Jeter and The Boss delivered titles
Yankees captain said Steinbrenner was more than an owner -- he was his friend
But in the late George Steinbrenner's eyes, Jeter was clearly the favorite.
Maybe that's why Jeter was so emotional about Friday night's pregame ceremony after the Yankees' dramatic, 5-4, come-from-behind win over the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium.
"I thought it was wonderful. It's an honor to be a part of it," Jeter said of the pregame ceremony. "I can see some people, some fans were very emotional -- rightfully so."
Jeter's being modest couldn't hide the fact that he had a special relationship with Steinbrenner.
Sure, Steinbrenner -- who died Tuesday of a massive heart attack at 80 years old -- was attached to many players and managers during his tenure as owner. He had a love/hate relationship with Billy Martin. Steinbrenner adored Reggie Jackson, even though they had many ups and downs. "The Boss" was crazy about Lou Piniella, as both a player and a manager.
Still, you got the sense the only thing Steinbrenner liked more than winning World Series titles was Jeter. And it showed during the memorial.
In the video tribute to Steinbrenner, Jeter's was the first player's voice you heard. He also was the first player you saw. The first picture you saw of Steinbrenner with a player, it was, of course, Jeter.
That wasn't by happenstance. Anybody around that organization the past 16 years knows about the special relationship between Steinbrenner and Jeter.
That's why it was so fitting that Jeter spoke to the huge crowd on a night to remember. He had kind words for both Steinbrenner, who bought the team from CBS in 1973 for $8.7 million, and longtime public address announcer Bob Sheppard. Sheppard died Sunday at age 99.
"We're gathered here tonight to honor two men who were both shining stars in the Yankee universe,'' Jeter said. "Both men, Mr. George Steinbrenner, Mr. Bob Sheppard, cared deeply about their responsibilities to this organization and to our fans.
"And for that, they will forever be remembered in baseball history and in our hearts.''
For Steinbrenner, Jeter represented all the things he tried to instill in this franchise when he took it over and tried to re-establish the Yankees as the top of the heap in Baseball America. It was Jeter's drive, determination and class that attracted Steinbrenner.
Jeter found out about Steinbrenner's death when he woke up Tuesday in Anaheim, Calif. He said his phone was filled with messages offering condolences for his loss. A reporter asked Jeter whether he first thought it was a family member. Without hesitation, Jeter said, "Well, it was a family member. It isn't an immediate family member, but it is a family member.''
Since Steinbrenner's death, Jeter has been interviewed many times. A couple of things stand out in his comments, especially when Jeter says he and Steinbrenner were friends.
It sounds so real, honest. It's not Jeter trying to be nice or paint the controversial Steinbrenner in a different light to make him look better to the masses.
Jeter, of course, respected the owner/player relationship. He never lost sight of the fact that no matter what, Steinbrenner was the man who paid him to work for him.
Still, they spent time together. They ate together and took jabs at each other when it came to college football. Jeter is from Michigan, and Steinbrenner was a die-hard Ohio State fan.
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Jeter said they even joked about it when he delivered Steinbrenner's 2009 World Series ring on Opening Day this year. "He had an Ohio State ring on,'' Jeter said. "I told him to take it off, and he wouldn't. Those are the exchanges over the years that you remember more than just playing for him.''
The event that probably brought the two really close was when Steinbrenner publicly criticized Jeter for hanging out and enjoying the New York nightlife a bit too much. It was the first time anyone had said anything negative about Jeter.
Some would have been put off by it and repelled by Steinbrenner. It could have turned Jeter sour on The Boss.' Instead, Jeter not only cleaned up his act, but probably wound up having even more respect for Steinbrenner.
The two wound up having fun with it later on in a Visa commercial. The last scene had Jeter and Steinbrenner in a nightclub, part of the same conga line. It was a funny spot.
Their strong relationship, however, was clearly real.
Rob Parker is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com.
GEORGE STEINBRENNER: 1930-2010
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