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When plastic beer mugs with Yankee photos on them were suggested by his promotion department as gifts for Fan Appreciation Day, Steinbrenner seemed vitally interested. "Yes, that's good, but you've got to make sure we have enough of them," he said. "We can't give out 30,000 mugs if we're going to have 50,000 people in the park. From a public-relations standpoint, it would be murder. The only thing that can hurt us is ourselves. It's happened before right here, and it's happening now across the city." To Steinbrenner, "across the city" means the Mets, and he has as much use for them as he has for punk-rock musicians. He is still steamed at what he considered to be their arrogance during the Yankees' two years as tenants in Shea Stadium. The Mets' disastrous performance this season displeased him not in the least. "They owned this city," he is fond of saying. "We were just tenants. Now look what's happened."
Steinbrenner's record of good deeds persists in the Bronx. The Yankees financed a $40,000 restoration of handball courts across the street from the stadium. They have contributed $5,000 toward the construction of Babe Ruth Field, also across the street. The team underwrote the recent Morgan State-Grambling charity football game for black college scholarships at the stadium.
For all of this involvement, Steinbrenner insists that he is slowly phasing himself out of the Yankee picture, that all he is doing now is organizing a staff he can trust so that in a few years he can repair to his Florida digs and commune with his horses. In the meantime, his fingers will be in the pie. "As baseball is constituted today, an owner who doesn't get involved is in trouble," he says. "I rely very strongly on the judgment of my baseball people—Gabe and Billy—but baseball men are not businessmen. There are millions of dollars invested in this organization. To just sit back and go to an occasional ball game is just crazy."
Charm seems an unlikely word to be applied to so volatile and abrasive a personality as Steinbrenner. But it is heard. "He's a real charmer," says Fishel matter-of-factly. Even disgruntled former employees speak of his "Jekyll and Hyde" personality, conceding that he is at least two parts Jekyll and one part Hyde. Samuel, who was once fired by Steinbrenner in the pre-Yankee days, says, "I just have this great respect and love for the guy."
It is Steinbrenner's obsession with toughness that detracts from a more sensitive nature. He is the man on the move, the one who taps his pencil if the talk is not fast enough. But his pose as a martinet can swiftly dissolve into bluff affability, particularly if he is in the company of other high rollers. His political and show-business connections have brought him close to any number of national celebrities, but he seems on less comfortable terms with the stars in his clubhouse. During a stretch this year when Steinbrenner was traveling from city to city to inspect the performances of his minions, there was even a player who said, "The more we lose, the more often Steinbrenner will fly in, and the more he flies in, the better chance there is of a plane crashing."
"There are some guys who dislike George out of misunderstanding," says Jackson, who after eight years with Charles O. Finley knows full well how disagreeable an owner can be. "It's human nature to want to win and to be included in the winning. It makes you feel you're part of something. A lot of the guys don't understand that. All an owner wants is for you to acknowledge him, to come up to him sometimes and call him 'Mr. Steinbrenner,' to give some respect. George likes to talk with the boys, to bring his executives into the clubhouse and show off a little. What's wrong with that? Like the other night, I saw George with some people over at Jimmy Weston's, so I sent over a round of drinks. I think he appreciated that."
Steinbrenner is often seen at Weston's, a 54th Street boite frequented by the sporting crowd, including some of his own ballplayers. He is recognized there, treated with deference. Weston's has inherited many of the old Toots Shor's customers, and Steinbrenner likes the masculine atmosphere. He feels none of the hostility there he might attract elsewhere. On a sultry August night, he was having dinner at Weston's with his friend Mike Forrest. Steinbrenner was no tough guy this night. The next morning he would attend the funeral of Lou Saban's wife in Buffalo, and he was considerably saddened by the prospect. The hard-fisted magnate was reflective.
"There has to be a heavy in everything," he said, remarking on the role he seems to be playing. "He's always the guy who has to make the tough decisions, the boss. I realize I'm going to be a heavy in a lot of things, but I'm going to do what I can to bring the Yankees back all the way. This country didn't get where it is without a lot of heavies." He paused, calling back some of the great heavies of history. "Harry Truman was the heavy in the MacArthur decision—I saw that movie just the other day. But time has vindicated him. My vindication? Well, we won the pennant last year for the first time in 12 years and drew two million for the first time since 1950. And we're doing it again. That's vindication."
Glenn Covington, who plays piano and sings in a neo-Fats Waller manner, stopped to chat with Steinbrenner before going onstage. He is a round-faced, chocolate-colored man who was dressed this night in a safari suit. He is also an enthusiastic Yankee fan. "How about that game today, Mr. Steinbrenner?" he said, plopping into a chair next to the owner. "Chambliss came through again."
"Yeah," said Steinbrenner, happily. "Super. Unreal." He placed a large hand on the entertainer's shoulder. "Say, would you play Country Road first tonight. I've got to leave pretty soon. Funeral tomorrow. Have to fly to Buffalo."