It must have been quite a scene Tuesday in the Yankees’ wing of baseball heaven. I could just imagine the reaction of the cherubim and seraphim as Bob Sheppard formally announced to the eternal “Boss” the arrival of “The Boss.”

It must have been quite a scene Tuesday in the Yankees’ wing of baseball heaven.

I could just imagine the reaction of the cherubim and seraphim as Bob Sheppard formally announced to the eternal “Boss” the arrival of “The Boss.”

It’s been a sad three days for Yankees fans with Sunday’s death of longtime public address announcer Bob Sheppard and Tuesday’s passing of owner George Steinbrenner.

For Yankees fans, Steinbrenner is our savior, our Moses, the one who led us to the promised land.

The most excruciating time for a Yankees fan is the Dark Ages from 1965 through 1975, unaffectionately known as the “Horace Clarke Years.” For more than a decade, the Yankees won nothing – nothing.

Then along comes George. Only three years after he buys the team for $10 million (the Yankees now are worth $1.6 billion, according to Forbes), the Yankees won the American League pennant on a home run by Chris Chambliss, and then won World Series championships in 1977 and 1978.

George Steinbrenner saved the world’s best-known franchise. He also changed the face of sports.

Beginning in the early 1970s, my best friends Gary LaBella and Angelo Brindisi and I began making our yearly pilgrimages to Yankee Stadium. We lived through the lean years and rejoiced like little kids when the Yankees were winners again.

“He single-handedly changed the mindset of the Yankees after the Horace Clarke years,” said Brindisi, 57, of Chadwicks, N.Y. “The Yankees are who they are because of him. His drive and determination to win was second to none.”

LaBella, 56, is originally from Utica, N.Y., and lives in Arlington, Va. He heard the news about Steinbrenner’s passing in Los Angeles, where he watched Tuesday’s All-Star Game.

“We went through our small period of torture, and it was hell,” LaBella said. “He did so much for the Yankees. He turned the team around in the post-Mantle years. … He’s the reason the Yankees are back to their glory years."

Steinbrenner changed the face of baseball. He was the first owner to take full advantage of free agency, luring superstars such as Catfish Hunter and Reggie Jackson to the Bronx.

“Nothing was too good for the fans of New York to put a winner on the field whatever it cost,” Brindisi said. “The scrutiny he faced for buying championships. Everyone else had the opportunity to do it but chose not to.”

But, LaBella said, money doesn’t win championships – brains do.

“For anyone who thinks it’s easy just because you spend money, look down the road at the New York Knicks. Money doesn’t buy championships. You must be smart.”

That was then. Today, most successful franchises in all major sports spend boatloads of cash for the best players (witness the LeBron James telethon last week). Their goal is the same as Steinbrenner’s – win championships. George did it first and has done it better than everyone else.

“He never backed down from a challenge,” Brindisi said. “He made other owners like him. If you don’t open your wallet you’re going to lose.”

Things always weren’t perfect with King George. The Yankees of the 1980s and early ‘90s were a conglomeration of overpriced, washed-up former superstars (not counting Don Mattlingly). It was embarrassing as The Boss fired manager after manager after manager (Billy Martin the most famous whipping boy).

Steinbrenner also had his own personal and legal issues that have been well documented, even losing control of the Bronx Bombers for a time.

Steinbrenner probably was at his best in the last 14 years when he allowed the baseball people of the Yankees to run the show while he wrote the checks. It’s been a great run for Yankees’ fans with seven American League pennants and five World Series championships.

Steinbrenner’s legacy is such that winning a division or the pennant is not enough– the Yankees must win the World Series.

We’ll take the pressure of winning it all, though. Every year, and I mean every year, the Yankees are a contender, and that’s because of George Steinbrenner.

I didn’t like George too much in the 1980s because of the terrible soap opera the Yankees had become. I felt bad for him over the last few years as I watched the once irascible owner deteriorate. I miss him now. He made my team what every fan wants their team to be – a winner.

“There’s no question he is the greatest owner in team sports of all time,” LaBella said. “He definitely deserves the Baseball Hall of Fame. I hope the Yankees are building a monument for him in Monument Park.”

So, today, I’m picturing baseball heaven. George and Billy sitting at a barroom table with Miller Lites. “Less filling … tastes great,” they argue with sheepish grins.

But there is no arguing that George M. Steinbrenner III stands out among all owners in all sports. He set the new standard, and there’s no going back.

As my friend Gary said, “He was an unbelievable force in sports. He was one of the most influential men of the century.”

Amen.

Contact Observer-Dispatch writer Fran Perritano at fperritano@uticaod.com