George Steinbrenner passes on at the age of 80 on July 13, 2010.
Moments after his life ends, he feels himself gliding through a long, dark tunnel. There’s a light at the end of it, and he feels irreversibly drawn to it. Only it’s not a golden light: it’s a red light. A burning red light. As he grows closer, he can see it’s a raging inferno, like a neighborhood in the Bronx burning down in a riot.
He slides out of the tunnel and finds himself dumped in a room that looks like a major league baseball clubhouse. It’s empty, save for a card table in the middle of it. “I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive" by Hank Williams is echoing from the PA system. An old-fashioned Coke machine with bottles hums and sweats in the corner.
At the card table sits a being who is obviously Satan, just as depicted for centuries: a large, red man with yellow eyes, black hair, goatee and horns sprouting from his forehead. He has a tail, cloven hooves and is swathed in a long red cape. The only strange touch: he wears a New York Mets cap jauntily arranged to keep his horns showing.
Satan is playing poker with a rail-thin, dark-haired, middle-aged man in a mustard-stained tank top, a pair of white boxer shorts with hearts, stirrup socks and baseball cleats. The man has a cigarette in his card-holding hand, and a can of Billy beer in the other. It’s Steinbrenner’s old friend/nemesis, Billy Martin.
Billy: (blows a smoke ring and glances over at Steinbrenner on the floor) Well, well, well. Look what the cat dragged in.
Satan snickers and wags his tail.
Steinbrenner: Billy, what the. I was just napping in my hospital bed a few minutes ago. What in the hell is going on here?
Billy Martin: You got it. Hell is going on here. You’ve gone to hell, George. I’ve been waiting for you.
Satan: So have I.
Steinbrenner: What do you mean “hell”? This can’t be hell. I like the clubhouse. I can even live with the Mets hat.
Satan: This is hell. You own this place. The clubhouse. The team. The stadium. If you walk around outside, it will look a lot like Pittsburgh. You now own the Pittsburgh Pirates. Any good players you have came up through your farm system and leave once their contracts expire. You can no longer afford to buy the best. Your family owns a string of kielbasa restaurants in western Pennsylvania. Your team lost tonight to the Houston Astros, 7-2. Attendance was 8,531. Billy is your manager, and you can’t fire him.
Steinbrenner: Christ. This really is hell.
Satan: Come. Sit at our table. We can deal you in on the next hand.
Billy crushes his beer can and throws it over his shoulder.
Billy: Christ, I can’t stand this shit. It’s warm as piss, too. Can’t you ever get Budweiser down here?
Satan: You know warm Billy beer is part of your hell. We save the Budweiser for sinners who love good imported beer. Besides, you have the same name.
Billy: Don’t remind me. I got drunk with that asshole once in Texarkana in 1979. There was something weird about that boy. He smelled like turpentine and had his own Secret Service agent. Kept chasing my dog around the yard. Shit, Satan, give me the Belgian beer for once, you know the only beer I like is Bud.
Satan smiled at Billy, knowing who ruled here. Just then, Richard Nixon came through the clubhouse door.
Nixon: George! Old buddy, how are you?
Steinbrenner: Oh my God. Dick. Dick Nixon! You’re here, too?
Nixon: Where else would I be? All politicians go to hell. Well, in reality, all lawyers go directly to hell, and most politicians are lawyers by default.
Steinbrenner: But we were good men in our lives. We did so much good for the world.
Nixon: Don’t I know it, George, don’t I know it, but not everyone can see things the way we do. I never got to thank you for the campaign contributions in ’72. I know you caught hell over those, but I’ve never forgotten.
Steinbrenner: You showed them, though, didn’t you, Mr. Nixon. Crushed McGovern and all those hippies. The day you won that election, I put right up there with any of my World Series wins. What do you do down here?
Nixon: Well, I, uh, don’t like to talk about it.
Satan: He’s Bella Abzug’s campaign manager and sex slave. She’s down here, too.
Steinbrenner: (grimacing) Oh, dear lord. Oh, that’s so harsh. Mr. Nixon, I don’t know what to say.
Nixon: Don’t say anything, George. I don’t want to talk about it.
Steinbrenner: What do we do here?
Satan: This is it.
