Carl “Stump” Merrill is in his 34th year in the New York Yankees’ organization.
The former University of Maine football and baseball star said Tuesday the death of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner has left a “real hollow feeling” in him.
Steinbrenner died of a massive heart attack Tuesday at the age of 80.
“To be honest with you, I feel like I lost a family member even though I never had that personal relationship with him that you’d have with a family member,” said Merrill, who managed for Steinbrenner at every level including a two-year stint with the Yankees.
Although Steinbrenner may be depicted as a tough taskmaster, Merrill said he also cared about people.
“I was having some trouble with my eye [blood in his retina] and I was going to have surgery at Ohio State,” recalled Merrill, who was managing the Columbus Clippers in the AAA International League at the time. “George told me I wasn’t going there. I was going to go to Miami and have it done. That was the best place around [to have eye surgery]. And I didn’t have to wait when I got there, either.”
“Regardless of the image painted of him, he was a caring person in an awful lot of ways. He was very generous,” said Merrill. “He gave money to a lot of different things and he didn’t want people to know about it.”
The 66-year-old Merrill, who is a special assistant to Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, replaced Bucky Dent, who was fired in June of 1990, and managed the Yankees for the rest of that season and the entire 1991 campaign before being fired.
“But George didn’t fire me. He had been suspended by the league,” pointed out Merrill. “I would have rather been fired by the guy who hired me. That’s not to say he wouldn’t have fired me. But I don’t think he would have allowed the team to be as weak as we were at that time. That may or may not have had a bearing on my outcome.”
Merrill’s Yankee teams went 120-155.
Merrill admitted Steinbrenner was a very demanding person but said, “You knew that early on. Until you earned your stripes, he was somewhat intimidating. He wanted it that way.
“He respected you more if you stood up to him rather than cow-tailing. It was also a way for him to get a reading on the type of person you were,” said Merrill.
Merrill said if you stood up to him, “you’d better pick your spots [when to do it]. You didn’t want to do it in a crowd. You didn’t want to show him up.”
What made him different from a lot of owners, according to Merrill, was that he respected the opinions of his personnel.
“When he asked you something, he wanted your opinion. It was very important to him. A lot of people in baseball don’t want your opinion, they just want you to reinforce their opinion,” said Merrill.
Merrill said Steinbrenner had a “phenomenal passion to win” and he feels the same way.
“As long as they keep score, winning is important,” said Merrill.
“That’s probably one of the reasons I’ve survived 34 years. I knew what he stood for. I knew what he was. Our philosophy at the minor league level is we want to develop players and win,” said Merrill. “We can do both. But a lot of organizations don’t preach that.”
Merrill said Steinbrenner has “done a lot for the game of baseball and for other organizations and look at where TV has gone because of him. He was way ahead of his time.”
Steinbrenner had been ill for several years and Merrill said he was pleased the Yankees were able to provide him with his seventh World Series championship last season.
“I obviously wish he had been able to be his old self and been able to enjoy it the way I would have liked to have seen him enjoy it.” Merrill said.