YANKEE DOODLE DANDY The Boss turns 75 today
George Steinbrenner has been in control of the team for 32 1/2 years.
NEW YORK (AP) -- On the verge of 75, George Steinbrenner admits he has mellowed.
He's known for hiring and firing, screaming and scheming, a cartoon-like figure who dominates the back and front pages of New York's tabloids.
But he says the public image of The Boss is nothing like reality.
"I'm really 95 percent Mr. Rogers," he said, "and only 5 percent Oscar the Grouch."
George Michael Steinbrenner III, who turns 75 today, acknowledges he was impatient when he was younger -- and made mistakes.
He defends his intense management style, says he has no idea when he will stop running the Yankees and says he has designated son-in-law Steve Swindal as his successor.
"I haven't always done a good job, and I haven't always been successful -- but I know that I have tried," Steinbrenner said, answering a series of questions from The Associated Press submitted through spokesman Howard Rubenstein.
Senior owner in majors
A Yankee Doodle Dandy born on the Fourth of July, 1930, in Rocky River, Steinbrenner now is the senior owner in the major leagues, presiding over a 32 1/2-year reign of bedlam, venom, excess and success.
Since he took over, the New York Yankees have produced six World Series titles, 10 American League pennants and 13 first-place finishes in the AL East, their value increasing more than 100-fold from the $8.7 million net price his group paid.
Presidents, financiers and members of high society fill his owner's box. At the June 15 news conference announcing plans for a new $800 million Yankee Stadium he hopes to open in 2009, politicians fawned over him, repeatedly calling him "King George."
New York newspapers plant reporters outside the ballpark on days he attends games, just in case he stops to speak.
New York Daily News cartoonist Bill Gallo draws him as Gen. Von Steingrabber, a Prussian warrior.
The television show "Seinfeld" in the 1990s portrayed him as the eccentric employer of George Costanza, a fictional assistant to the Yankees' traveling secretary.
Bought team in 1973
When Steinbrenner's group bought the team from CBS Inc. on Jan. 3, 1973, he proclaimed: "We plan absentee ownership as far as running the Yankees is concerned. We're not going to pretend we're something we aren't. I'll stick to building ships."
It didn't quite work out that way.
Steinbrenner's team has had 20 manager changes and 29 shifts in pitching coach, but none since Joe Torre and Mel Stottlemyre were hired following the 1995 season.
When Brian Cashman replaced Bob Watson in 1998, it was the 15th or 16th switch of general managers, depending whether you count people who didn't formally have the title.
Since then, there's been stability, a word that had disappeared from what became known throughout baseball as the Bronx Zoo.
Yet signs of Steinbrenner and his obsessiveness remain everywhere, from the workers with blowers who clear stray leaves every day from the sidewalks outside Yankee Stadium and the Legends Field spring training complex, to the signs that have adorned the ballpark walls, such as Gen. Douglas MacArthur's declaration: "There is no substitute for victory."
Strict code for players
Many players must trim their hair the instant they report to the Yankees in order to keep it in compliance with his code.
No detail is too small for his involvement, from ordering an artificial turf carpet outside the clubhouse in Tampa to prevent players in spikes from slipping, to personally going through the seating for World Series games, to directing traffic outside Yankee Stadium in 1997, to pulling 50,000 copies of the 1981 team yearbook because he didn't like his picture in it.
He wants his employees to be just as fixated.
"What have I learned from him? Don't be surprised by anything, because if you are, it's your fault," Torre said.
His employees, including players, rarely mention his first name, referring to him as either "Mr. Steinbrenner" or "The Boss." Cashman grinds his teeth in his sleep, a sign of stress.
Even as a senior citizen, Steinbrenner instills fear.
"I think he has been sort of stepping to the sidelines a little more because the team has been winning for the last 10 years or so," said Bernie Williams, who has been around since 1991 and is the longest tenured of the current Yankees.
"But now that we're not playing as well, I think he's back on track to where he was before."
Still very involved
He's just as involved, Yankees employees say, but a lot less public, and they insist that he hasn't lost any mental sharpness.
He sometimes rambles off point on occasions when he does talk to reporters these days, and he mostly speaks now through statements issued by Rubenstein.