The venerable George Steinbrenner turns 80 years old on Sunday. A Yankee Doodle Dandy, he was born on the Fourth of July. Here's a message his current manager recently conveyed to the Boss: "Obviously he has meant a lot in my career and a lot in my life from a player to having this opportunity," Joe Girardi said. "He's had an incredible influence on my life and family. From one Northwestern guy to another, Happy Birthday, Boss. You're the best."
Girardi is the 15th manager to hold the title in the 37 years since Steinbrenner headed a group that purchased the franchise from CBS in 1973. Steinbrenner's love-hate relationships with those who guided the team on the field are legendary. Billy Martin was hired and fired five times. Yogi Berra and Lou Piniella were so bruised after they parted that there were long periods of estrangement. Eventually, relationships with the Boss were reconstituted. Steinbrenner traveled to the Yogi Berra Museum in New Jersey to bring the Hall of Fame catcher back into the fold years after he was dismissed. Piniella and Steinbrenner reconciled during a chance meeting in a Tampa restaurant called Malio's, owned by Malio Iavarone, one of Steinbrenner's best friends. One day, Malio saw an opportunity to bring the two together, Bill Madden reported in his extensive book, "Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball." Steinbrenner leapt out of his seat and gave Piniella a big bear hug, Madden wrote. "It's great to see you Lou," he said. "You, too, Boss," Piniella responded. "It's been too long." Joe Torre, who had the most seasons (12), the most playoff appearances (12), the most American League pennants (six) and the most World Series titles (four) of any of his managers before departing in 2007, is currently an outsider. He's the Dodgers' manager now but has said his Yankees years were the most significant of his career. Torre took the opportunity and called Steinbrenner on Saturday to wish his old boss a happy birthday. "I didn't want to wait until tomorrow because the family is going to probably have a shindig for him," Torre said. "I didn't stay on the phone very long, but he was appreciative of my call. He sounded strong. He sounded good." Girardi says he remains in periodic contact with the Boss, whose aura is still felt around the new Yankee Stadium, if not his presence. The day-to-day operations of the club are now run by Steinbrenner's younger son, Hal, in concert with other members of the family. Veteran Yankees observers laughed during a homestand last month when pitchers CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett failed to cover first base on successive nights and the pop singer Lady Gaga visited the Yankees' clubhouse after a loss to the Mets. It would have been July 4 fireworks had the Boss been around. Instead, the scene was relatively placid as the club maintained its tenuous hold on first place in the AL East. Girardi, for his part, said the climate around the organization hasn't really changed. "The expectations are still the same," he said. "Those will never change. I talk to Hal a lot about situations. And George is always there. He means so much to us." Despite his irascible side, which always drew a lot of publicity, Steinbrenner has a tender side that inspires unending loyalty. When Thurman Munson died in a 1979 plane crash, Steinbrenner moved quickly to make sure arrangements were in place, flying the entire team to Canton, Ohio, for the funeral. Munson's locker in the clubhouse at Yankee Stadium remained intact with his No. 15 posted on it from that day until 2008, when the old facility closed. The locker is now on display at the museum in the new stadium. Again, in 1989, the Boss stepped into the breach after Martin died in a Christmas day motor vehicle accident. Without any fanfare, Steinbrenner has donated millions of dollars to schools, universities and causes. Unlike public displays of bravado associated with his tenure running the baseball team, Steinbrenner has chosen to downplay those contributions. In his adopted hometown of Tampa, Steinbrenner's largesse has had a major footprint, the Tampa Tribune wrote: "From a $250 gift to the Mayor's Alliance of Persons With Disabilities to million-dollar donations to St. Joseph's Children's Hospital, Steinbrenner and his foundations have given millions to myriad causes in the Tampa Bay area. Most of his contributions help athletics, children's and military groups." In 2005, when vandals broke into Tampa's Hillsborough High School and stole thousands of dollars in musical instruments, an anonymous donor cut a check for $10,000. That anonymous donor turned out to be Steinbrenner, the man with the longest current term as a Major League Baseball owner. "He's known to do that kind of thing," William Orr, the principal, said at the time. In recognition, the team's Spring Training facility, originally called Legends Field, was renamed after Steinbrenner. The Boss, in declining health, is not a constant visitor to the team's new cathedral in the Bronx. He was in attendance for the first two World Series games in October and was there this year for the home opener when players and personnel received their rings for vanquishing the Phillies in six games. Girardi and captain Derek Jeter were among the contingent that ascended to the owner's box that day and presented the ring to Steinbrenner, his seventh. In honor of his 80th birthday, the Yankees will have all seven of those championship trophies on display outside the club's museum at the new stadium on Sunday. "It was fun," Jeter said about presenting the ring to Steinbrenner. "He's the reason we're in the new stadium. He's the reason we've had an opportunity to win all these years. It was special to have an opportunity to go up there and really thank him for all he's done." On the occasion of his birthday, the Captain and a member of five of those championship teams along with Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte, had these words of good wishes for Steinbrenner: "He's the Boss," Jeter said. "There's no one like him."