This anecdote, like so many others about Stanley Freeman Druckenmiller, involves sports, money and rarefied ambition. He's at a Yankees game with a longtime pal and fellow Wall Street brawler Jimmy Dunne III, when the topic turns to those players in the pinstripes.
They must have been losing that day, 10 or so years ago, because Mr. Dunne turns and says: "Druck, why don't you just buy the Yankees and turn this thing around?"
Joe Fan to Joe Fan, this is wishful banter, club cellar fantasy. Jimmy Dunne to Stan Druckenmiller -- one of the richest men in the United States -- and now it's more than mere fancy. Now it's possible. You have $3.5 billion at your disposal, and suddenly, lots of things are possible.
Except it's impossible.
"I would never, ever think about doing that," Mr. Druckenmiller replies, according to Mr. Dunne's recollection.
"Now the Steelers -- that would be a different story."
There are plenty more stories. Like the one about the adolescent who would show up at his mother's New Jersey home, pockets full of loose change that he had won by gambling with sailors on the train ride north from Virginia. Or the one about the boy who would spin around the neighborhood on his bicycle, proclaiming to anyone who would listen, "I'm gonna be a millionaire someday."
Or the one about the college student who, while attending Bowdoin in Brunswick, Maine, bought and ran a hot dog stand to make some extra cash. Or the one about the hotshot Pittsburgh National Bank analyst who once lost a month's salary betting on a basketball game (his employer lent him the money to pay the debt, but gave it to him in small bills, the bank's way of telling him to maybe bet a little smarter next time).
The Stanley Druckenmiller we know, relatively speaking, is the one who emerged from Bowdoin, dropped out of graduate school, married his college sweetheart in Pittsburgh in 1976, catapulted through various research and leadership posts at PNB, and in 1980 (the same year he and his first wife filed for divorce) left the bank to build his own investment firm, Duquesne Capital Management.
He was 28 at the time. What follows is Wall Street legend. By 1986, he's at Dreyfus, the big investment house. By 1988, he's sidekick to investment wizard George Soros and remarried to securities analyst Fiona Biggs. All the while, he's still running his own Duquesne fund, racking up gains of 30, 40 percent a year or more. Twenty years later, he's a billionaire and philanthropist -- home in the Hamptons, home in Florida, place in Manhattan, golf nut, three lovely teen daughters, one lovely wife, and thinking about buying the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Rooney family, which controls the Steelers, is under pressure from the National Football League to restructure. On the table now are offers from Mr. Druckenmiller and Dan Rooney, who runs the team but owns only a part of it.
If Mr. Druckenmiller takes control, Steelers fans hoping for another lovable loser, a cigar-champing racetrack junkie, a pug boxer, son of Irish Catholic immigrants -- well, they'll be disappointed. His dad (Stanley T. Druckenmiller, who died in 2005) was a 37-year veteran of Dupont, trained in chemical engineering. Mom (Anne, still living in New Jersey) had a brain for stocks and investments. It was a typical middle-class upbringing, in the Philadelphia suburbs, until mom and dad split when Stan was still in early elementary school.
His sisters, Helen and Salley, would stay with their mother, Stan would live with his father, first in Gibbstown, N.J., then in Richmond, Va.
Like many youths, Stan occupied his spare hours with sports, throwing a no-hitter in Little League and soon falling in love with golf, a sport passed down by both his father and his mother, a club champion with four holes-in-one to her name.
"He spent much of his childhood in Richmond building little miniature golf courses in the woods," said older sister Helen Skelly. "Ramps and everything." He was intensely competitive. It's not just golf. Badminton, bocce, and those card games when he was younger; on the train rides from Virginia at 11 or 12, poker in college.
Now, he makes his big gambles during the daylight hours -- or into the evening if he's playing the Asian markets. He might bet the caddy's fee or a box of cigars -- even though he doesn't smoke them -- on a round of golf, but friends say the days of cards and gambling with sailors on trains, are behind him (Mr. Druckenmiller, now 55, said through a PR agent that he hasn't played poker in 20 years).
