NEW YORK — George Steinbrenner's 35-year reign as boss of the New York Yankees ended Thursday when he passed control of baseball's most famous team to his youngest son, Hal.
The elder Steinbrenner has gradually withdrawn from the Yankees' day-to-day operations in recent years, and brothers Hal and Hank were appointed co-chairmen in April.
"I realize it's a great responsibility," said Hal Steinbrenner, who turns 40 on Dec. 3. "My dad is, needless to say, a tough act to follow."
George Steinbrenner, now 78, headed a group that bought the club in January 1973 for an $8.7 million net price and became one of the most high-profile owners in all of sports. He dominated the back pages of New York's tabloids, earning the nickname "The Boss" as he spent lavishly on players and changed managers 20 times during his first 23 years as owner, feuding with Billy Martin, Yogi Berra and Dave Winfield.
The Yankees regained their former glory, winning six World Series titles and 10 American League pennants from 1976-2003. They also have transformed themselves into a billion-dollar business that owns a cable television network and food concession company and is preparing to move into a $1.3 billion new Yankee Stadium next year.
Steinbrenner is baseball's longest-serving current owner, but has been in declining health following fainting spells that required hospitalization in December 2003 and October 2006.
His speech in public has been halting and weak since the second fall, and he has needed assistance when walking. He delivered the balls for the ceremonial first pitches from a golf cart at July's All-Star game at Yankee Stadium, then stayed home in Florida to watch the 85-year-old park's final game on television in September.
Baseball owners unanimously approved the change in control during a meeting Thursday.
"He's been slowing down the last couple years," Hal Steinbrenner said. "Really, for the last two years I have been intimately involved with all aspects and all departments of the company. It's what I've been doing day-to-day. My duties aren't really going to change and my workload isn't going to change much. So, I mean, it's as much a procedural thing within the family, I think, as anything at this point."
While the 51-year-old Hank has spoken out publicly far more than his brother in the past year, Hal was at Yankee Stadium much more frequently than his brother. Hal is responsible for financial operations of the club, and Hank oversees General Manager Brian Cashman and the baseball operations.
"I'm not going to ask the people in the family why they picked one against the other," said baseball commissioner Bud Selig, who visited Steinbrenner in Tampa, Fla., before Game 2 of the World Series last month. "I get enough trouble as commissioner. I don't need to get into family squabbles."
Major League Baseball said George Steinbrenner requested the change in control be made. George Steinbrenner retains his title as the team's chairman.