Since the beginning of the year. George Steinbrenner, principal owner of the New York Yankees, has been parading around his house in Tampa in a black terry-cloth robe with " 'The Boss Is Back'..." embroidered in white across the back. In the hallways of the Tampa offices of his American Shipbuilding Company, he has been buttonholing employees to talk baseball. And during business meetings he has been caught scribbling possible Yankee lineups on notepaper. Why, just the other day Steinbrenner ordered his secretary, Terry Hubbard, to clear his calendar for March because he plans to spend the month at the Yankee spring-training complex, in Fort Lauderdale. "He's been acting like a kid waiting for a candy store to open," Hubbard says.
Steinbrenner can't wait to rush through the door that former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent slammed shut on him 2½ years ago. On July 30, 1990, the Boss was banished from the game for associating with admitted gambler Howard Spira and for paying him $40,000 to supply damaging information on then Yankee outfielder Dave Winfield, with whom Steinbrenner was feuding.
But last July 24, in one of his final acts before he was ousted as commissioner by disgruntled owners, Vincent made a unilateral decision to lift Steinbrenner's ""lifetime ban" as of March 1, 1993. In return Steinbrenner had to make sure that three lawsuits against Major League Baseball (one filed by Steinbrenner and two others by Yankee officials) were dropped, and had to refrain from further conduct that would conflict with the "best interests of baseball" clause. Now the Boss is poised to make one of the most celebrated comebacks in the history of New York sports.
"This is the most ballyhooed return since the Resurrection," says Jerry Reinsdorf, chairman of the Chicago White Sox and such a close ally of Steinbrenner's that his mouth gets in the way of good sense when he discusses the Boss's return. "Originally I thought it was going to be like a coronation in New York, but it's become too massive for that. It's a resurrection. Vincent nailed him to the cross. This is the biggest thing to happen in 2,000 years."
"It's like Sherman storming Atlanta," says Paul Beeston, president of the Toronto Blue Jays. "I'm happy George is back. I'm probably the only guy in baseball who missed him. That puts me on the other side of the sanity schedule. The beauty of beating the Yankees was that you beat George Steinbrenner."
A master when it comes to grabbing headlines, Steinbrenner has been plotting a grand entrance for the media, which will no doubt assemble en masse at the Yankee camp for his arrival next Monday. In recent public appearances he has joked that he had traveled a great distance to come before his audience—"all the way from the Isle of Elba." he has said, referring to the site of Napoleon's first exile. Steinbrenner also didn't hesitate to dress up as the French emperor for the cover of this magazine.
Sort of sounds as if the Boss, long known for his charm, bombast and despotic ways, hasn't changed a bit.
"I'm older...more tired...I'm a has-been," Steinbrenner, 62, says with a straight face. After a pause he blurts out, "Do you believe that? Do you believe that I'm a has-been?" He doubles over with laughter. "Noooo! Somebody asked me if I'm a kinder, gentler George. Well, you know what happened to the last guy who was a kinder, gentler George. He's out of the White House and living in Houston.
"It's pretty difficult to change at my age. There are some people who'll say I'm good for the game and some who'll say I wasn't a shrinking violet. I'm called controversial. I'm called outspoken. That's O.K. I'm all those things. I've stirred up a lot of pots; whether it was always constructive or not, I don't know. I will continue to be a strong voice in baseball because I'm not bashful."
And yet there have been indications that, at least in matters unrelated to baseball, the Boss has a new slant on life. While in exile from the game, Steinbrenner shed 14 pounds, down to 207 on his 6'1" frame, and he no longer begins each day by munching glazed donuts. Instead he drinks a concoction of freshly juiced carrots, celery, apples and bananas, it has done wonders for my energy," says the man who had the vitality of a tornado before he joined the juicing craze.