But that doesn't mean he's any less competitive. "He takes his golf very seriously," joked Geoffrey Canada, head of the Harlem Children's Zone, one of Mr. Druckenmiller's pet charities. Mr. Canada, a duffer, won't golf with his friend and fellow Bowdoin alum, because, he says, "I want to stay friends."
Hey, he's a busy guy. A nine-handicap and a member at Oakmont Country Club, he lays down the bag for weeks or months at a time because of his schedule, but picks up right where he left off, swinging the driver swiftly, tightly, compactly, getting nice distance courtesy of that 6-foot-5 frame.
He golfs fast. He eats fast ("Like a man going to the chair," says Mr. Dunne). He thinks fast, always a beat ahead, always processing. "He takes what's going on in the world and distills it" into something the rest of us can understand, said retired commodities broker Sam Reeves, a friend who has accompanied Mr. Druckenmiller on his occasional golf trips to Ireland.
He's prompt. He tries to exercise regularly. He hates Diet Coke: "You ever see a skinny guy drinking a Diet Coke?" he'll ask his friends. And about that hot dog stand at Bowdoin -- he operated it with Larry Lindsey, former economic policy adviser to President Bush.
"If I had stuck with that stand, I'm sure I would have made a lot more money than I made otherwise," Mr. Lindsey told a columnist in 2002.
The same words keep popping up when you ask people what they know about Stanley Druckenmiller: Brilliant. Polite. Humble. Family man. Loyal. Private -- almost shy, and occasionally awkward. He doesn't like it when people talk about him to the news media, and several people contacted for this story asked if the interview had been OK'd by Mr. Druckenmiller beforehand.
"There should be a new word for how private he is," said one friend, a money manager. Said another: "He doesn't need to be the center of attention. He doesn't want to be the center of attention." Said Mr. Canada: "There is absolutely nothing that I think could have Stan leave this private lifestyle that he has led [and] expose himself to the public eye -- except for the Pittsburgh Steelers."
Would a man who has guarded his privacy so carefully -- not just because he likes it that way, but because he wants his three daughters to live unaffected lives -- be ready for all those television close-ups? For the press conferences?
For the hundreds of thousands of fans calling him a cheapskate for letting that free agent get away?
Friends wonder what kind of owner he would make. Would he delegate? Or would he like to steer the ship?
"He's definitely a hands-on guy," said E. Lee Hennessee, head of Hennessee Investments, who has known Mr. Druckenmiller since the mid-1980s.
She expects him to stay that way, because why monkey with a good thing? "Everything he's ever touched has been successful," she said. But others say he'd be content to hire a talented management team and let them run the operation, mainly because it's tough to imagine him ever giving up his day job and moving from New York.
Besides "private," the word one hears most is "generous." There are no hospitals with his name on the side because Mr. Druckenmiller tends to be more discreet than that. For every $36 million contribution to Bowdoin or well-known connection to the Harlem Children's Zone, there's the quiet bankrolling of the Hamptons Shakespeare Festival (little-known fact: Mr. Druckenmiller acted in a couple plays, not Shakespeare, in college), or The New York Stem Cell Foundation; checks made out to Rice High School in Harlem, the Spence School in Manhattan, the Institute of International Education.
And sometimes, in addition to giving money, he gives his time and advice to friends who need it. Mr. Dunne's firm, Sandler O'Neill & Partners, was headquartered on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center, tower two. Eighty-eight people were working there on Sept. 11, 2001, and only 22 of them made it out alive that morning.
They had to rebuild a company from the ground up. No records. No computers. Half of a work force. Sixty-six funerals in a matter of weeks. Mr. Druckenmiller seeded a fund that would benefit the children and widows of the traders who died in the attacks, and sat on an advisory committee that would guide a ravaged Sandler O'Neill through its long recovery.
"I was working literally around the clock then, [and] Druck would come over a couple days a week, late," Mr. Dunne says, and insist that he get some exercise, that he move from his desk.
"He would literally walk me home," he said, words soft and shaky. "He helped get me out of the office, and get me home."
It's one of his favorite stories.
Bill Toland can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-2625.