George Steinbrenner: Damn Yankee

On Thanksgiving day, 1976, I flew to Chicago to meet Reggie Jackson. It was like a raffle. You went if you were interested in Reggie. We made a pact that day. That was the biggest fish I’ve landed. So we had Reggie, and we had Thurman Munson. And we had controversy. Boy, did we have controversy! That was the year 1977 when I literally had to separate Reggie and Munson. It was at Denny’s restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. I took ’em to breakfast with me, and I said, “You guys are either gonna get together and play together, or you’re gonna be sorry you ever came to the Yankees. I went through too fucking much trouble to get you, Reggie.”

In Game Six of the World Series against the Dodgers, when Jackson hit three home runs I can remember Reggie running around the bases. As he came around second base, he looked up to where I sat. I don’t know whether it was to say, “There you are, you dumb son of a bitch,” or “You made the right choice.” But I was standing right on the railing – I just threw my hands up. I never felt so good. Because I had been crucified by the press that year for sticking with Reggie.

Firing manager Billy Martin, that was a low point. Because he said some things that I think he regretted saying. It was for his own sake. I mean, the drinking just destroyed the man, and in the end it killed him. But I was still a loyal friend to Billy – always will be a loyal friend to Billy. To the day he was buried, I was there for him in many ways.

When we found out we had to play Boston in a one-game playoff that determined which American League team would play in the 1978 World Series, I was really down. I’d even called my friend Billy Weinberger at Bally’s Casino in New Jersey. And I said, “Billy, if it’s a coin flip to determine the site of the playoff game, what should we call? Are there any figures that tell you which way to go?” He says, “Well, heads wins a tiny bit more than tails.” So we called heads. And we didn’t win. The night before the game, Ron Guidry says, “What are you all worried about?” I said, “Oh, you’re not, I suppose, huh? Well, we’ve got to go up there and kick some ass!” Guidry says, “Relax! I’m gonna win this one for you.” I never forgot that. And he called it. He pitched a helluva game that day.

Winning two championships made people give me a little more respect. You look back and see how few teams in the modern era are able to win two in a row. We did it. Toronto did it. I don’t think that anybody else has done it. But sitting there in October 1978, after winning twice, I wouldn’t have guessed it would be another eighteen years until we won the World Series.

Interviewed by Chris Smith

George Steinbrenner: Damn Yankee