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Hal Steinbrenner returns to work

He buried his father last Saturday and now, according to an administrative  assistant in Tampa, Hal Steinbrenner has returned to the job his father always wanted him to have, running the Yankees. That was George Steinbrenner's wish when Hal was a senior at Williams college. I interviewed Hal at Williams in 1990. What he said at the time time seemed to portend the future.  After I wrote the piece, George phoned me to say ``the kid really zinged me,'' and laughed.

Here is the 1990 story on Hal Steinbrenner.  

IN HIS MANNER and style, there is little to distinguish Harold (Hal) Steinbrenner   from his fellow students at Williams College, a tiny campus at the center of this picturesque 237-year-old New England town. He is a typical college student, driving a Jeep, sharing a modest off-campus apartment with 11 other students and grabbing a pizza or sandwich at one of the local campus haunts. He blends in among the 2,000 undergraduates at this liberal arts school.

What separates Steinbrenner from his fellow students is his post-college ambition. This Ivy League-like setting is preparing Hal for the Big Leagues. The question - what do you want to be when you grow up? - already has been answered for this young man. Just as a prince waits to become a king, Hal Steinbrenner awaits his turn to run the Yankees. It is the desire of his deposed father, George, and Hal's goal, too.

If George Steinbrenner himself cannot return as general partner - and lately he has hinted of litigation aimed at overturning the disciplinary action taken against him by commissioner Fay Vincent - he can think of no better choice to replace him than his son Hal.

Hal, who will turn 22 on Dec. 3, will graduate in May with a degree in psychology. He entered his senior year with a B average. After some time off, he is likely to begin his career with the Yankees next summer. Hal said his path to the top of the Yankees' organization will begin at the bottom. "I will start in Tampa," he said referring to the minor-league complex. "I will stay in Tampa a year or so. From there I will work my way up through Albany and then eventually go this way [New York]."

Steinbrenner is prepared, yet uneasy at the enormity of what lies ahead. "I probably don't know any better, but it doesn't stagger my imagination to imagine that," he said about becoming boss. "It is very uncomfortable to be in a situation when you are so privileged and it makes you stand out. To see other [students] just worried about getting jobs right now, especially during a recession, kind of makes me feel guilty.

"Maybe I don't know what I am getting into. You never know, but I've been around it all my life. I've seen my dad interact, I've sat through meetings, seen him with the press. I've seen what the people say about him. I don't think it is going to bother me that much. It really doesn't throw me off."

George Steinbrenner says he has no timetable for Hal, who may be only a few years away from gaining control of arguably the most fabled sports franchise, with an estimated worth of nearly $ 300 million. Hal would become the Doogie Howser of baseball, being much younger than the other major-league owners, not to mention most of the players. George said his son will not be intimidated by that prospect.

"I wouldn't push him if I thought that was the case," he said in a telephone interview last month. "He's very independent. He has absolutely no fears."

At Williams, he is not George Steinbrenner's son so much as he is Hal, just one of the students. He needs no bodyguards, is not sought after and, in fact, is not highly recognizable. If the women students give him the once-over, it is because he resembles Tom Cruise, not his father.

Even though his father attended Williams about 40 years ago and is a significant contributor to the college's activities, Hal expects and receives no special treatment. He asked that his friends not be interviewed for this story, and most faculty members, citing a student's right to privacy, refused to comment.

One who did speak was Hal's track coach, Pete Farwell. "He doesn't appear to have had a spoiled upbringing at all," Farwell said. Hal is a hurdler during the spring season but views the sport as a recreational activity, which is in line with the Division III philosophy at Williams.

"He is not a great athlete," Farwell said, "but he works very hard."

According to the coach, the subject of Hal's father and the Yankees usually is off limits. "I've never sat around for an evening, whiling away the hours in a philosophical conversation," Farwell said.

Jim Kolefar, Williams' director of public information, said Hal enjoys no celebrity status. "He's very low-key. He's not someone who gets talked about a lot," he said. "I'm not sure if I ever laid eyes on him."

The college is accustomed to having children of the famous and infamous. "The current Shah of Iran, as he would call himself, was here in 1979-80, the year of the revolution in Iran, the year his father died, the year of the hostage crisis," Kolefar said.

Dave Metcalf, sports editor of The Transcript, the local town newspaper, said public interest in Hal is low. "I guess they figure he's Hal and his father is George, and the two are separate," Metcalf said. "People are aware of it, though Williams has sort of a laid-back atmosphere, so they meld in there." For an idea of what a media feeding frenzy constitutes here, the top story in The Advocate, another local paper, was headlined "Bette's Cafe to Open With New Menu."

The undergraduate population, which draws from across the country and around the world, does not have a keen interest in George Steinbrenner or Yankee baseball. With tuition and related fees amounting to $ 20,000 a year, other topics are more important. The exception is when George visits. Then he becomes the big man on campus.

"If you are walking down Spring Street and see him, you recognize him," Kolefar said. "Then you tell your friends and neighbors you saw him."

