room at all, whether it's baseball or it's horses. You can't beat the horses. You can't beat any kind of gambling because they have the odds. if they get deep into you they're going to say, 'Do this or do that.'"
On the season-opening trip in Japan: "I don't agree with that, going halfway around the world at the beginning of the season. But it does a lot of good for baseball and for Bud Selig and that's OK with me. It was tough, but I think it did a lot for American baseball and it helped Japanese baseball and it was good for [Hideki] Matsui, too."
On the Devil Rays: "I think they should do better because hell, they have had the first-round [draft] picks every year for a lot of years. And [Arizona owner] Jerry Colangelo, he's had a world championship and he came in the same time they did. I like Jerry. We've been closer than everybody thinks."
On Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Sharman: "I gave Bill Sharman his first coaching job: the Cleveland Pipers. He and I were on the same page from day one. He believed in baiting the referees and he believed in winning."
On losing to the Diamondbacks in the 2001 World Series: "That was a tough one, yeah, because they were an expansion team, just like Tampa was."
On what makes him happy: "Winning. Performing well for the fans who spend their money. This is what has to be understood: a lot of Yankees fans have spent big money supporting the Yankees, buying Yankee goods, and we don't get all that money. When people buy a Yankee cap we only get 1/30th [of the revenue]! That seems crazy, but that's revenue sharing. We support [other major league teams] in so many ways. We don't share our tickets, but when we go to their towns we don't complain when the Chicago Cubs [charge] an inordinate amount of money for a ticket to a Yankees game as compared to some other game. They don't complain to me and I don't complain to them."
On the YES network: "It's been much better than I thought. Leo [Hindery] did a great job for us. I had the idea at the start that if you have the product, make sure it's a good product, then everybody will want to tune in to it. I was never one for owning a TV network, per se. I didn't understand how big that would be. I'm not sure too many people did."
On what the Yankees are worth: "I don't know. I never dwell on that. [The franchise is] worth more than I paid for [it]. Let's leave it at that. That's what you're in business for. You try to make a success."
On his favorite world championship: "I think maybe the biggest was Atlanta . I thought it was over [after two games] and Joe told me, 'Don't worry, Boss, we're going to go down there win three and come back and win it for you.' I said, 'Yeah, Joe.' I wasn't as sure as I am today [about Torre's hiring], nobody was. Where had he been successful? Not with the Mets, St. Louis ... He hadn't been successful anywhere. But he was a New Yorker. [Senior advisor] Arthur Richman came to me with a list. 'Here are your candidates.' I looked at him and said, 'I liked Joe Torre as a person. You have to like a guy who's as good a person as he is. He certainly has the experience. Maybe he will come in and do the job for us if we back him with a decent team.' And he did."
On Billy Martin: "I loved Billy Martin. I thought Billy Martin would be a great manager. The one thing that hurt Billy Martin was personal habits. And I told him I loved him, I really did. He was down [in Tampa] just before Christmas. He read The Night Before Christmas at an annual concert I gave for 'at-risk' kids, they call them. I don't like to call any kid 'at-risk.' People went wild for him. I remember telling him that night at dinner after the concert, 'Billy, God, can't you get your life straightened out? I've seen you with your ear hanging off.' He was a genius as a manager. He was as much like Casey Stengel as Casey and that meant a lot to me. And it was three days later they called me and told me Martin was killed. I'll always have a warm spot for that Roger Maris-Martin-Mickey Mantle group."
On running the Yankees: "Keeping it going and protecting it, that's important to me. You have to protect what the Yankees represent, to the peope who made the Yankees what they are today, and you've got to keep it for the people of New York. You know, they're spending a lot of money for tickets. It takes a lot out of their pockets. They could spend it going out drinking, a party. We're not as high as Boston [in terms of ticket prices], but we're high."