ANAHEIM, Calif. - Their distinct relationships with George Steinbrenner began, progressed and concluded in different places, with varying entry points, dips and denouements.

But as the four Yankees All-Stars who knew The Boss best made clear Tuesday, they shared a common depth of feeling. After news broke of Steinbrenner's death, they spoke of him as a surrogate father.

"I think he's a father figure to everyone that was in our organization in the past or present, because he really took care of his players," Yankees captain Derek Jeter said hours before he started for the American League in the All-Star Game. "Whether it was a player that's on the team now, or someone that played for a week 30 years ago."

Manager Joe Girardi recalled his generosity. "To me, one of the things that is not talked enough about Mr. Steinbrenner is how giving of a man he is," he said, "and a man that really cared about people and tried to change people's lives, whether it was a first, second or third chance. And that's who he really was."

"He just was great to me," Andy Pettitte said. "He always was great to me my whole career during the good times, the bad times. I always had a great relationship with him. He was tough, but he was always fair, and he was great to be around."

Pettitte, back in 1999, had his manhood challenged publicly by Steinbrenner. Jeter faced questions in 2003, when Steinbrenner wondered whether Jeter spent too much time socializing.

Girardi, back in his playing days, took heat from Steinbrenner about his light bat and reserved on-field demeanor. Alex Rodriguez, having arrived in the Bronx in 2004, largely avoided The Boss' bluster, but he still gained an appreciation for the man who built the Yankees brand to unimaginable heights.

But if Steinbrenner didn't nag Rodriguez as he had previous high-priced employees, he still made his expectations clear. Shortly after joining the Yankees, Rodriguez said, he received a handwritten note from Steinbrenner, delivered by a clubhouse attendant at the team's spring-training home.

"He basically said, 'I'm counting on you!' with capital letters and an exclamation point," A-Rod said. "So I think, to this day, we are still playing for him, to not let him down."

 

Boss' personal touch

When Girardi met The Boss for the first time in 1996 - while walking a little white Bichon on the grounds of the team's spring-training complex with his wife - the new catcher thought he was in trouble. Instead, Steinbrenner engaged them about the dog.

To the devout Pettitte, Steinbrenner would give Bible verses before playoff starts. The Boss, an Ohio native and Ohio State supporter, would talk trash with Jeter, who spent a semester at Michigan, about college football.

As Steinbrenner's health faded the last five years or so, Jeter, who spent the bulk of his winters in Tampa, would check in periodically on him. Jeter plans to travel from here to Tampa for a few days of rest, and had intended to seek him out again.

Jeter and Steinbrenner got through that turbulence in 2003, and they filmed a Visa commercial that made light of the incident. Jeter became captain that June, and the two never had another serious disagreement.

 

Quest for perfection

"The Boss, he's an old football coach," Jeter said. "So he sort of looked at the baseball season like we played 12 games, and we had to win every single day.

"I remember my first, second year, I was on third base and got doubled off on a line drive in the infield. After the game, he was yelling at me, 'Don't ever get doubled off again!' We won the game, but he expected perfection, and that rubbed off. And whether it was the players, the front office, people working at the Stadium, it didn't make a difference. He expected perfection."

He never quite got that. But in his passing, he did get more appreciation than anyone could have imagined. Yankees of the past also saluted Steinbrenner.

 

Praise from old guard

Dodgers manager Joe Torre said, "I will always remember George Steinbrenner as a passionate man, a tough boss, a true visionary, a great humanitarian, and a dear friend."

Rays adviser Don Zimmer, a former Yankees coach, said, "He would do anything at any cost to put the best team on the field."

Steinbrenner fired Yogi Berra as manager 16 games into the 1985 season, and Berra refused to speak with him until 1999.

"George was 'The Boss,' make no mistake,'' Berra said. "He built the Yankees into champions. . . . He was a very generous, caring, passionate man. George and I had our differences, but who didn't? We became great friends over the last decade, and I will miss him very much."With AP

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