Long after Game 7 ended, players, front-office personnel and other members of Red Sox Nation dripped champagne and tears of joy on the hallowed grass of Yankee Stadium. It was the fall of 2004 and the Red Sox had just kicked the stuffing out of their nemesis.

Somewhere that night, George Steinbrenner had to be furious. His bitter rivals were celebrating a record-breaking comeback at the Yankees’ expense in New York’s very own baseball shrine.

He might have turned off the stadium lights, throwing the party into darkness. All he had to do was say the word. Instead the cheering and shouting and laughter went on and on. My colleague, Kevin Thomas, and I watched with some amazement and more amusement before we left the stadium.

Steinbrenner rarely stooped to be small. Despite his bluster and bellowing, he knew how to be big. The Red Sox still had to beat St. Louis to win their first World Series title in 86 years, but on that October night, Steinbrenner believed Boston had earned the right to dance on his turf.

Hats off to the Boss. He held the people he paid accountable for their performance, from his general manager to the program sellers. He had no problem calling out Yankees who didn’t perform. He didn’t mind apologizing to the people of New York, saying they deserved better. And he’d point to his players again.

Imagine if George Steinbrenner had come along much later and bought the Red Sox instead. Hey, his father, Henry, graduated from MIT in 1927. There is a Steinbrenner Stadium across the Charles River in Cambridge, Mass., thanks to the Boss.

He was blunt and spoke his mind, a trait shared by many Mainers, if you listen to others across the country. He acted and everyone else reacted. No paralysis by analysis in his organization.

Steinbrenner didn’t just walk into Yankee Stadium, he arrived. I watched as New York City cops and average fans waved and welcomed the man in the blue blazer and white turtleneck. I half expected to hear the fanfare of trumpets, even if it was a recording.

You wondered if he could ever melt into a crowd. John Henry and Tom Werner, he was not. He was the pope and the president. He understood power and used it. He felt passion and rolled with it and over others. If you were with him, he was wonderful. If you weren’t he was unbearable.

But not unbeatable. Maybe the toughest loss came in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. The country and especially New York City had endured the attacks on the World Trade Center. The Yankees reached the World Series that October. The Arizona Diamondbacks of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling were waiting.

This was the World Series of Challenger, the American Bald Eagle, flying across the outfield to the pitcher’s mound. Of “God Bless America” and healing. Of a series that twisted and turned on late home runs and other heroics.

In the end, Arizona won and the Yankees didn’t. “I’m proud of my team,” Steinbrenner said that night. “We played our hearts out. It was a very tough loss. I will be a gracious loser. We’ll be back. Mark that down.”

He was speaking about his ballclub but he might have been thinking about his country.

I’m still not certain Steinbrenner played himself in that credit card commercial with Derek Jeter. Couldn’t imagine the bully man spoofing himself on the dance floor. Had to be a body double.

There was no explaining his relationship with Billy Martin or any of his managers except Joe Torre. There’s no explaining his many acts of kindness that we’re hearing about on his passing.

To Red Sox fans, he was the great antagonist, the man you loved to hate. On the night he didn’t turn out the lights, he understood you more than you knew him.

 

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be reached at 791-6412 or at: [email protected]