Whether you liked him or not, he was a champion -- and he brought winners to New York.
Mariano Rivera laid two long-stemmed red roses across home plate. Tears filled Joe Girardi's eyes. Derek Jeter's face was flush with emotion.
As fans stood through "Taps" and a 2-minute moment of silence, the 27 World Series championship flags that George Steinbrenner cherished with all his might could be heard flapping at half-staff toward center field from the top of Yankee Stadium in the stiff breeze.
The New York Yankees celebrated the life of "The Boss" with a solemn 15-minute pregame tribute Friday night that included an vivid remembrance from Jeter, spoken to the crowd of 47,524 from behind the plate before New York beat Tampa Bay 5-4 on Nick Swisher's ninth-inning single.
Steinbrenner, the team's driving and blustery owner, died Tuesday, two days after the death of Bob Sheppard, Yankee Stadium's longtime public-address announcer. New York returned home following the All-Star break to mark what both meant to a franchise obsessed with its tradition.
"We gather here tonight to honor two men who were both shining stars in the Yankee universe," Jeter said as teammates and the Rays stood ramrod straight, caps off, in front of their dugouts. "Both men, Mr. George Steinbrenner and Mr. Bob Sheppard, cared deeply about their responsibilities to this organization and to our fans, and for that, will be forever remembered in baseball history and in our hearts."
The new ballpark, opened last year in one of Steinbrenner's final acts, could not have been quieter. Yankees executives in business suits watched somberly from behind the plate.
"Simply put," Jeter said, "Mr. Steinbrenner and Mr. Sheppard both left this organization in a much better place than when they first arrived. They've set the example for all employees of the New York Yankees to strive to follow."
Steinbrenner died of a heart attack at age 80 after 37½ years as owner of America's most famous team. Sheppard, whose elegant and booming introductions gave old Yankee Stadium its voice from 1951-07, was 99 when he died. In his honor, there were no introductions of batters during Friday night's game, and the often-obtrusive music that punctuates evenings in the Bronx went silent.
Known throughout most of his tenure for lavishing record contracts on free agents and then badgering many through front-page headlines, Steinbrenner mellowed in his final decade and became beloved for the team's success and his enormous generosity.
His funeral was scheduled for Saturday in Tampa, Fla., and was to be private. More ceremonies were to take place Saturday at Old-Timers Day, and public memorials were under discussion for later dates in Florida and New York.
Throughout the day, an impromptu tribute unfolded at the main entrance behind home plate, where the famous interlocking "NY" logo is etched in stone. Bouquets, memorial candles, newspaper clippings, hats, jerseys and souvenirs of World Series titles were placed there in tribute, along with one old baseball.
Yankees fan Peter Goldschmidt teared up.
"George was always like, for me, Santa Claus. He always brought me what I wanted," said the 46-year-old from New Milford, N.J. "Free agents, World Series championships, a new stadium. Whatever the fans wanted, he brought us."
Wreaths were placed on each side of the Steinbrenner statue inside the team office entrance in left field, and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani was among those who filed past. A wreath also was placed next to Sheppard's plaque in Monument Park, behind the center-field fence.
After heading the group that bought the team in January 1973 for $8.7 million net, Steinbrenner turned it into a $1.6 billion standard-setter for the sport and established what have become often unreachable demands. Fans emulated his desires.
"You could feel it not only from the office up above but you felt it in the crowd as well from the fans of New York," Girardi said before the ceremony. "He set up an expectation here, that getting to the playoffs wasn't good enough, getting to the World Series wasn't good enough."
During batting practice, video tributes to Steinbrenner were shown on the scoreboard along with quotes of famous Yankees praising him. Yankees players wore patches with Steinbrenner's name, initials and "The Boss" over their hearts, and ones commemorating Sheppard on their left sleeves.
"His legacy will continue because of the patch, and people will talk about him and what he meant here," Girardi said.
Yankees players learned of Steinbrenner's death Tuesday by receiving voice mails and texts.
"He always asked you for the best. He didn't want no mediocracy," Rivera said. "He wanted 100 percent or 1,000 percent that you had to give."
Before the tribute began, Frank Sinatra's rendition of "My Way" was played as streaks of fading sunlight illuminated center and right fields. Some fans held up signs.
"Thanks George," and "Thanks Boss," read two.
Steinbrenner's name filled the ribbon board on the front of the upper decks. Fans applauded when the Yankees triumphs under Steinbrenner were recounted: 16 AL East titles, 11 American League pennants and seven World Series championships. After the moment of silence, there were chants of "Lets's Go Yankees!"
Most current Yankees know only positive memories, having escaped the criticism of the younger Steinbrenner during his combustible days.
"I lost the World Series in 2001 and I never saw an angry man," Rivera said.
Still, he didn't change his pinstripes to his dying day. Andy Pettitte remembered meeting Steinbrenner for the last time during a spring-training game this year.
"It was almost like he was ignoring what I said and he just said, 'We need to score some runs tonight. We're losing right now,'" Pettitte recalled. "That was George in a nutshell. Everything was good as long as we were winning."