Yanks' memory of The Boss set in stone
Plaque for Steinbrenner unveiled at center of Monument Park
NEW YORK -- Taking cues from the elaborate tributes that George M. Steinbrenner so relished providing for others, the Yankees unveiled a permanent monument honoring the late principal owner before Monday's 8-6 win over the Rays at Yankee Stadium.
The massive memorial for Steinbrenner, who passed away on July 13 at the age of 80, was unveiled in Monument Park during a ceremony attended by members of the Steinbrenner family, former manager Joe Torre and Commissioner Allan H. "Bud" Selig.
The text of the 7-foot-wide, 5-foot-high bronze plaque -- the seventh erected in Monument Park and the first honoring an owner -- pays homage to Steinbrenner's long-standing nickname, "The Boss," and reads across its 760-pound face:
"Purchased the New York Yankees on January 3, 1973. A true visionary who changed the game of baseball forever, he was considered the most influential owner in all of sports. In his 37 years as Principal Owner, the Yankees posted a Major League-best .566 winning percentage, while winning 11 American League pennants and seven World Series titles, becoming the most recognizable sports brand in the world.
"A devoted sportsman, he was Vice President of the United States Olympic Committee, a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame's Board of Directors and a member of the NCAA Foundation Board of Trustees.
"A great philanthropist whose charitable efforts were mostly performed without fanfare, he followed a personal motto of the greatest form of charity is anonymity."
Preceding a video tribute on the center-field scoreboard recapping Steinbrenner's 37 years at the helm, members of the family -- including Hank, Hal, Jessica and Jennifer -- met behind home plate, with Steinbrenner's widow, Joan, escorted by Commissioner Selig.
The members of Steinbrenner's family expressed their gratitude in a written statement following the 20-minute ceremony.
"We are grateful to have been able to share this night with so many special people who brought fulfillment to our father's life," the statement read. "To see all of the distinguished Yankees alumni, friends and family gathered with us was a meaningful tribute to him.
"Our father always believed that this organization was an extension of his family, and he felt our fans were the heartbeat and soul of this baseball team. His unrelenting vision and passion for success was unmatched, and we are humbled that his likeness will forever greet the people he cared so deeply for in Monument Park.
"We would like to thank everyone who came out to support our father and the Yankees tonight. He was a proud owner, but he was also a great husband, father and grandfather to us."
The video opened with grainy footage of Steinbrenner, his voice barking crisply at his team before a Spring Training workout: "When you put the pinstripes on, you're not just putting on a baseball uniform on. You're wearing tradition and you're wearing pride. And you're going to wear it the right way."
Those men still wearing uniforms the right way today were summoned as marching escorts, leading the way for the four golf carts that rolled along the warning track from the Yankees' dugout.
"I loved that the team was able to walk out there and be a little part of it," left-hander Andy Pettitte said. "I didn't know that we were going to do that. It was unexpected. And the plaque was amazing. It looked awesome out there. I thought they did a great job with it."
Yogi Berra rode in the first cart with Joan Steinbrenner, while trailing icons like Torre, Reggie Jackson and Don Mattingly drew ovations. And when the white covering with the Yankees top-hat logo was removed, the monument impressed.
"It was big; probably how The Boss would have wanted it," captain Derek Jeter said. "The biggest one out there."
Asked if he thought Steinbrenner might have gotten a kick out of that, Jeter quipped, "No question. It probably was his idea."
Mariano Rivera lingered longer than most at the monument, appearing to choke up as he took in each word of the inscription. Jackson draped his arm around Berra as they began the long walk back to the dugout, accompanied by the playing of Frank Sinatra's "My Way."
"It was very emotional," Selig said. "They did a beautiful job, and actually, I hadn't been in Monument Park before. It was very emotional for the family and for everyone else. I wouldn't have missed it for the world."
The United States Military Academy cadets presented the colors, and Frank Sinatra Jr. was tapped to perform the national anthem.
Steinbrenner's granddaughter, Haley Swindal, provided a rousing rendition of "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch, tearfully blowing a kiss to the sky at the song's conclusion.
It was, as Jackson once said of the new Stadium, "done in Steinbrenner style." Yet Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said that Steinbrenner likely would have felt uncomfortable watching it.
"He was the master of ceremony in celebrating others," Cashman said. "Himself, that was a little bit different."
The Boss saw it as part of his job to create those moments. For example, Cashman said that it required a sizable donation to fly in Challenger the Eagle for postseason games in the 1990s, but Steinbrenner wanted that bald eagle majestically soaring over the ballpark, no matter the cost.
"He would do it, because he thought it would make the experience that much more special for the fans," Cashman said. "It was a remarkable sight, what he would do -- whether it was Old-Timers' Day or certain events, he would go above and beyond, always. But he wouldn't be comfortable with it for himself, ever."
The presence of Torre, in particular, raised the level of the celebration. Torre's absence from Yankee Stadium following the 2007 season has been well examined, but in a way, Steinbrenner's passing brought him back.
After receiving an invitation Friday from chief operating officer Lonn Trost, the manager of four World Series-winning teams said he felt at home in a Yankee Stadium he had never entered, tugging his 1996 World Series ring on for size. Steinbrenner was the reason.
"George put a face on this franchise that was all about winning, and very high standards to live by," Torre said. "George not only belongs -- in my opinion -- in Monument Park, but he certainly belongs in the Hall of Fame. I certainly feel very honored to be a part of this."
Hours earlier, Torre and Mattingly had added their signatures to a wall inside the Yankees' clubhouse. But the entire building can be seen as a tribute to Steinbrenner's thumbprint on the organization, his swirling signature embedded in its concrete foundation.
"This was his vision," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "We're very fortunate to come to this ballpark and work here every day. It's so fitting that he's out there."
It was Steinbrenner's stewardship following the 1973 purchase of the franchise that rescued a downtrodden franchise, and the Yankees are still recognizing the impact of his tireless and intense work ethic.
"The thing that that's crazy about it now is to see how many people it takes to do what he did," Cashman said. "He was the ticket director, the marketing manager, the general manager, the manager in the dugout, the stadium operations guy.
"He ran everything and told everybody what to do. He was the department head of it all. Now, I can't tell you how many people you need to replace him."
Five other monuments have been placed for Yankees players or managers -- Miller Huggins (1932), Lou Gehrig (1941), Babe Ruth (1949), Mickey Mantle (1996) and Joe DiMaggio (1999) -- and one was dedicated to commemorate those lost in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
There are also 24 plaques displayed in Monument Park, honoring players, managers, owners and executives, public-address and broadcasting personnel, papal visits and one related to the Yankees' insignia.
But Steinbrenner's monument is the grandest, flanked to the left by Mantle and to the right by DiMaggio. It seems a fitting tribute to a man who often loomed larger than life for his team.
"It's a way for all of us to recognize him and to say, 'Thank you,'" Girardi said. "For what you've done for the city of New York, for the New York Yankees, whoever worked for him, the second chances and third chances he's given people. Thanks for being such a generous owner."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.