Thursday, July 15, 2010


George Steinbrenner died and so many memories flood forth…

My brother Matt was a fervent Yankee fan in his youth, and we spent many a summer afternoon watching the Yankees play games on Channel 11. WPIX. Phil Rizzuto, Bill White, and Frank Messer announced the games with such offhand style and wit that even 10 year old boys could hear the poetry in it. Someone put Rizzuto’s ramblings into verse a few years ago, and it’s lovely. Here’s a sample:

Prayer for the Captain

There's a little prayer I always say

Whenever I think of my family or when I'm flying,

When I'm afraid, and I am afraid of flying.

It's just a little one. You can say it no matter what,

Whether you're Catholic or Jewish or Protestant or


And I've probably said it a thousand times

Since I heard the news on Thurman Munson.

It's not trying to be maudlin or anything.

His Eminence, Cardinal Cooke, is going to come out

And say a little prayer for Thurman Munson.

But this is just a little one I say time and time again,

It's just: Angel of God, Thurman's guardian dear,

To whom his love commits him here there or everywhere,

Ever this night and day be at his side,

To light and guard, to rule and guide.

For some reason it makes me feel like I'm talking to


Or whoever's name you put in there,

Whether it be my wife or any of my children, my parents

or anything.

It's just something to keep you really from going bananas.

Because if you let this,

If you keep thinking about what happened, and you can't

understand it,

That's what really drives you to despair.

Faith. You gotta have faith.

You know, they say time heals all wounds,

And I don't quite agree with that a hundred percent.

It gets you to cope with wounds.

You carry them the rest of your life.

My dad was never a big Steinbrenner fan, mostly because of things like this:

Some Thoughts on George…Traug Keller

The New York Yankees handling of the Joe Torre “resignation” started some memory chords humming for me last week. The situation had George Steinbrenner’s and, peripherally, his two sons’ clumsy hands all over the deal. It’s a story much in the sports news these days and I’ve been hopeful that the full Steinbrenner story would emerge.

A friend of mine once wrote George Steinbrenner a letter after the New York Yankees owner had fired Billy Martin for the fifth time. “Mr. Steinbrenner,” he wrote. “You are a horse’s ass. Sincerely, Peter Hillyer.”

Pete had shown me a copy of the letter and asked what I thought of if. “It’s okay,” I said, “but not strong enough.” Pete asked me why I felt that way about George who as far as he knew had never spoken ill of me. So I told him. My Steinbrenner story goes back nearly 50 years.

“I was working for a public relations agency in Cleveland in the early sixties and I ran into a former associate of mine at the CLEVELAND PRESS, Ben Fleiger. Ben had left the newspaper to become General Manager of the Cleveland Pipers, an entry in the newly formed American Basketball Association. George Steinbrenner, a Clevelander, had bought the team.

“How goes it with you, Ben?” I asked. He and I had always been friendly at the paper. He had covered the Indians and I had been the swing man in the department, covering high schools, harness racing and basketball among other things. I had broken the story about Cleveland getting an ABA franchise under Steinbrenner’s ownership. I could see that Ben was nervous and kept looking around to make sure nobody could hear him but he was clearly anxious to talk further.

“Look, why don’t we sit down and have a cup of coffee,” Ben said. “I’ll tell you a few things.”

Once we got settled in a booth Ben began to unburden himself about Steinbrenner.

“He’s a beast of a man,” Ben started. “He holds back people’s paychecks ‘till it suits his mood. He explodes at the drop of a hat and he fires people without a second thought. He is pompous, vain and arrogant. You ought to see how he treats John McLendon.”

This got my attention. John McLendon, the coach of the Pipers, had been a favorite of mine when I was covering the Pipers. He had come to Cleveland from Tennessee State where he consistently won national small college championships. He was the first college basketball coach ever to win three consecutive national titles and he was the first black coach ever in professional basketball.

He was a big leaguer in every sense of the word. Trim and dapper, soft spoken but with an aura about him that commanded respect, he was his own man. He coached the Pipers first in their formation as an amateur entry in the National Industrial Basketball League, which was a notch below the pros, and built the squad that would move into the ABA the following season.

But not with him at the helm. He lasted just half a season. He quit the Pipers when Steinbrenner insisted he would not pay the players if they did not win the playoffs that year. He didn’t need the work. He became Cleveland State University’s athletic adviser and basketball coach.

Years later Buck Showalter, a Yankees manager, quit after being backed into the same kind of corner that McLendon had felt he was being put in and that Joe Torre resigned over. McLendon put it clearly to Harvey Araton of the TIMES in 1995, “The thing I would tell anyone who has experienced George is that you can’t let him destroy you. He has that need—I now call it the Steinbrenner syndrome—to take credit for everything. You have to be amused by it, then move on to better days.”

Better days, indeed for John McLendon; he became a member of the U.S. Olympic Basketball Committee in 1966 and the Olympic coaching staff in l968 and 1972. He was named to the basketball Hall of Fame in 1978

Meantime, the Steinbrenner dynasty rolls on: George entering the twilight and two sons who had, at least, acquiesced in the Torre “resignation”.