Other than some relatively tepid sniping, Steinbrenner hasn't gone public with his hard-ass routine in five years, not since he called Japanese righthander Hideki Irabu "a fat, pussy toad." He rarely sits for extensive interviews anymore. He communicates by statements issued through a private public relations firm. They typically are so overwrought with aphorisms that radio station WFAN reads them to the accompaniment of military music. He is baseball's General Patton. After the Yankees had lost to the Red Sox for the sixth time in seven games to fall to 8-11 on April 25, Steinbrenner simply issued this statement the next day: "I have a great manager in Joe Torre and general manager in Brian Cashman, and have confidence in both of them. It's in their hands."
Yankees officials have urged him not to speak extemporaneously anymore ("You never know what he's liable to say," one high-ranking team official says), and they've kept him off the backs of his players and out of the New York tabloids. Steinbrenner has agreed to the arrangement and is perceived less the villain for it.
Why the public restraint with his team? "Because I'm not a coach anymore," says the former assistant with the 1955 Northwestern and '56 Purdue football squads. "Joe Torre doesn't ask me for help anymore, so I don't give it to him. I don't call down to the dugout anymore. I used to put my nose into it more when I first came into baseball [because] I was still a gung ho coach."
Sometimes the old coach can't help himself. When Steinbrenner saw that SI had put the Yankees No. 2, behind the Chicago Cubs, in its preseason rankings of the 30 major league teams this year, he ordered an underling to make copies of the list and put them inside the lockers of all the players. (The order was never carried out.) "It's the football coach in him," one high-ranking Yankees source says. "He thinks it's bulletin-board material, as if it's going to motivate the players."
Inside his fourth-floor sanctum at Legends Field, a relaxed, fit Steinbrenner seems glad for the company, glad to be off the corporate leash and able to "just bulls—-," as he says. He's in a splendid mood.
The day before, Steinbrenner had won an arbitration case against Cablevision, which must carry his YES network on basic cable and pay him $1.85 for every subscriber last year plus annual 4% increases over the next five years. That night he celebrated over hamburgers with Ron Guidry, the former Yankees lefthander. He told Guidry he remembered talking to him in 1978 after New York had lost its regular-season finale to the Cleveland Indians. Guidry, standing outside the clubhouse holding his baby daughter Jamie, was scheduled to start a one-game playoff in Boston the next day.
"Don't worry, Boss" the pitcher told him. "I'll win it." He did, 5-4.
Jamie is 27 years old now.
"Oh, jeez, it really does seem like yesterday," Steinbrenner says. "Those are the great things I have to remember in my life. Good things."
Memories. He is surrounded by them. The walls, shelves and other flat surfaces of his office are crammed with pictures, mementos and trinkets, so much so that dozens more pictures lean in a pile against a wall. Steinbrenner stops at the pile. There's one of Joe DiMaggio.