The softer side of George Steinbrenner

July 12, 2010 - Bronx, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - epa02247395 A sign commemorating the death of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner is seen outside of Yankees Stadium in the Bronx, New York, USA, on 13 July 2010. Steinbrenner died of a heart attack this morning in Tampa, Florida at the age of 80.

Whether you love or hate the Yankees, or whether you came to respect or loathe George Steinbrenner, it’s hard not to appreciate the kind of man he was after you read the story below from the New York Daily News.

According to the paper, Steinbrenner once donated $13,000 to the family of a second-grader named Lorraine Blakely (now 40), who almost died after a freak accident in 1977. Steinbrenner only had one condition if he were to help: That the family could not discuss what he had gave them.

“It just shows what a good man he was,” Blakely said Wednesday at her Lake Ronkonkoma, L.I., home. “He didn’t want any notoriety for it. He was just doing it out of the goodness of his heart.”

Steinbrenner, despite a deserved reputation for bluster and bullying, often hid his softer side and philanthropic works: helping the kids of slain cops, funding hospitals, aiding terminally ill children.

And rescuing 7-year-old Lorraine after her skull was fractured by a flying chunk of wood in a botched Fire Department demonstration on Oct. 12, 1977.

Three hours of emergency surgery saved her life, but a chunk of the bone protecting her brain was gone – forcing her to don a hockey helmet around the clock.

A delicate four-hour operation was needed to implant a plastic plate across her skull.

That’s when Steinbrenner stepped to the plate, sending a limousine to bring the little girl and her parents to a meeting, where he handed over the check.

“It was a bit of an intimidating situation for me,” she recalled. “But when I got there he was so kind – one of the nicest people you could ever meet.”

The May 1978 surgery was a success, the Steinbrenner money helped pay the bills and the little girl grew up with her secret – a promise held so tightly that she never even called The Boss to say thank you.

But she never forgot his generosity or gentle demeanor.

“It gave me a chance in life,” she said. “It means a lot. Especially now, as a mother with children, to know what that must mean.”

Some people often say that wealthy athletes or people in sports don’t do enough for the underprivileged. But here’s a perfect example that there are a lot of good people in this world who are willing and able to do something out of the kindness of their hearts. Steinbrenner clearly didn’t want any notoriety for this and he couldn’t have known that after he died, Blakely was going to share her secret.

He may have pissed you off when the Yankees signed a free agent that your team was going after, or you may always root against the Bombers because they “buy all of their players.” But sports mean nothing in the grand scheme of things and when you push baseball and the Yankees to the side for a moment, George Steinbrenner was a good person.

And stories like the one above are what he should be remembered for.

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