Steinbrenner still a big part of this, Yankees insist
NEW YORK - The notes are no longer there for Andy Pettitte before his postseason starts. They used to contain scripture, verses, and encouraging words from a man often regarded as volatile and demanding. But for Pettitte, and for many of the longtime Yankees, not having George Steinbrenner around this season has been unsettling, the comfort not yet there with the new era in New York baseball.
“It has been difficult, because to me he is the best owner there is in baseball, and for him not to be around too much is hard,’’ Mariano Rivera said yesterday. “I only wish him the best, wishing that he was here. But unfortunately he hasn’t [been].’’
Steinbrenner has been little more than a ghost, an appearance in spring training yielding to a season without him. He appeared in Tampa recently, when the Yankees were there. And he is scheduled to be at Yankee Stadium today, for the Yankees’ first World Series appearance since 2003.
“He’s a big part of us,’’ Jorge Posada said. “He’s the reason why we’re here. That’s why we want to win it for him. He’s got us here in the beginning, the late ’90s, every year because of the team he provided us every year. Hopefully we can win it this year for him.’’
To some of the old guard - Rivera and Posada and Pettitte and Derek Jeter and Joe Girardi - it seems as if Steinbrenner is still around. As Posada insisted, “He’s here, he’s here,’’ but Steinbrenner is not the force he once was. His health is deteriorating, the control of the club handed over to his children, especially his son, Hal Steinbrenner, and daughter, Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal. It was those two who got the shower of champagne from Jeter Sunday in the Yankees clubhouse after the team clinched a trip to the World Series.
That used to be George.
“He used to pop in and out of the clubhouse,’’ said Jeter, who has known Steinbrenner since he was 18 years old. “Especially when you had bad games, he used to come here. You didn’t always look forward to seeing him. You were well aware of his presence. You’re still well aware of his presence.
“He was just in the clubhouse when we were in Tampa at the end of the year. For me, it’s always fun to see him. We have a long history together.’’
And Steinbrenner has a long history with the Yankees, starting when he was part of a group that bought the team in 1973. He has had six championship seasons with the club. His relationships with the players on the teams that won four titles from 1996 to 2000 were sometimes contentious, but often far more mellow than his relationships with the Yankees of his early years. Like, say, Billy Martin.
“You’d see a lot of stuff that he did and stuff that was said, but even when I struggled, when I had my struggles, George was just always so supportive,’’ Pettitte said. “Just always coming up to me, asking if he could do anything for me, if I needed anything. So I never saw that side personally where he would come at me with anything. It was always just support. I don’t know why.
“I think he knew me well enough to know that I was probably beating myself up plenty enough where I didn’t need to get beat up maybe by him, or was getting beat up by the media or something and I didn’t need it.
“So, he’s just, he’s always been great to me. I appreciate that. I hope that we can win another World Series, that he’ll be able to enjoy it, be able to see it.’’
It was strange, Pettitte said, when he returned from his three years in Houston, from 2004-06. When he got back, Steinbrenner was not the same. And being a Yankee was not quite the same.
“He’s still involved,’’ Jeter said. “I don’t know what info you guys are getting. He’s still involved.
“He’s the reason why we’re in this stadium. Bottom line, we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him. We wouldn’t have this team if it wasn’t for him. I don’t care how involved anyone thinks he is.
“One other thing you have to realize is that family is committed to winning. That entire family. That mind-set will never change.’’
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.