The Boss, My First One
A Yankees bat boy remembers George Steinbrenner.
"Yeah," he said. "Thanks, George."
Surely Silverio will not survive this, I thought. But after a long moment standing over him, the Boss just turned and walked out. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, but it never did. I wonder whether Silverio would have been so lucky if Steinbrenner had caught him lying down after a tough loss. And perhaps a pre-Napoleonic Steinbrenner wouldn't have been so compassionate; countless other employees of the team through the years never received such mercy. But what happened that day reflected the Boss I knew: unpredictable, much feared, and mostly benign.
In April of the 1993 season, my senior year of high school, I started hearing back from the colleges where I'd applied the previous fall. The best school I was admitted to was Williams College, which I learned only then was Steinbrenner's alma mater. When it seemed as if my parents would not be able to afford the steep tuition—even then, nearly $30,000 a year—someone in the front office suggested I write a letter to the Boss asking for help paying for books and lab fees. I wrote the letter, not really expecting much from this man whom I had never spoken to and regarded with a great deal of apprehension, as any teenage Yankee fan and grateful employee might.
A few weeks later, the team's equipment manager Nick Priore told me I was wanted upstairs, in the team's front office. I had never been summoned there before.
"Did Nick tell you why I called you up here?" the Yankees' general counsel asked.
"No," I said.
"Well," he said, "Mr. Steinbrenner received your letter, and the Yankees Foundation has decided to give you a $10,000 scholarship for your first year of college." My mom cried when I called to tell her the news.
The next time I saw Steinbrenner was in the clubhouse a few weeks later. I summoned up the courage to interrupt him as he conducted one of his purposeful walks around the clubhouse. "Boss," I blurted. "I'm Matt, the bat boy you gave the scholarship to, to Williams. I just wanted to thank you." He stopped and reached out and gripped my shoulders tightly with both hands. "I never could have gotten in there today," he told me. After a moment he slapped me on the back and walked away.
Incredibly, the Boss repeated his gift of $10,000 for my sophomore year as well. After I graduated, he sent my father a letter in which he congratulated my parents and wished me all the best. The obituaries and eulogies in the coming days will make note of Steinbrenner's volatility and obsession with winning. Generations of fans will remember him as a legendary owner who changed the way sports franchises are run. As for me, I will always be in his debt.