"I said, 'No,' " Yogi Berra said. "I just said, 'No.' I'm going to miss him. It's sad for me to talk about it."
Like so many Yankee greats from the time before Steinbrenner bought the team in 1973, Berra had a complicated relationship with The Boss - Berra managed the Yankees in 1984 after coaching for eight seasons, but Steinbrenner fired him 16 games into the 1985 season and upset Berra by sending general manager Clyde King to do the deed.
It took 14 years before Berra returned to Yankee Stadium, prompted by a visit by Steinbrenner to Berra's museum on the campus of Montclair State University, where Yogi and Carmen Berra, along with son Dale, a former Yankees player, talked to reporters about Steinbrenner Tuesday.
"When he came here, I told him, 'You're 15 minutes late,' " Yogi said. "He said to me, 'I flew all the way from Florida to be friends again.' And we were friends. He was real good to me."
Berra, 85, choked up a few times speaking about Steinbrenner, ever the bombastic Boss who made sure everyone knew he was in charge.
"He was tough," Berra said. "If a guy didn't pitch good in spring training, the next day, that guy wasn't there. That's the way he was. . . . One of my first games as manager [in 1984], in Texas, the guy we had at shortstop, Bobby Meacham, made an error. The next day we came in. 'Where's Meacham?' George sent him out [to the minors] without telling me."
Berra spoke to Steinbrenner on The Boss' 80th birthday, on July 4, and saw Steinbrenner at opening day in April. "They said he was in great shape," Berra said of the phone call. "And when I saw him, he looked all right then, too."
Carmen Berra remembered her first time she met Steinbrenner, at Dodger Stadium during the 1978 World Series. "He decided he was going to sit with the girls in the stands," she said. "So the cotton candy man comes by, and he bought us all cotton candy - here are all the Yankee wives eating cotton candy. And he bought one for himself. I'd heard some stories about him before, but I said, 'Any owner who can sit in the stands, eating cotton candy, has to have a wonderful, mellow side.' "
Berra got most emotional discussing his firing and his vow to stay away from the stadium. "I didn't like the way I was fired," he said. "Usually, the owner calls you up and says, 'We're going to make a change.' George got Clyde King to do it. And I didn't like that. And I said I'd never come back to Yankee Stadium.
"When he came here [in 1999], he said, 'It's the worst mistake I ever made.' I told him, 'George, everybody makes mistakes.' "