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Old Timers' Day: Reflecting on the Steinbrenner years

Reggie Jackson: Jackson was somber and spoke softly and slowly as he answered questions about Steinbrenner at a press conference before Old Timer’s Day. “It was pretty tough. It bothered me. I had just spoken to him on his birthday. I was a frequent caller to him, we stayed in touch. It was a wonderful conversation, it was pleasant … When I heard on Tuesday morning, I got quiet and was left to be alone … I just got quiet.”

Jackson was scheduled to be a part of a few All-Star Game events, including interviews and a red carpet appearance, but he did not want the exposure so soon after hearing the news of Steinbrenner’s death. He attended the game, but left early. “We went we enjoyed it, but I wasn’t really ready to talk about it.”

Ron Guidry: On his relationship with The Boss: “It’s hard for you to accept that he’s gone. It’s just not going to be the same not having him here. When you get over that you start thinking of what it was like when you first got here. How it turns out might not be how it started, and in my case, when I first started the first couple of years in the major leagues he didn’t like me at all. My name was the first one that was put in a trade. And it went from doing that to many times his shoulder was draped around my shoulder. So that’s what I remember. A very fiery guy, everybody knows that, but he had a heart of gold also.”

“He was a good motivator and [he was also] a guy that you always wanted to eat his words. He’d come into a room and chastise you because you lost two games—and it happened to me. I lost two games: 1-0 and 2-1. Does that sound like I’m not pitching well? We just didn’t score, I didn’t win. But the bottom line is I’m 0-2, so he came in the clubhouse one day and the finger was at me and he said, ‘You’re 0-2 in your last two starts.’ And you’re going, ‘I’m 0-2, I got a 1 ERA and it’s not my fault.’ But, you know, he would come in there and he would get on you or he would drop a line in the paper about the way you were pitching and I would read it or if he said it to me face to face, the worst thing is it would get my dander up so the next time I went out I had that on my mind. But he used that, he was a good motivator. He used that to his advantage. He actually made a lot of players a lot better. He made you perform … I was in that clubhouse many times when they had a lot of butt-chewings going on and a lot of heads were down, but the next day the guy that got chastised was the guy that had his name in the paper the next day about winning the game.”

Goose Gossage: On the time Steinbrenner called him to deliver the news of Munson's death: “The phone rang and I picked it up … I thought, ‘Why is George calling me?’ He said, ‘I’ve got some terrible news: Thurman died in a plane crash today.’ That was unbelievable. I’ve still got chills from that phone call every time I think of it … I think George didn’t want to show his soft side to us because he would think we were going to get complacent or comfortable. He would do something really great for us and then turn right around and do something that would aggravate the hell out of us. It was by design. I loved the guy, I really did. And I think we all feel exactly the same way.”

Bucky Dent: On Steinbrenner’s change in attitude in the 1990s: “He had probably changed a little bit since the days when I came here in the early '70s. I think he mellowed out a little bit more. So [players in the '90s] got lucky,” he said and chuckled.

On Sheppard: “The first time he announced my name, just standing there. I remember my first day as a Yankee and just standing on the on deck circle and walking up, hearing him announce my name was pretty neat, something you don’t forget. In the ’77 World Series, you know, you dream of this as a kid, just standing there and hearing him announce your name — you don’t forget things like that.”

Graig Nettles: “When he fired Billy in ’78 and [then] announced him as the next year’s manager five days later it seemed like such a circus atmosphere. You know, some kids like to join the circus, some like to play baseball, and getting to do both it just seemed like the appropriate thing to do.”

Nettles said he was not used to the intensity of New York as a California native and coming from the Cleveland Indians organization: “I didn’t know if I’d be able to survive or not. The first year here was kind of rough and the next two years were even rougher when we had to play in Shea Stadium. But when we got back into the new stadium in ’76 we had a good team and that’s when I realized I could play here. I’m just happy and proud that I was cut out to be in New York.”

On Reggie, Martin and Steinbrenner feuding: “Each one of them wanted to be their own boss. Billy wanted Reggie to know it was [his] team, and The Boss wanted to let them know it was his team. It was pretty funny and you’d sit back and kind of watch it … I think we could have done without [the chaos]. We would have won without all the chaos. It’s just the way it was meant to be in those days. [Steinbrenner] did everything he could to get us back in the headlines and he did. We probably spoiled him for some of the later teams because we had the kind of players that could handle the chaos … but we were just fortunate. He put the team together and he put together guys he thought could handle it.”

Ron Blomberg: “He treated his team like it was [more than] a business, but it was something he loved. CBS would not look at us [when it owned the team], there were only 4,000 people at the games. But as soon as George came in it became 40,000 people.”

Blomberg’s favorite Steinbrenner moment came in 1973 when he was hitting above .400 in July or August. Steinbrenner sat him down and said, “Sit down, I want you to get a haircut, I’ve got a barber downstairs.” Blomberg being the most superstitious Yankee told him, “George, screw you.” Steinbrenner won the battle, throwing in a $100 bonus to persuade Blomberg to lose the locks.

Yogi Berra not here today: Yogi Berra suffered a fall Friday night near his Montclair, N.J., home, according to a statement from his family issued on Saturday afternoon. Multiple media reports suggested that Berra hadn't broken any bones, but remained sore after the fall. Berra suffered some bruising and was recovering at home.

In addition to the usual slew of former Yankees from the 1970s teams, the Yankees honored the 60th anniversary of the 1950 championship team. 

List of those scheduled to attend today’s Old Timers' day:

Luis Arroyo (could not attend)
Jesse Barfield
Yogi Berra (could not attend)
Ron Blomberg
Homer Bush
Rick Cerone
Chris Chambliss
Horace Clarke
Jerry Coleman
David Cone
Bucky Dent
Al Downing
Brian Doyle
Mike Easler
Dave Eiland
Cecil Fielder (first-time appearance)
Whitey Ford
Oscar Gamble
Joe Girardi
Rich “Goose” Gossage
Ron Guidry
Charlie Hayes
Reggie Jackson
Don Johnson (first-time appearance)
Pat Kelly
Don Larsen
Hector Lopez
Lee Mazzilli
Gene “Stick” Michael
Jerry Narron
Graig Nettles
Joe Pepitone
Duane Pillette (first-time appearance)
Charlie Silvera
Bill “Moose” Skowron
Aaron Small
Mel Stottlemyre
Ralph Terry
Mike Torrez
Bob Turley
Roy White
Hank Workman (first-time appearance)

Wives representing old-time Yankees today:

Arlene Howard (wife of Elston Howard)
Helen Hunter (wife of Catfish Hunter)
Jill Martin (wife of Billy Martin)
Kay Murcer (wife of Bobby Murcer)
Diana Munson (wife of Thurman Munson)
Mary Sheppard (wife of Bob Sheppard)

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