George Steinbrenner will be remembered first and foremost as a sports owner, but also for his ability to forge complex relationships with mayors, governors, and the neighborhood his team called home.
At City Hall Tuesday, flags flew at half-staff in tribute to George Steinbrenner, a man whose death reverberated not just in the baseball world but in halls of government from New York to Washington, where he was honored on the Senate floor.
"He was someone about whom you can truly say, there will never be another one like him," said Senator Charles Schumer.
"This is a city that, we like people who compete, and who want to win, and want to win honestly and fairly. And I think that’s exactly what George tried to do," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
While Steinbrenner rubbed elbows with political leaders, behind the scenes he often played hardball. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Steinbrenner was often threatening to move the team to New Jersey or to a new stadium over Manhattan’s West Side Rail Yards, all in an attempt to win public subsidies for a new stadium.
"When the city dealt with him with respect to the franchise, and the leasing, and trying to get a new lease, he was a tough customer," said former mayor Ed Koch.
Steinbrenner's ties to politics also brought trouble. In 1974, he pleaded guilty to making illegal contributions to Richard Nixon's re-election campaign, earning him the first of two suspensions from baseball. He was later pardoned by President Ronald Reagan. At times he also badmouthed the Bronx, saying crime was keeping fans from the stadium.
"The irony of all of that is, while George Steinbrenner was criticizing the Bronx for its crime rates, and nobody wanted to come to the South Bronx to watch a game. When he put a championship team on the field, people were sleeping on the streets of the South Bronx to buy playoff tickets. And the only crime around the stadium area was ticket scalping," said former Bronx borough president Fernando Ferrer.
In the end, Steinbrenner got his new stadium and the Yankees stayed put. And for all the bluster, officials spoke of his heart, as when the city welcomed Nelson Mandela at Yankee Stadium.
"Nelson Mandela put on a Yankee cap, and the jacket. And George Steinbrenner was so pleased, that he called us and said that he would cover all our expenses at Yankee Stadium for that day, which was a very generous gesture and much appreciated," said former mayor David Dinkins.