George Steinbrenner's 17 1/2-year reign as The Boss ended yesterday in typically tumultuous fashion. He replaced Pete Peterson as the New York Yankees' general manager with Gene Michael, then said he would resign as the club's general partner after two of the team's limited partners failed in a legal challenge of the agreement Steinbrenner reached with Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent on July 30.

Under the agreement, which resulted from Vincent's determination a $40,000 payment from Steinbrenner to self-described gambler Howard Spira was not in the best interests of baseball, Steinbrenner had to relinquish control of the Yankees by midnight last night.

About five hours before that time, U.S. District Judge Alice M. Batchelder in Cleveland denied a request for a temporary restraining order that was filed last week by Daniel McCarthy and Harold Bowman. McCarthy and Bowman, both of Cleveland, contended Vincent's investigation of Steinbrenner's dealings with Spira was unfair. Had Batchelder granted the order, Steinbrenner would have had the option of remaining in charge.

But prior to the Yankees' game last night in New York against the Toronto Blue Jays, Steinbrenner said he had signed his resignation letter and would submit it by midnight. He said he thought he would have resigned regardless of Batchelder's decision.

"I've always said 10 years is maybe enough for a corporate chief executive," Steinbrenner said. "Perhaps it's time for a change."

A spokesman for Commissioner Fay Vincent said that Steinbrenner's resignation was effective as of midnight last night, though Steinbrenner had not yet sent his letter of resignation to Vincent. Rich Levin, Vincent's spokesman, said Deputy Commissioner Steve Greenberg "has assurances from Steinbrenner's lawyers that the letter will be on his desk the first thing in the morning."

The change in general managers was the Yankees' 14th under Steinbrenner, who resisted the chance to make his 19th change in field managers on Sunday when he extended Stump Merrill's contract through 1992.

Michael, twice the Yankees' field manager, becomes their general manager for a second time. He began this season as a Yankees talent scout, later became their so-called eye-in-the-sky coach and most recently was an advance scout. He received a three-year contract as general manager.

Peterson, hired as GM in October 1989, will remain with the club as a special adviser to the general manager. "I'm disappointed to some degree," he said. "But I'm thankful I still have a job."

George Bradley retains his position as vice president, and will continue to serve as head of the minor league department.

"I think we'll work fine together," Michael said.

In reflecting upon his time with the Yankees, Steinbrenner said: "There have been a lot of mistakes, but there have been a lot of good decisions. . . . I just wanted to show you I was not remorseful, that I'm not in grief. Actually I feel pretty good about things."

So does minority partner Marvin Goldklang, who sounded eager to get the entire episode in the past.

"You're involved with a franchise with national, if not international, recognition in the New York Yankees," Goldklang said. "It's been a different feeling for many of us. I think the feeling that most of us have is that we're looking forward to the point where we can go back to normal."

But that may not happen for a while. Robert Nederlander, the Yankees' nominee to replace Steinbrenner as general partner, still needs to be approved by the other major league owners. And yesterday the attorney for Spira said he may subpoena documents gathered during baseball's investigation of Steinbrenner as he seeks to defend Spira from federal charges of attempting to extort money from Steinbrenner and threatening to harm Steinbrenner and former Yankees outfielder Dave Winfield. (The money Steinbrenner paid Spira allegedly was for information about Winfield.)