Back in 1998, during a resurgent year for Major League Baseball, George Steinbrenner made a decision that, while risky, would ensure the long term prosperity of the Yankees for years to come.
"He called a meeting of the board of trustees, telling us it was urgent," recalls Lonn Trost. "None of us knew what was going on. George's message was very cryptic. Something about money no longer being a factor. It didn't help that it was communicated through Howard Rubenstein."
That fateful day, George arrived fashionably late and just stood there. "Finally, Felix [Lopez] asked George what was going on," recalls the a no longer wealthy Steve Swindal. "George then motioned towards the door, and in walked these men carrying a giant mattress. It was like four king beds sown together, or maybe duct taped, I think I remember duct tape." Then came the announcement that would rock the Yankees leadership, but ultimately made the Yankees recession proof.
"We're no longer investing in the market," announced Steinbrenner, "From now on we keep our money right under this mattress."
"We all looked at each other like, 'Oh $#!%, he's finally lost it,'" recalls Randy Levine. "We wanted to replace him with Hank right there, but we weren't sure if George had lost it, we knew Hank had."
No one argued with George that day. As soon as he'd left the room, discussion of how to replace him erupted. It did not go anywhere however, as the board could not decide which off-shore shadow corporation the organization should be transferred to in order to lock out the senior Steinbrenner.
"I was very upset at the time," explained Mr. Levine. "I had all these great stock tips: Enron, WorldCom, a myriad of internet start ups. We were going to be rich. In hindsight, George saved our asses that night."
Indeed, the Yankees seemed unphased by the recession of 2001-2002, and currently are spending money like they were Bill Gates, their wife just left them, and they were hell bent on making sure half wasn't going to be worth the legal fees it would cost to collect.
"It was weird for a lot of years," said Brian Cashman. "Every time I wanted to make a deal, George would point to the mattress, which he kept in his office, and would simply say, 'ask the mattress.' Funny thing is, the mattress always said yes, so I didn't ask why George was the only one who could hear the mattress talking."
Now, with the recent signing of Mark Teixeira, in addition to CC Sabbathia and AJ Burnett, it is clear that the mattress policy has paid off. The Yankees have money to burn, meanwhile the rest of baseball whines and moans about how they can't get credit and how their investments have gone belly up. Amazingly, it was one simple yet faithful decision that lead to all of this. A decision, and a mattress.
Many Bothan spies contributed to this article.