Dave Winfield and Other George Steinbrenner Controversies, 1973-1990

Since George Steinbrenner, after having a large monument to his memory put up in the new Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park, is now a candidate for the Hall of Fame, it’s a good time to look back on some of his transgressions, controversies, and tumults from 1973 through 1990. First, here’s the core of a timeline USA Today put together in August 1990, chronicling his time as Yankees owner:

Jan. 3, 1973: As managing general partner, buys the Yankees from CBS.

April 18, 1974: Receives 15-count federal indictment for violation of election laws.

April 19, 1974: Pleads not guilty to all 15 counts.

Aug. 23, 1974: Pleads guilty to one count of conspiracy to make illegal campaign contributions.

Aug. 30, 1974: Fined $15,000 by federal court in Cleveland.

Nov. 27, 1974: Suspended from baseball two years by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn because of guilty plea.

March 1, 1976: Suspension lifted after 15 months for good behavior.

Nov. 11, 1979: Fined $5,000 by Kuhn for tampering with Brian Downing of the California Angels.

June 26, 1980: Reprimanded by Kuhn for tampering with free-agent amateur player Billy Cannon Jr.

Dec. 15, 1980: Signs Dave Winfield to a 10-year contract that eventually is worth $18 million.

April 21, 1981: Orders 50,000 copies of the team yearbook taken off Yankee Stadium concession stands because he dislikes his picture.

Oct. 25, 1981: Breaks hand in Los Angeles elevator, saying he was attacked by fans after Yankees lost fifth game of the World Series to the Dodgers.

Oct. 28, 1981: Apologizes to fans for team’s play in six-game loss to Los Angeles in World Series.

Jan. 3, 1983: Fined $5,000 by Kuhn for remarks made about Chicago White Sox co-owner Jerry Reinsdorf.

April 19, 1983: Fined $50,000 by Kuhn for remarks made during a March 25 spring training game questioning the integrity of National League umpire Lee Weyer.

May 31, 1983: Suspended for one week (June 3-9) by American League President Lee MacPhail for statements made May 27, questioning integrity of American League umpires Darryl Cousins and John Shulock.

Oct. 4, 1983: Winfield Foundation files suit charging Steinbrenner with reneging on agreement to pay $3 million to the charity.

Dec. 23, 1983: Fined $250,000 by Kuhn for involvement in pine-tar game with Kansas City.

Aug. 17, 1984: Settles dispute with Winfield.

Sept. 1, 1986: Attacks Winfield’s integrity and Winfield book, A Player’s Life.

Jan. 10, 1989: Countersues Winfield charging him with misusing money from his foundation.

Feb. 1989: Elected a vice president of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Sept. 6, 1989: Settles with Winfield out of court.

March 24, 1990: Commissioner Fay Vincent announces he is examining Steinbrenner’s relationship with admitted gambler Howard Spira and a $40,000 payment that Spira alleges Steinbrenner gave him for information to discredit Winfield. Denies charge.

May 11, 1990: Trades Winfield to the Angels.

May 14, 1990: Tells Winfield he never wanted to trade him but was urged by Bucky Dent.

July 5, 1990: Fined $225,000 for tampering with the Winfield trade.

July 5-6, 1990: Appears in hearings before Vincent.

July 30, 1990: Agrees to resign as general partner for his dealings with Spira.

Aug. 15, 1990: Names Robert Nederlander successor as general partner after son Hank declines and executive vice president Leonard Kleinman is blocked by Vincent.

At the same time, Joe Klein wrote a column speculating that Steinbrenner’s downfall was an emblem of the broader decay of New York City after the ’80s-that it combined with the downfall “of Donald Trump and Ed Koch – and a thousand other slivers of news, like the bankruptcy of his good buddy William Fugazy, the travel-and- limousine-king – to become part of this year’s unavoidable theme in New York, the end of an era: the frantic years between New York’s fiscal crisis and the 1987 stock-market Crash, the time of the yuppies, the loudmouths and insiders.”

I don’t know if Klein was accurate in this diagnosis, but in the column, Steinbrenner had an interesting response to the stories of the demise of New York City 20 years ago: “The city better hope it’s not over. David Dinkins is a fine man, with an awful task ahead of him. . . . But this is no time for quiet contemplation – we need action: hands-on, one-on-one leadership. You can’t sit back and just take these kind of economic problems. Boy, I don’t see that era being over. The Yankees will be back. The city will be back. Because if it’s over, we’re in deep, deep trouble.”

Also in August 1990, George Vecsey made, I think, a more interesting analogy between Steinbrenner and Richard Nixon:

George Steinbrenner has been kicked out of Yankee Stadium, but he does not seem to know it. The question is: Does everybody else?

The elevator doors were clattering Monday night, but Steinbrenner could not resist the paparazzi swarm. He extended his hands and held the elevator doors, answering more questions, loving the attention.

He had already told a packed news conference that he was not remorseful and that he was not in shock. Nobody had asked him if he was.

It was time to move on, he volunteered, omitting the minor detail that he had been ordered to move on by the commissioner of baseball, backed up by every major-league owner in North America.

This was quite a scene, a powerful man leaving a building he had dominated for 17 1/2 years. Certainly the sight was not as important or dramatic as a president of the United States trudging onto a service helicopter and being whisked off the White House lawn, but some of the same elements were there: abuse of power, lack of candor, eventual downfall.

Now we will find out if the U.S. Olympic Committee has paid attention to this affair. The USOC board, which meets today in Colorado Springs, is said to be mesmerized by the money Steinbrenner has donated and raised.

Steinbrenner has always been a blowhard and a bully, and that is not a crime, but he was found guilty of illegal political contributions in 1972, and 17 years later he gave money to a seedy little gambler in a vendetta against Dave Winfield. The board members should, of course, ask Steinbrenner to resign.

On Monday night, Steinbrenner made the Nixonian feint of confessing “”mistakes,” which turned out to be Checkers-type slip-ups like dismissing Dick Howser as manager after 1980 and not retaining Reggie Jackson after 1981.

Finally, here are some comments, again made in August 1990, by Dave Winfield on his return to New York for the first time as an ex-Yankee.

Of Commissioner Fay Vincent’s ruling against Steinbrenner, Winfield said: “Finally, they uncovered the tip of the iceberg. There’s a whole lot of ice underneath the water. Good, I finally didn’t have to say anything myself. Someone else said it for me. Someone else was looking for the truth.

“They only took what (Steinbrenner) did within baseball that broke the rules. Really, they didn’t get into all the other things. They said, ‘We’re going to take Spira, and that’s enough. You’re gone.’

“All I remember is Howard Spira for a week going on TV and newspapers and creating, trying to create situations about me, saying everything demeaning and disparaging about me … They’ve looked into everything on everything. There’s nothing on Winfield. They answered that.

“Whether you understand it, they damaged me for a long time…. Here I am, and I have to listen to them making claims across the country. I never did appreciate it. I still did my job, and no one else did it better in the ’80s.

“But with all the stuff kicked up, only one person (Steinbrenner) was muddied. I’m not going to wallow in the mud.

“You think about some of the things that happened over the nine-plus years, and people ask me why I didn’t scream or fight. You fight it, but what are you going to do, spend every waking hour discussing the garbage?”

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Published in: on November 19, 2010 at 4:08 am  Leave a Comment  
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