The Closet Moderate: Bob and George

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bob and George


Not for nothing were Bob Sheppard and George Steinbrenner known as “the Voice of God” and “the Boss,” respectively.

Sheppard’s authority came from the magisterial tones that rang out across the gathered faithful in The House that Ruth Built. His was a voice that came from everywhere, in tune with both the sorrows and joys of his flock. From his perch in the broadcast booth, he was, in a very literal way, the Sheppard Above.

Steinbrenner’s ministry was of a decidedly more Old Testament flavor, though no less awe-inspiring for all that. He gladly played the part of taskmaster God, the enumerator of failures, the capricious deity with a taste for intervention and an unforgiving view of mortal weakness.

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The Boss elevated and ruined careers, egos and entire dynasties with a facility that the God of Moses and Job could surely appreciate: Meacham, demoted straight to AA ball; Irabu, publicly derided as “a fat toad” for his failure to cover first; the Yankees, back-to-back World Series Champions in in ’77 and ’78, wallowing in obscurity by 1990. In Billy Martin, Steinbrenner had his Saul--forever at odds, fired and re-hired and fired again, all for want of a David. John McMullen, an early partner, stepped ably into the role of Lucifer, remarking that “nothing is more limited than being a limited partner of George’s,” before acquiring his own fiefdom to the south. Steinbrenner leaked stories to the press, freely contradicted himself in public fora, and practiced a mixture of jealousy—he came to resent Joe Torre’s elevated profile, eventually calling for his ouster at the end of the 2007 season—and kindness unseen in American sports.

The rules simply did not apply to George, save for one.

In the passing of Sheppard and Steinbrenner, Yankees fans confront not only the end of an era, but a sobering reminder that nothing is eternal. One day, we will watch Mariano Rivera’s last bow towards third. Jeter will set down his bat, and Pettitte’s eyes will glitter above the rim of his glove for the final time. While we cursed George and loved Bob, these twin losses are a time to remember that one day we will all take up, with heavy hearts and clumsy hands, the burdens that now confront Hank and Hal, Paul and Barbara.

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