The New York Yankees stand for the national anthem before their game against the Baltimore Orioles on opening day at Yankee Stadium on March 28, 2019.

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Keidel: Tribute To The Birthday Boss, George Steinbrenner

Jason Keidel
July 04, 2019 - 11:25 am
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To the world west of the Hudson, July 4 is America's standalone birthday, when we celebrate Uncle Sam with hamburgers, hot dogs, and apple pie. 

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But in the Big Apple, another birthday boy provided the fireworks.  

Indeed, today is also George Steinbrenner's birthday. While July 4 may be wholly American, it's hard to find anything more Americana than the New York Yankees, or the man who lorded over them for nearly four decades.  He didn't start a revolution, or a war, but he prided himself as an honorary general, often using a military lexicon to make his points and point the Bronx Bombers in the right direction.  

We miss him. We miss the cold baritone of his disappointment. We miss the army ethic that he mapped out for his club. We miss his missives. We miss the chaotic brotherhood when the team won for him and fist-clenching sermons when it didn't. 

He was moody. He had a teen's temper. He fired folks for trivial reasons. He insulted his own players. He was banned from baseball for hiring Howie Spira to spy on his right fielder. As the son of a rich man, he was born on third base and pretended he hit a triple. 

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But he was ours. King George may have hailed from Cleveland, but he had a New Yorker's soul, bitter and eager and angry, ready to fight with little cause. He's the guy staring back at you on the subway. He's the guy who bumps into you walking down Broadway and doesn't apologize. He's the guy who called Dave Winfield "Mr. May" and once said of pitcher Dennis Rasmussen, "Columbus, here I come!" 

He meddled and elbowed his way into baseball matters contoured for baseball men. He wanted so much control he even issued an edict on grooming - again, with army standards in mind - allowing his players only a mustache, not to exceed the mouth. 

He's also the man who cried on TV when he heard the fans gratefully chanting his name, an old man finally getting the praise he so coveted. Even at his draconian worst, Steinbrenner made and paid for his team with the fans in mind. Unlike most stars, who use social media as a modern Narcissus, an excuse to look at their Twitter reflection, Steinbrenner knew it was the fans who mattered. Maybe it took a shipping magnate to realize who paid the freight. 

Perhaps no handle pleased him more than The Boss. His hands were always grabbing or jabbing at some symbolic goal, a way to admire or admonish. Steinbrenner cherished the fact that he was in charge of the most celebrated sports team in American history. 

What would The Boss think about these Bombers? For all his old-school sensibilities, Steinbrenner was rather forward-thinking. He pioneered the local cable deal, which has since since sprouted like weeds around the MLB map, making more impoverished teams more likely to keep their homegrown stars. So Steinbrenner would likely have loved seeing these Yanks bomb the Boston Red Sox in London. He would have admired a group that somehow soared to first place despite their comical gaggle of injured stars. They play his way - hard, heads-down, and for each other. He would have loved first place, the AL-best 55-29 record, and the 11-game bottleneck between the Bronx and Boston. (And perhaps a collision course with the Dodgers.) 

Still, some sizzle is missing from the Yanks-Sox feud. That visceral hatred one side had for the other 15 years ago is now a mature, more restrained rivalry. Gone are Graig Nettles and Jorge Posada and the bare-knuckle battles of the '70s, '90s, or even the first few years of this young century. 

Gone is the sense that a sword is hanging over every player or that the team and town were a 5-game skid from a proclamation, often sardonically read on WFAN by Mike & the Mad Dog. Gone is the turnstile planted outside the manager's office. Gone is 90 percent of the drama. 

Sure, King George adored his throne a little too much. But is it a coincidence that the team hasn't won a World Series since he died just after his 80th birthday? The club won seven World Series rings from the time he bought the team in 1973 until his passing in 2010. While the Yanks are favored to reach the Fall Classic, they are possibly four months from only their second calendar decade without a world title since they bought Babe Ruth (with the '80s being the other). Coincidence? We don't know. But it's fun to ask. 

Something is missing in the Big Apple. Something is missing in the Bronx. Happy Birthday, Boss. 

Twitter: @JasonKeidel