Updated: 9/21/10 7:39 a.m.
NEW YORK (AP/WFAN) — George Steinbrenner is now truly the biggest of the Yankees greats — as measured in Monument Park.
The colorful and combative owner was honored with the largest tribute in the team’s storied area of remembrance behind the center-field fence. His 7-by-5-foot, 760-pound monument of bronze atop a granite base was unveiled during a solemn ceremony Monday night attended by many of the stars he had feuded with and fawned over during his 37 1/2-year tenure.
“It’s big,” Derek Jeter said. “Probably just how The Boss wanted it. The biggest one out there.”
Jeter was asked whether Steinbrenner would have liked that.
“No question,” the Yankees captain answered. “It probably was his idea.”
Former manager Joe Torre came to Steinbrenner’s $1.6 billion new Yankee Stadium for the first time, as did former captain Don Mattingly, and Torre reconciled with general manager Brian Cashman. Steinbrenner’s daughters had tears in their eyes and his widow Joan unveiled the monument after being accompanied from home plate in a golf cart by baseball commissioner Bud Selig.
“Do I think George should be in the Hall of Fame? Of course I do,” Selig said. “He changed the sport in a lot of ways.”
Steinbrenner died July 13 at age 80 after several years of declining health. The tribute came before the first-place Yankees opened a key series with an 8-6 win over second-place Tampa Bay, the team of his adopted hometown.
New York’s tribute to Steinbrenner, titled “The Boss,” is behind a quintet of 2-by-3-foot monuments honoring manager Miller Huggins (unveiled in 1932), Lou Gehrig (1941), Babe Ruth (1949), Mickey Mantle (1996) and Joe DiMaggio (1999). The other monument, to the victims and rescue workers of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, is on the left-field side of the area.
“A true visionary who changed the game of baseball forever,” the monument reads. “He was considered the most influential owner in all of sports. In 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.”
The entire team, led by Alex Rodriguez and manager Joe Girardi, walked from the dugout and up steps in center field, with Torre and Mattingly among those trailing in business attire.
“It was definitely one of those pretty cool moments to be a part of,” Andy Pettitte said. “Another special moment for this franchise, and another special moment here in this new ballpark.”
They were joined by Hall of Famers Yogi Berra and Reggie Jackson, Steinbrenner’s two sons and two daughters.
After the monument was unveiled, David Wells walked by and touched it. Mariano Rivera leaned forward, looked ahead and contemplated.
With a crowd looking on that included Donald Trump, Torre received the loudest cheers as he was shown three times on the giant videoboard, and Mattingly — who will succeed Torre next season as Los Angeles Dodgers manager — got the second-loudest applause.
“George is responsible for really the best years of my life professionally,” said Torre, who managed the Yankees to four of their seven World Series titles under Steinbrenner. “Did we get along all the time? No. But it never lasted very long that we, you know, disagreed.”
Mattingly recalled how Steinbrenner dispatched a plane to Indiana for him when the first baseman’s back ailed. General manager Brian Cashman remembered how Steinbrenner’s mere presence upped the tension at old Yankee Stadium.
“Before text messages, Internet, cell phones and things of that nature, you didn’t know what his travel schedule was. He liked to surprise people all the time,” Cashman said. “You’d walk into that facility, and you could feel within two steps into the lobby that The Boss was here. Some people say in the parking lot you could feel it.”
Without Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ culture has changed.
“He was the ticket director, the marketing manager, the general manager, the manager in the dugout, the stadium operations guy,” Cashman said. “He ran everything, and he told everybody what to do. He was the department head of it all. And now you need I can’t tell you how many people to replace him.”
Statement from the Steinbrenner family:
“We are grateful to have been able to share this night with so many special people who brought fulfillment to our father’s life. 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.”
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)