By RONALD BLUM
AP Baseball Writer
NEW YORK -- For more than three decades, George Steinbrenner's imprints were all over the New York Yankees.
Blockbuster trades, pricey signings, hirings, firings -- they all needed his OK.
The omnipresent owner's colorful 35-year reign of pronouncements, threats and bluster ended Thursday when he passed control of baseball's most famous and successful franchise to his youngest son, Hal.
"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."
The elder Steinbrenner has gradually withdrawn from the Yankees' day-to-day operations in recent years as his health faded, and brothers Hal and Hank were appointed co-chairmen in April.
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 transformed themselves into a sports empire 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 was baseball's longest-serving current owner, but has cut back his role with the team 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. From a golf cart, he delivered the balls for the ceremonial first pitches 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, ending an era in which Steinbrenner became the team's defining image as much as Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio did in earlier eras.
"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."
Hal Steinbrenner shuns attention as much as his father craved it. But while 51-year-old Hank has become the public voice of the team's ownership in the past year, Hal was at Yankee Stadium far 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."
Steinbrenner's tenure was twice interrupted by lengthy bans from baseball (1974-76 and 1990-93), but it was widely believed he still made the final decisions during those periods.
Major League Baseball said Steinbrenner requested the change in control be made, and the Yankees said Hank Steinbrenner voted in favor of it. George Steinbrenner retains his title as the team's chairman and his wife, Joan, is a vice chairperson along with their daughters, Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal and Jessica Steinbrenner.
Before Hal, each son-in-law of the owner emerged as heir apparents, only to divorce the owner's daughters and depart the team.
Joe Molloy, married to Jessica Steinbrenner, was a general partner from 1992-97. Steve Swindal, married to Jennifer Steinbrenner, was a general partner from 1998-06, then became chairman of Yankee Global Enterprises LLC, the team's holding company. He was publicly designated by George Steinbrenner as his successor in June 2005 but Swindal departed after his driving under the influence arrest early on Feb. 15, 2007.
Hal Steinbrenner became more active in the team's operations following Swindal's arrest.
"George is still going to be involved," Yankees president Randy Levine said. "This is really just a codification, with the commissioner's help and input, of what's been going on the last several years."