"I'll tell you another reason why I'm in baseball: ego. Any owner would be lying if he didn't say that ego played a major part. It absolutely, positively does. Do people say, 'There goes Steinbrenner, the shipbuilder'? No. It's a little easier to get a table at a restaurant in New York when you own the Yankees. Although it's still not easier to get a taxi."
Now New York is gearing up for Steinbrenner's return. Friends have arranged Welcome Back George parties, at such well-known Manhattan haunts as the 21 Club, Jim McMullen's, Elaine's and the Plaza Hotel, for the days leading up to the Yankee home opener, against the Kansas City Royals on April 12. The New York Daily News has been running a daily Boss Countdown. All-sports radio station WFAN is trying to persuade Steinbrenner to go on the air for two hours beginning at 12:01 a.m. on comeback day.
The marketing division of the Yankees has heralded the Boss's return in its 1993 season-ticket campaign. In a full-page newspaper ad he stands smack in the middle of a cluster of 12 players, and in radio spots he is the subject of banter among New York fans ("Things aren't the same without him," laments one of the Yankee faithful. "It's been dullsville around here," says another). By next week the Boss will be smiling down on New Yorkers from dozens of billboards scattered around the city.
Once again, as he did when he first bought the Yankees, Steinbrenner sees himself as the team's savior, the only man who can restore the championship tradition in the Bronx. Never mind that New York hasn't been to the World Series in the last 11 years; the stage is set for a triumphant return by the Boss. After four straight losing seasons the Yankees at least showed some life under manager Buck Showalter last year, and they picked up five good players in the off-season.
Steinbrenner's son-in-law, Joe Molloy, who has run the Yankees for the past 12 months as managing general partner, has received most of the credit for acquiring pitcher Jim Abbott and outfielder Paul O'Neill in trades, and for spending $35 million to sign three free agents: third baseman Wade Boggs, pitcher Jimmy Key and shortstop Spike Owen. "I feel very good about this team. I feel a lot like I did in the mid-1970s," Steinbrenner says. "I think we have as strong a pitching staff as we've had since I've owned the team. The only factor to be considered in where we go is, Can we stay free of key injuries? These guys can go wherever they want to go if they want to go bad enough."
And how soon does the notoriously impatient Boss expect results? "I'm like Larry Bird, who said at his retirement ceremony that every time he put on the uniform, he went out to win," he says. "That's the spirit I like."
Although he says Molloy will continue to handle the day-to-day operation of the team—Steinbrenner refers to himself as "the principal owner with a lot of input"—the Boss will work to bring, of all things, stability to the franchise.
After his forced departure there was a tumultuous, 19-month-long period when the Yankees and Vincent were at odds over who would serve as managing partner (Molloy eventually became the third to hold the post in Steinbrenner's absence). During that time the front office often gave out mixed signals when it came to making trades and pursuing free agents. The Yankees—considered the crown jewel of sports franchises, with an estimated value of $300 million—became the laughingstock of baseball.
The New York media, as well as Yankee fans, believed that Steinbrenner was causing the chaos, that he was working behind the scenes to undermine and defy Vincent. There was considerable doubt that he had actually relinquished control of the team. "If I would ever orchestrate some of the things [the Yankee brass] were orchestrating," Steinbrenner says, "you should take a pistol and shoot me."
There'll be plenty of time for that later. Right now the Boss is thinking positive. "Our season tickets are up significantly [17%] because people are anticipating fireworks," he says. "What do fans want from sports? Home runs. Knockouts. Slam dunks. Sensational stuff. Winning cures all ills."