Boss' presence felt despite absence

Boss' presence felt despite absence

NEW YORK -- There was pomp, there was circumstance, and there was the usual glad handing at City Hall on Wednesday as Major League Baseball, the Yankees and New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that Yankee Stadium would host the All-Star Game in 2008.

The only thing missing was Yankees principal owner George Steinbrenner, the face of the franchise as well as its storied and sometimes crazy history over the past 34 years.

Yankees general partner and Steinbrenner's son-in-law Steve Swindal stood in for the venerable owner at the news conference, saying only that Steinbrenner had a conflict in Tampa and was unable to make it up to New York.

"He's down [in Tampa] cracking the whip as we speak, getting ready for Spring Training," Swindal said. "He will be there."

Steinbrenner stayed out of the limelight for much of last season, and there have been reports that the 76-year-old is having health problems.

Swindal, however, said he spoke to Steinbrenner on the phone recently about MLB's decision to give the 2008 Midsummer Classic to Yankee Stadium, adding that the owner was "thrilled, absolutely thrilled."

Commissioner Bud Selig, who has known Steinbrenner for decades, wouldn't comment on The Boss' absence but stated how important he was in getting the All-Star Game back to Yankee Stadium for the first time since 1977.

"One of the most important factors in this is George Steinbrenner. George and I have been in this sport together for -- it's hard to believe -- 35 years, and he has made wonderful contributions not only to this team, to the Yankees, but baseball," Selig said. "We don't always agree on matters, and in fact I think our batting average is probably fairly low, but never has it interfered with our relationship and never has it interfered with his passion for the sport."

With Steinbrenner unavailable, Swindal fielded questions regarding the 2007 Yankees as they approach Spring Training and seemed very enthusiastic about the team's offseason moves.

"I think we've improved ourselves -- the bullpen certainly, the starting pitching, I'm very optimistic that we're going to be in the thick of things," Swindal said. "That's our goal every year, to get to the World Series. We've come up short the last couple of years, but it's not for a lack of trying. I'm feeling very confident that we'll get there this year.

"Anything short of getting to the World Series is disappointing."

Swindal was also asked about the future of outfielder Bernie Williams, who reportedly has been offered an invite to Spring Training. Considering the possible end of Williams' 16-year tenure with the Yankees seemed to tug at Swindal just a bit.

"It's up to our baseball people to make that decision but I'll tell you, he has contributed so much to the success of this franchise and the run we had," Swindal said. "You can't underestimate how important he has been to us."

Peter Zellen is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.