It was a vibe that extended from the front office to the field to the team's haphazard approach to media relations, often guided by nothing more than the owner's whims.
Those days seem longer ago more than ever now that Steinbrenner has passed on, and nowhere more so than on that last point.
How does the team deal with the largest, most aggressive media following in American sports? In short, it does so calmly and quietly, as much so as possible given all the scrutiny.
Much of the credit - or blame, for those who miss the circus - goes to general manager Brian Cashman, who since clarifying and consolidating his power after the 2005 season has made it a priority to reform the Yankees' approach.
The idea is to maintain open lines of communication with the media and public but at the same time maintain clear lines of authority within the organization.
"I think it might be a byproduct of what I learned from George,'' Cashman said yesterday. "I learned chain of command, that football mentality.
"George preached - even though he maybe didn't live it all the time - the Bill Parcells-type chain of command . . . Everybody has a job description. If somebody starts getting outside the job description, I'll grab them [and discuss it].''
Cashman objected to being called the new "voice of the organization.'' He instead called himself the "traffic cop.''
Obviously, media relations is far down the list of priorities, well after winning. But as a veteran of the New York media wars, Cashman knows that when it goes wrong, it can create headaches that seep into every area of the organization.
The GM takes the matter so seriously, he considers it when acquiring players, and he said he considered it when assessing potential successors to Joe Torre.
Speaking of which, how is Joe Girardi doing?
After a rocky first year in 2008, especially when it came to discussing injuries, he adjusted and improved with help from Cashman and media relations chief Jason Zillo - even if Girardi never will be a natural charmer like his predecessor.
"Being in that big chair is completely different, no matter how much you've seen it and you think you understand it,'' Cashman said. "He's in a much better place now, without a doubt.''
Girardi said he feels it. "Obviously, I'm more comfortable, and I think people are more comfortable with me,'' he said. "I don't want to say it's easier, but I'm more prepared for it.''
He also is open to continuing to shape the way he comes off publicly.
"It's maybe learning how not to be so direct and maybe a little more engaging,'' he said. "Sometimes people have told me I'm so direct, I can be somewhat intimidating or act like I'm mean.
"I'm not a beat-around-the-bush guy. I'm not much of a storyteller, but I've learned to enjoy it more and have fun with it.''
There have been some media brush fires during the past five seasons, notably during Hank Steinbrenner's brief but memorable time on the back-page stage. But for the most part, calmness has reigned, which is the way Cashman likes it.
It helps that Hal Steinbrenner does not seem to enjoy talking to reporters regularly himself, and it helps that Cashman is far more comfortable doing so than are most front-office types.
It also doesn't hurt having a New York media master such as Derek Jeter rule the locker room. But for the sake of less-savvy players, the team employs intensive media-training sessions.
Early in spring training, the Yankees show a 20-minute video covering do's and don'ts.
"I'm proud of it,'' Cashman said. "It's really, really good. The message is: It's going to make everyone's job easier.''