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Steinbrenner media coverage was, like Boss, captivating

Reggie Jackson, right, holds the proclamation that New

Reggie Jackson, right, holds the proclamation that New York City Mayor Abe Beame, center, has just presented to Yankees owner George M. Steinbrenner on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 1977, at City Hall in Manhattan. It was given in honor of "New York Yankees Urban League Appreciation Day." Credit: AP

It was the strangest moment in Tuesday's daylong sports media tour de force, but somehow it fit right in.

Having exhausted most of the obvious guests with an opinion on George Steinbrenner, ESPN turned to another iconic New York character of a bygone era: writer Jimmy Breslin.

The result was a classic of curmudgeonly commentary, with host Brian Kenny gamely trying to stay on point as Breslin invoked everyone from Tip O'Neill to Peter Rodino to Jacob Ruppert to Del Webb.

He called New York City's well-documented problems of the 1970s a "fable" and essentially said the same about the narrative surrounding Steinbrenner's reign.

"There were a lot of people who owned that team that did wonderfully well with it," Breslin shouted. "It's the Yankees! It's New York.

"He's not in the record book. You better stop deifying this fellow! He's a terrific guy, but c'mon! He didn't play baseball. He didn't play first base! C'mon!"

Why bring this up here? For one thing, it was hugely entertaining. But it also illustrated an essential truth about Steinbrenner's legacy and how the news media has covered his death.

The Boss was a complicated fellow in a complicated era, and perceptions of him tend to be a function of one's perspective.

To Breslin, who like Steinbrenner was born in 1930, the Yankees' successes of the past four decades seemed less a result of the owner's genius than a strand in a winning tradition covering 90 years.

For many journalists, fans and baseball people who recall him in the 1970s and '80s, there was no getting around his days as a capricious tyrant, a reality reflected in some blunt remembrances.

But to those who came of age over the past 20 years, and those willing to forgive and forget, all that mattered was the post-suspension Boss, who at last struck a balance between vanity and sanity.

The fact it all was stirred together in the media stew would have been fine with Steinbrenner, who valued attention above all else - other than winning, of course.

In general, media outlets did a fine job addressing every facet of the Steinbrenner prism, and of lining up a remarkable array of people to talk about him.

That includes ESPN, which treated the story like the national one it was despite its New York-heavy aspects.

Fox, by contrast, underplayed it during its All-Star Game telecast.

Granted, the network had a game to cover - and granted I have a New York bias.

But beyond segments at the very beginning and end and short interviews with Joe Girardi and Derek Jeter, there was less than I expected, especially from Tim McCarver, who had an interesting history with Steinbrenner.

What about the Yankees' own YES? It performed well, especially for a network without a formal news operation and with an inherent bias.

The tone understandably was more reverential than in most places, but there were references to the owners' dark side.

Once YES went live from its studios at 1 p.m. Tuesday, the network dove in with a marathon of guests and commentary that concluded with a two-hour special at 6.

Bob Lorenz, visiting family in Arizona, was dispatched to Anaheim. John Filippelli, the president of programming, showed up a day after undergoing surgery. Michael Kay ended his vacation to host.

Yesterday, YES was back with a show at 2 p.m. that included classic clips from Steinbrenner's 2002 interview with Suzyn Waldman and closed with Bernie Williams playing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" on his guitar.

(Yankees president Randy Levine appeared and called the owner "one of the most special and exceptional people who ever lived.")

Contrary to what some have said and written, YES was not the first team-owned channel of its kind - the Red Sox's NESN long predates it - but it is among the most important of Steinbrenner's legacies.

Hearing kind words spoken about him on his channel certainly would have pleased him. But so would all of the other words and voices this week - discordant, diverse and divisive as they might be.

The Boss would have understood.

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