For the first time since October 4, 1972, the Yankees played a game without George M. Steinbrenner III as their principal owner and for much of the night looked like the mediocre team that he inherited from CBS. Throwing errors, misplayed fly balls, missing the cut off man and popping up on 3-1 counts all resulted from the team’s lackluster play. But, who could blame them? The long four day layoff combined with the emotion of the evening had to impact the team’s preparation and concentration. Of course, excuses were never the Steinbrenner way, so they certainly wouldn’t do on the night the Yankees bid farewell to their Boss.
The pre-game ceremonies for both Bob Sheppard and George Steinbrenner were very simple. The scoreboard displayed a video tribute to the Boss, Mariano Rivera placed a bouquet of roses on home plate and Derek Jeter gave a short speech, all of which preceded the playing of taps and singing of the national anthem. Although the ceremonies seemed ideal for the elegant and understated Sheppard, they lacked the pomp and circumstance more associated with the Boss. Regardless, the Stadium crowd didn’t need an elaborate ceremony to show their appreciation for Steinbrenner…a long standing ovation did that just fine.
Lost amid all the distractions was the Yankees were opening up an important series against the Rays, who entered the game only two games behind in the standings. In fact, this was precisely the kind of series (especially being against Tampa no less) that the Boss would deem a must win. So, when the Yankees trailed late into the game, you could just imagine Steinbrenner throwing his hands up in disgust while watching from his box.
While the offense sputtered in the early going, CC Sabathia battled valiantly to keep the game close, despite not having his best stuff. If the Boss were still around, he would have called Sabathia a warrior for his efforts. Meanwhile, the Yankees bats were as silent as the public address system, which was dormant during the game in honor of Sheppard. A flurry of late inning homeruns would eventually send the game into the ninth inning tied at four, setting the stage for more of the drama that defined the Steinbrenner era.
When Derek Jeter strolled to the plate with the winning run on second in the bottom of the ninth, it seemed as if the game really was going according to a script, but the Captain, who admitted to pressing in the moment, struck out feebly on a curveball in the dirt. The Boss wouldn’t be denied his proper sendoff, however, as Nick Swisher lined a single to right that drove in the winning run and set off a scene that evoked memories of another fateful walk-off hit. In a game that also ended 5-4, Bobby Murcer’s ninth inning double plated the winning runs against the Baltimore Orioles on August 6, 1979, the same day Murcer eulogized his friend and fallen Yankee Captain Thurman Munson.
In between innings throughout the game, the Stadium scoreboard displayed video of former Yankees sharing their poignant memories of the Boss. After the game, Swisher commented about how those tributes, as heartfelt as they were, seemed insufficient for a man of Steinbrenner’s magnitude. Of course, no ceremony or commemoration could fully capture the legacy of the Boss. However, with New York, New York blaring over the loud speakers as a happy crowd of fans exited a beautiful new Stadium after watching another dramatic victory by a great team, the real tribute to Steinbrenner was crystal clear. The Yankees are Steinbrenner’s monument. Nothing else needs to be said.