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Steinbrenner Ordered to Yield Control of Yankees

July 31, 1990|TOM LAMARRE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Baseball Commissioner Fay T. Vincent stripped George Steinbrenner of his control of the New York Yankees on Monday for associating with gambler Howard Spira.

Steinbrenner will remain as part-owner of the Yankees, but was forced to resign as principal partner.

"Mr. Steinbrenner will have no further involvement in the management of the New York Yankees or in the day-to-day operations of that club," Vincent said.

Fans at Yankee Stadium for a game against the Detroit Tigers greeted the announcement with a 90-second standing ovation.

The agreement followed a daylong meeting in Vincent's office and was the result of a four-month investigation by the commissioner's office into Steinbrenner's dealing with self-described gambler Howard Spira.

"This sad episode is now over," Vincent said, adding that he had made his decision in order to "preserve and protect this noble game."

"I'm greatly disappointed in Steinbrenner's actions," Vincent said. "He ignored the responsibilities of the commissioner of baseball . . . he paid the famous $40,000 to a gambler without coming to me under circumstances which he said amounted to extortion."

Spira claimed he was given the money for information that Steinbrenner could use against former Yankee outfielder Dave Winfield (now with the Angels), with whom Steinbrenner had a long-running feud.

Vincent said Steinbrenner's relationship with Spira "was not in the best interest of baseball" and that Steinbrenner will no longer be able to exercise day-to-day control of a team he has run since 1973 but would remain as a limited partner with shares in the Yankees organization.

He said Steinbrenner would have to reduce his interest in the team to below 50% and added that Steinbrenner agreed to the penalties.

Steinbrenner must resign as general partner by Aug. 20, when someone will be appointed to take his place, subject to the approval of Vincent and the other major league teams.

Vincent said the new general partner could be Steinbrenner's son, Hank, but the commissioner cautioned that anyone in that position found to be consulting with Steinbrenner on baseball matters would be subject to expulsion from baseball.

"For all purposes, Mr. Steinbrenner agrees that he is to be treated as if he had been placed on the permanent ineligible list," Vincent said.

Steinbrenner will, however, be allowed to consult on major business decisions involving the Yankees, but he must ask Vincent's permission to attend games.

Steinbrenner agreed not to contest in court the decision or the commissioner's power to make it.

"I will not comment on the decision," Steinbrenner said. "I'm very happy it was resolved. I'm very satisfied with the resolution, and that's all I'm going to say."

Steinbrenner is the only owner to be severely penalized twice for major offenses. He was suspended in 1974 by then-Commissioner Bowie Kuhn for making illegal campaign contributions to former President Richard M. Nixon.

He has been fined several times, most recently on July 5, when Vincent docked him $25,000 for tampering with Winfield in the days after his May 11 trade to the Angels. The Yankees also were ordered to pay the Angels $200,000.

This time, Vincent disciplined Steinbrenner for violating Rule 21, otherwise knows as the "best interests of baseball" clause.

The investigation centered on Steinbrenner's $40,000 payment to Spira, a 31-year-old New Yorker who describes himself as a former gambler and a former employee of the David M. Winfield Foundation. The commissioner wanted to know why Steinbrenner gave the money to Spira.

Steinbrenner testified before Vincent on July 5 and 6 and gave various reasons for the payment. Among them were that he was afraid Spira would attack his family, that he gave Spira the money "out of the goodness of my heart" and that he wanted to protect two former Yankee employees from embarrassing revelations.

Steinbrenner's testimony implicated Manager Lou Piniella of the Cincinnati Reds, a former manager of the Yankees, but the commissioner's office cleared Piniella of any wrongdoing.

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