Steinbrenner: What do you mean “this is it”?
Satan: Some sinners get chased around lakes of fire by one-eyed demons. Some roll boulders up huge hills only to have them roll back down and crush them for eternity. But for our special sinners, like you, we give you a special kind of hell. When you’re here long enough, we allow you to walk around and be part of other people’s hells. So you know you’re not alone.
Billy: George, I lose to the fuckin’ Astros 7-2 every night then get puking drunk on Billy beer.
Nixon: And Bella beats her Republican opponent in New York state every night, then makes passionate love to me in the coat room at the campaign after party. Believe you me, it’s no picnic for her either.
Satan: Mr. Nixon, you know full well you earned your place in hell.
Nixon: So I took a few short cuts.
Steinbrenner: Don’t you do stuff like sit in a theater and watch the movie of your life play out?
Satan: Even I have a heart. That would be hell for everyone. You don’t realize how much time you spend on the toilet and sleeping. You really want to sit in a movie theater and watch that? My ass gets sore if I have to sit and watch a three-hour movie, much less an 80-year long one. Yours does, too.
Steinbrenner: I see your point. But why not a highlights reel?
Satan: Because, Mr. Steinbrenner, hell is not This Week in Baseball, and I’m not here to please you. You work for me here. And I don’t take requests, unless they’re to make some other sinner’s time here more harsh.
Steinbrenner: I’m not the kind who takes orders from anyone!
Satan: (laughing) Oh, I’ll never give you any orders. I’ll just give you this illusion and make you repeat it for eternity. Yell and scream if you want. Make threats. Try not to do it. But you will do this every day and night here. Your office only has a beat-up window fan, and it’s always 87 degrees with 75% humidity. You thought Billy gave you a hard time in New York with a great team? Try it in Pittsburgh with a team batting average of .241 in a stadium where you can hear drunks in the upper level shouting obscenities in Polish at the players.
Steinbrenner: Right off the bat, I have to ask. How do I get to heaven?
Satan, Billy Martin and Richard Nixon erupt in a blaze of laughter, doubling over and slapping each other on the back.
Steinbrenner: What’s so funny?
Billy: George, man, don’t you get it? It doesn’t matter what we thought of ourselves when we were alive. Even Hitler thought he was a great guy. You’re here for a reason. Probably a lot of reasons. I know I am. And you have all the time in the world to think about them. After awhile, it all sinks in.
Steinbrenner: No. This can’t be. There must be some mistake.
Nixon: Take it easy, George, we’re not going to pull a congressional committee on you. We’re not here to judge. We’re all just doing our time. I have no idea what heaven must be like.
Satan: I do. It’s over-rated. Why do you think I left?
Steinbrenner: Well, if it’s so over-rated, why not let me go there instead?
Satan: Mr. Steinbrenner, understand I rule down here. But I’m not running the whole show. Much as I hate Him, I answer to God. We all do. He sent you here. All I did was open the door and let you in.
Steinbrenner: Can I talk to God? You know, I talked to Him all the time when I was alive. In prayer. Or just when I needed help. I know He was listening.
Billy: Well, you must have called Him an asshole or something, because here you are.
The PA system starts to play “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by The Charlie Daniels Band. George gets a glimmer in his eye and sits down at the card table with Billy Martin, Richard Nixon and Satan.
Steinbrenner: Satan, I have a proposition for you.
Satan: Wouldn’t be the first one I’ve heard or the last. Go on.
Steinbrenner: What if we had a poker tournament, right here, right now, and if I win, you let me talk to God.
Satan: And if one of us wins?
Steinbrenner: You decide. Make me go to Woodstock for eternity. Give me the Cleveland Indians to run, and make Abbie Hoffman the coach. I don’t care. Just give me the chance.
Billy: Satan, don’t listen to him. The man’s a born liar. I know you’re good, but you might lose.
Satan: Billy, you know I never lose.
Billy: That’s the truth. Only thing I think about when we play is how close I can get to winning without it ever happening.
Satan: I’ll take you up on this wager, Mr. Steinbrenner, but understand you will lose. I’m not even worried about introducing you to God. It won’t happen. And even if I did, more than likely, He would tell you why you’re here and be done with you.