George sees a rapid ascent for Hal, the youngest of his four children. As far as George is concerned, Robert Nederlander, the current general partner, is merely a caretaker until Hal is ready. "When Robert and I were talking about it, we were thinking in terms of three or four years [before Hal assumes responsibility]," George said. "Bob said he doesn't want to stay in there longer than three years himself. I don't want to put a timetable on it, but when it's deemed that [Hal] is ready, when the partners feel he is ready, he will move in."

Commissioner Fay Vincent's sanctions against Steinbrenner do not extend to his power over control of the team's limited partners. "The family owns majority control. That's not going to change," George said. There is no indication that the partners would not support Hal, just as they were ready to go along with his older brother, Hank, who decided he'd rather stick to breeding horses.

"He's a very attractive candidate," limited partner Charlotte Witkind said of Hal. "We find every aspect of [ownership] fascinating, so I don't see why Harold would not."

Marvin Goldklang, another partner, said the shareholders would not stand in the way of Hal's appointment, saying the partners are in agreement with George's plan. "George has indicated that he would very much like to see members of his family, particularly Harold, playing an active role in the Yankee operation," Goldklang said.

Hal knows that when he reaches New York, he may initially be viewed pejoratively as Son of Steinbrenner, not so much a fine young man as a fine young cannibal following in his father's bootsteps with thoughts of managerial firings, impetuous moves and bellicose statements.

"I hope they don't have a negative attitude toward me at the start. That's one of my concerns," he said. "I will tell them that I am not like him. I will answer their questions straightforward.

"We are alike in a lot of ways and not alike in others. I think we both have a [hate] for losing. I think I could even be worse. For example, I love the Minnesota Vikings. I have never been to Minnesota. I have no part in the team. Never even seen a game. But when they lose, my friends know to leave me alone for about two hours. When they win, I am the happiest man alive."

And when the Yankees lose? "I'm even worse," he said.

"But I think we are different in the way we displace anger," Hal said. "I am not the kind to get so mad and hot-tempered that I place it onto other people. It brings nothing but trouble. I am more of the kind who would go into a room and just beat on a pillow for two hours or something, get it out of my system without anyone feeling any of my anger, which rightfully they shouldn't have to.

"Chances are I would rather give a manager two or three years. I have a short temper, but I have patience. Probably we are different in that respect. That's probably his weakest suit, his impatience."

Hal said he would welcome his father's input, within the limits of the commissioner's restraints, but George said there will be no need for that. "He'll have his own ideas. Nobody's talked to him about what he'd have to do to start out," George said. "I think he knows more than he's let on. He's seen it, he's been around it. I think he's got a great deal of self-assurance. He's not bashful. He's old for his age. I don't think he's over-awed. I think he knows as much right now as a lot of the people involved now with the Yankees do."

Hal grew up in Tampa, site of his father's ship-building company. Even the trappings of a wealthy family did not make it easy on a youngster with a controversial father. The best part, Hal said, was being a little kid at Yankee Stadium during the World Series. "I remember all the players. I thought it was the greatest thing in the world, for that many people to go crazy when the Yankees won. It was a neat thing for a second-grader to see live."

The tough part was the taunting in school when the Yankees did not do well or his father made an unpopular move. "Those were tough times. It was like, 'He's a Steinbrenner,'' Hal said. "Whatever their parents told them about my dad, they just believed it. I talked a lot to my sisters about it. My sister Jenny and I are very close and I think she could explain to me what was going on. The kids would say, 'The Yankees suck,' things like that. There was a point where I had really good friends and all of a sudden it seemed like, overnight, they figured out who I was and they didn't want me as a friend anymore. It was rough. That's what I carry in my craw to this day."

As a young adult, Hal is accustomed to seeing his father criticized. The anti-George flame burned brightest this past summer when Steinbrenner was front-page news during his hearing and subsequent removal by the commissioner because of a payment to gambler Howard Spira.

Hal said the college community seemed unaffected by the news, but that was of little consolation. "There are a lot of really intelligent people here [at Williams]," Hal said. "No, they don't care. I haven't gotten one comment all year about anything that happened. I'll tell you what I think. The amount of attention that it got from the American people astounded me.

"Baseball is our national pastime. I love it more than I love any other sport. But I just felt that it got blown up a little bit out of proportion. In the sphere of sports, this thing was big, and I wasn't surprised to see him on the front cover of the sporting magazines or sporting section of the paper, but he was on the front cover of the paper. The front page. He was on the cover of a news magazine that is read by millions of people. That just astounded me. President Gorbachev or President Bush usually occupy that space. It was almost as if the majority of people in this country walked away from reality for a brief amount of time and got caught up in this soap opera that was going on."

During his college years, Hal has attended games at Yankee Stadium about three times a season. He was keenly aware of the media criticism and the fan discontent surrounding his father. "I don't develop a hatred toward the people because I can understand that it is just natural," he said. "In New York, when I am in a cab or talking to someone to find out the situation and they don't know who I am, what I hear is pretty shocking."

George wants very much for Hal to take over the team, and his son will not disappoint him. He is up for the challenge. "Family responsibilities have always meant a lot to me," he said. "I think it would be great. I mean, we're talking about the New York Yankees."






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