BOWIE, Md. – When George Steinbrenner, owner of the Yankees since 1973, passed away yesterday at 80 years old, it set off an almost universal feeling of sadness throughout baseball. The man known for ruling his club with a fist of iron and a resolve of steel also made an impact on more than a few people associated with Mercer County.
There’s Joe Finley, who has been involved with the Thunder since they first opened up shop in 1994. He currently serves as the team’s president, and fills the same role for the Lakewood BlueClaws, the Phillies’ Low-A affiliate.
In a statement yesterday, Finley remembered Steinbrenner more for his humanitarian efforts than his days ruling the New York tabloids.
“Mr. Steinbrenner was a visionary in the world of baseball and business that is unmatched. Equally unmatched was his passion for helping people less fortunate than he. His devotion to helping disadvantaged children, the families of slain law enforcement officers and military families speaks volumes as to the type of person he was,” Finley said. “His leadership turned the Yankees into the world-class franchise that we are so proud to be affiliated with.”
Of course, the people on the field, even those who never spent time with the Yankees, were touched by the man who spent decades as baseball’s loudest, most ever-present voice.
Tommy Phelps, the Thunder’s pitching coach as well a Florida Marlin for part of three seasons, expressed his sadness over Steinbrenner’s death.
"Mr. Steinbrenner ran a first class organization and this is a sad day for baseball," Phelps said. "When I talked to my wife about it, she said that we 'lost a legend' today. We both grew up in Tampa, and he was such a big influence on the community there and was just a wonderful man."
Frank Menechino, a veteran of 11 major league seasons and the Thunder’s hitting coach since 2009, reflected on the unchecked passion for winning that accounts for so much of Steinbrenner’s legacy.
“Baseball has lost one of its best competitors,” Menechino said. “He was dedicated to winning, and that dedication made the Yankees the best organization in baseball.”
Of course, a Steinbrenner retrospective would be incomplete without a player’s view. For that, there’s Alan Horne, the 2007 Eastern League Pitcher of the Year who also spent parts of 2008 and 2009 with the Thunder.
What he’ll remember about the man who for decades became synonymous with Yankees is the equality with which he treated his players, from the superstars to the hot-shot prospects to those fighting just to get recognized.
“I think it’s a sad day for sports, not just baseball,” Horne said in a text message to The Trentonian. “He pushed his organization to be the greatest and he treated every single one of us with respect. He was a great man and special person, aside from a front office genius.”
Those works of charity to which Finley referred were not always high-profile. Sometimes, because those acts of generosity benefited individuals and not organizations, they went nearly unnoticed.
Once such story was related to The Trentonian yesterday by one of its former correspondents, Dennis Maffezzoli, currently a columnist with the Sarasota Tribune-Review.
The story hinges around the death of Yankees scout named Jack Llewellyn who spent years scouring the Inglewood, Fla. area for talent.
“Jack was a good guy. He was one of those old-time scouts with the clipboard and the stopwatch, a good old, old-time scout,” Maffezzoli recalled. “Jack passed away, and I guess his wife didn’t have enough (to pay for his final expenses). Steinbrenner actually paid for the funeral and showed up in Inglewood, which is like 100 miles from Tampa, for Jack’s funeral.”
Those unprompted acts of kindness, sprinkled with his undying quest to build a winner for New York, are only part of the reason that Steinbrenner has left behind a legacy that has no chance of ever being matched.
Labels: Frank Menechino, New York Yankees, Trenton Thunder