The ultimate boss:
It’s Steinbrenner!

Mar 1, 2005 4:37 AM

That headline, in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, likely could mean Kirk Kerkorian, or Steve Wynn, or possibly Terry Lanni.

In the New York Times of last Sunday, big and bold and taking up more than the entire top half of the front sports page and more with the story, it could mean only one man: George Steinbrenner.

He is The Boss in New York, and there he was, taking up three-quarters of the page in a picture — somewhat curious given events of last week — of him smiling and wrapping his arm around the burly shoulders of Jason Giambi.

It was significant, too, that a relatively tiny picture, perhaps one-eighth the size of the Steinbrenner-Giambi shot, showed Randy Johnson talking with former Yankee aces Ron Guidry and Mel Stottlemyre.

It will be interesting to see whether Giambi, besmirched a bit with the steroid issue and Jose Conseco’s new book Juiced, or Johnson, all 6 feet 10 inches of his power and finesse, contributes more to the New York Yankees this year.

Regardless. Steinbrenner was sending the obvious message in the picture: he is pleased that Giambi, negative publicity or not, is ready to unfurl his power and prowess at the plate again.

George is less pleased at Giambi’s agent, Arn Tellem, and spared neither profanity nor passion in saying so. He said as bluntly as possible, "He’s no good, and I don’t like him."

Having Steinbrenner highly visible again brings springtime to the ranks of New York writers. He is the grist for their mills, and they grind out stories — often inaccurate or at least omissive — about him whenever he appears on the scene, and even when he doesn’t.

George Steinbrenner is one of the most generous men in or out of baseball, and in more ways than trying to buy the best baseball team in America. He spends money prolifically for baseball players, but also out of the glare of publicity for those he considers needy or worthy.

I first met him perhaps 40 years ago, when he was backfield coach at Northwestern. He and his close friend Ray Regalis, then a star basketball player at Northwestern, occasionally visited my announcer’s booth at Maywood Park, a Chicago harness track. They came to see the races, and bet a yen or two. The view was great, the picks less impressive. Years later, kidding him in introducing him as a luncheon speaker by recalling those selections, I said I made him what he is today with my handicapping. He was not amused.

He was a very close friend of the late Allen Finkelson, the nonpareil publicity man for Pompano Park in Florida. Finkelson wore a Yankees World Series ring Steinbrenner had given him, his most valuable possession, and once tossed out an opening ball at Yankee Stadium. A brutal kidder, Finkelson could get away with things no one else could, or would even try, and his boldness and skills impressed Steinbrenner greatly. George helped ease Finkelson’s final months and weeks in a multitude of ways.

The huge picture in the Times included a side view of Brian Cashman, the Yankees’ young senior vice president and general manager. Brian is the son of another close Steinbrenner friend, John Cashman, former president of The Red Mile in Lexington, Ky, and its Tattersalls yearling sale. Steinbrenner was an annual feature as a buyer at those sales during John Cashman’s reign, and he signed Brian seven years ago, when young Cashman was only 30, to run the Yankees. Brian had played ball in college at Catholic University, so he knew the game and was the smart son of a smart father. He took on one of baseball’s biggest jobs without much administrative experience, and has handled it with skill and aplomb.

Sunday’s picture showed a receding hairline on Brian. It could be genetic, of course, or it could in part reflect the rigors of working for Steinbrenner. Knowing George, I know he is one of the good guys, but I also can understand that dealing with him on a daily basis would not qualify as a weeklong picnic.