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Steinbrenner relished wacky depiction on Seinfeld

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Even if you never watched a baseball game in your life, there was a pretty good chance you were well acquainted with George Steinbrenner, the 80-year-old New York Yankees owner who died on Tuesday.

New York Yankees principle owner George M. Steinbrenner (R) sits with New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani during the Yankees game with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in an American League game at New York's Shea Stadium, in this April 15, 1998 file photograph. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine/Files

Steinbrenner -- or at least a bumbling version of the baseball baron -- appeared on 14 episodes of “Seinfeld” as the boss of George Costanza (Jason Alexander), the assistant to the team’s traveling secretary.

The Steinbrenner double, always with his back to the camera and voiced by series co-creator Larry David -- who had fantasized as a kid about working for the Yankees -- was depicted as a nitwit with a fondness for calzones, Pat Benatar and Cuban cigar wrappers.

“(David) really created this very caricature, this very mercurial personality who’s just completely all over the place and neurotic,” star and co-creator Jerry Seinfeld later recalled.

In one episode, the Steinbrenner character opines that “(Yankees icon) Babe Ruth was nothing more than a fat old man with little-girl legs.”

He then reveals that he is wearing Lou Gehrig’s baseball pants, but takes them off after worrying that he could catch the neurological disease that killed the baseball legend. “I’m too important to this team,” he says. “Big Stein can’t be flopping and twitching.”

“If you can’t laugh at yourself, then you’re not much of a person,” Steinbrenner told Entertainment Weekly in 1997. “It also pleases my grandchildren.”

Seinfeld and David originally asked Steinbrenner to appear as himself, but he turned them down, wrongly thinking that the George character was a spoof on him. He eventually gave them the green light to use a double.

“I guess they did a pretty accurate job,” he later recalled. “Nobody likes to admit they’re quite like that, but I guess I was.”

Alas, Steinbrenner struck out with his one chance to play himself on the show. At Seinfeld’s request, he stopped by the Los Angeles set in 1996 to appear in the final episode of the seventh season -- the one where George’s fiancée dies from licking toxic envelopes.

Steinbrenner’s character offered to accompany Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) to the wedding as long as she lost a little weight. But the episode was too long -- a common problem on “Seinfeld” -- and it was cut for time. David was forced to call his idol to deliver the bad news.

Steinbrenner was actually pleased, telling Entertainment Weekly that he disapproved of the fiancée’s death scene. “I felt it was sick,” he said.

Reporting by Dean Goodman; Editing by Mohammad Zargham