Former Oriole second baseman Jerry Hairston Jr. finally got to see the postseason last year with the New York Yankees, and while he spent only three months with the Pinstripers, he said that the team he eventually won his first World Series title with was probably the best organization he has played with and really made him feel like a member of a family.
And Hairston told Rex Snider on Tuesday that a lot of stemmed from the man straight at the top of the organization-Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who passed away yesterday at the age of 80 of an apparent heart attack in his Tampa home.
“It’s a sad day not only in New York, but all of sports,” Hairston said. “Obviously the boss, Mr. Streinbrenner had a tremendous impact not just on sports, but also in pop culture. He really revolutionized the way you go about handling an organization, as far as spending on players and the treatment of their players.”
Hairston, who was drafted by the Orioles in 1997 and played seven seasons in Baltimore, came to the Yankees last year from the Cincinnati Reds as a utility infielder for their postseason run. For Hairston, he had played in New York before as a member of the opposing team in Baltimore for many years, but the minute he stepped into the Yankee clubhouse for the first time as a Yankee, he was immediately welcomed with open arms.
“The first guy that greeted me was Mariano Rivera. The first thing he said to me was ‘welcome home’. That kind of took me back. I didn’t understand why he said that, but now being a Yankee and going through the World Series and winning it, you’re treated like a family member.”
Now after winning a championship last year, Hairston said that he is now part of an elite family that George Steinbrenner built from the top down.
“And I was only there for 3 months,” Hairston said. “One thing they always say is that if you win as a Yankee, you’re a Yankee for life.”
Hairston said that when he came to the Yankees last year, he had heard some things about the organization-some good some bad. But just being around the clubhouse and some of the players who knew Steinbrenner well, he learned some new things about him.
“Obviously he wasn’t popular with the way he treated players in the 70′s and 80′s, and he eventually got banned for it for 3 years,” Hairston said, obviously referring to the incident he had with Dave Winfield and other conflicts he had over the years.
“But what I’ve heard, when he came back, he came back a changed man. He always wanted to win, but the way he treated his players he treated them differently. I know guys like Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera are very fond of him and the way he used to talk about Mr. Steinbrenner…I know today they’re very saddened.”
And while Steinbrenner’s appearances had dwindled over the past several years, Hairston got to see firsthand how the Yankees organization treated their own, and he was told by his fellow teammates that these luxuries were due to the work that Steinbrenner had put in over the years to make sure he had the best product on the field for his players and the fans.
“Without question, they treat their players better than any organization that I’ve been with. If you ask for one thing, there’s three of it in your locker the next day. If I needed something done, they have two guys on the spot ready to help you…whether it’s something with you car, something with your family, they want you to have no excuse for performing on the field. The way they treat their players is none like any other team I’ve been with.”
And that brings that back full circle. It was George Steinbrenner who once said “Winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing.” Hairston saw that determination instilled in the Yankee way as soon as he came on board, and he knows that desire to win will not end with the death of George Steinbrenner.
“Without question, every organization I’ve been on, they want to win. The Yankees expect to win, and that’s a big difference. The way they go about their business; obviously its very very serious,” he said.
Hairston got to deal with Steinbrenner’s sons-Hal and Hank( who took over baseball ownership operations from their dad in 2008)-on a more frequent basis, but he could see right off the bat that the two Steinbrenner sons did not fall far from the tree. And yet, they may also have some of the more patient traits that their father lacked at times.
“But in recent years, they’ve really enjoyed the game of baseball as a whole, and it really starts with Hal and Hank. Obviously they have the same fire as their father has, but they may go about it a little differently. I think they’re a little more compassionate with their players.”
But Hairston made it clear to Rex Snider that Hank and Hal Steinbrenner still have that same desire to win as George. That part of George isn’t lacking in these two, and their desire to keep things status quo is the right idea.
“Hank and Hal are the sons of George and aware of what his legacy is, and he what he meant to the New York Yankees. George bought a franchise that was really struggling in 1973, and really made it into the Yankees that they are today. They always want to respect the Yankee tradition, the “Yankee Way”. Without question, even though Mr. Steinbrenner has passed away, Hal and Hank will definitely continue on the tradition.”
And in the end, that’s what made George Steinbrenner great. While some of his actions over the years may seem selfish and seemed like it was for personal gain, Hairston said that you only need to take a look at the Yankee franchise as a whole and ask any Yankee fan or player how they were treated during their experience playing in pinstripes or watching a game in Yankee Stadium over the last 38 years.
And it didn’t take long for Hairston to buy into that. It only took him 90 days capped off by a World Series title.
“I was only there for half a season, but just the impact with the way they treated their fans. They always wanted to make sure they had the best product on the field for their fans. And I think the fans really appreciated the Steinbrenners for that. That’s why the Yankees have a tremendous following.
“Obviously with the tradition is like no other in all of sports, if you ask any Yankee fan today, ‘did your owner do whatever it took for your team to win?’, I would say overwhelmingly close to 100 percent would say that George Steinbrenner did that for the Yankees.”
Stay tuned in to WNST and WNST.net for more coverage regarding the death of one of baseball’s most well-known owners, George Steinbrenner. WNST-We Never Stop Talking!