Steinbrenner: Just keep your word, Satan. If I’m lucky enough to beat you, you let me worry about God and what to say. If I can sit in a conference room with Reggie Jackson and Billy Martin screaming their heads off and come out on top, nothing scares me after that.
Billy: (burps, opens another Billy beer) Fuckin’ A.
… the scene fades out as Nixon and Steinbrenner pull up their fold-out metal chairs to the card table and Satan shuffles the deck of cards.
… fade back in through a white cloud. A celestial choir. Through the mist, Billy Martin appears, dressed as he was in hell, save he now wears a Yankee’s cap. He’s sitting at a small rectangular white desk on a cloud, in front of large set of silver gates. He’s drinking a can of Budweiser. An elderly woman appears through the cloud and approaches Billy.
The Woman: Who are you? Am I in heaven?
Billy: Who the fuck are you? That is the question, mama. Who the fuck are you?
Disembodied voice: Billy! Language! You know not to speak like that to angels.
Billy: (mumbling) California fuckin’ Angels, should have kicked Jim Fregosi's ass when I had the chance.
The sound of footsteps. It’s George Steinbrenner, in a white suit, and he appears through the gates behind Billy Martin, opening the gates.
Steinbrenner: You’ll have to forgive, Billy, ma’am, he’s still a little rough around the edges. I just traded Mother Teresa and St. Peter to Satan for Billy, $500,000 in cash and a soul to be named later. He’s still learning the ropes here.
The Woman: Is this heaven?
Steinbrenner: Yes, this is heaven. When you pass through these gates, you’ll transform to the best you ever looked in your life, remember only happy times and be reunited with everyone else here that you knew in life. This is heaven!
The Woman: (weeping) Oh, thank God!
Steinbrenner: And me, too, George Steinbrenner!
The Woman: I wasn’t expecting anyone famous to meet me here.
Steinbrenner: Well, I’ve only been here a few days.
The Woman: But you died a few weeks ago, didn’t you? Where were you?
Steinbrenner: Well, long story short, I went to hell. I didn’t like hell. Hell was the worst thing you could imagine for yourself, repeated for eternity. I don’t want to talk about it. But when I was in hell, I challenged Satan to a game of poker with the stipulation that if I won, I could talk to God. Well, we played for two weeks straight, and in the end, I had Satan down to a pair of underpants and an IOU for a ’57 Chevy. So, he got mad, and made a lot of noise, but in the end, he let me talk to God.
The Woman: Have you seen God?
Steinbrenner: No. No one ever does. But you can talk to Him. And up here, He’ll answer you. So I talked to Him. Explained my situation. That I had done a lot of wrong things in my life. Really turned the game of baseball into a mess. Treated many of my underlings with extreme disrespect. But at the end of the day, the good outweighed the bad. And I should have gone to heaven, not hell, there must have been some kind of mistake.
The Woman: And what did God say?
Steinbrenner: He said no.
The Woman: So, why are you here?
Steinbrenner: Well, we kept on talking, and God was pretty straightforward in telling me He was tired of running heaven by Himself. Needed some help in the logistics: concessions, budgeting, the ability to shift around key personnel to suit their skill set. I told Him that if He let me run heaven for a year – not the heavy stuff, just the numbers – and it worked out, I could stay and not go back to hell. I could also trade souls with Satan at my own discretion, as He had heard of my acquisition skills and greatly admired them.
The Woman: You’re not going to trade me to Satan are you?
Steinbrenner: Oh, no, I’d never do anything like that.
Billy (whispering to the woman behind his hand): You better get that in writing.
Steinbrenner: Billy, open the gates. Let this kind woman in. She’s earned her way into heaven. Come on in.
The gates swing open, and the old woman enters heaven, magically transforming to a beautiful, raven-haired woman of 23 in a white robe. The heavenly choir breaks into “New York, New York.” In the distance a silhouette appears behind a cloud: the outline of Richard Nixon.
Richard Nixon: Checkers! Here, Checkers! Come here, boy. Pat, help me find Checkers!
The gates swing shut, and Billy Martin is left alone with his can of Bud. He lights another cigarette and stares off into the distance.
Billy: Fuckin’ Satan was right.