Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent said Monday that he is delaying an announcement regarding the reinstatement of George Steinbrenner as managing partner of the New York Yankees.
Vincent was expected to announce Monday that he approved Steinbrenner's reinstatement petition and that Steinbrenner would be allowed to take control of the Yankees again, either at the winter meetings in December or at the start of the 1993 season.
"We left the office Friday prepared to make an announcement today," a member of the commissioner's staff said. "But we received information in the last 72 hours that we are obliged to check out."
That information is believed to have come from current and former Yankee employees who maintain that Steinbrenner has had frequent contact with club officials, in violation of his agreement with Vincent in July of 1990.
At that time, the commissioner was ready to suspend him for two years for paying a known gambler, Howard Spira, $40,000 to supply information about former Yankee outfielder Dave Winfield. Fearing that the stigma of a suspension would jeopardize his position as a vice president with the U.S. Olympic Committee, Steinbrenner chose to step down, basically relinquishing all contact with the Yankees for life.
In petitioning for reinstatement, Steinbrenner first had to drop or clear three lawsuits filed against Vincent, firms employed by Vincent's office or both.
Vincent, in a statement released Monday, said:
"In the last few days, new information has come to light that requires a review by the commissioner's office.
"The information relates to Mr. Steinbrenner's conduct under his July 30, 1990, agreement. . . . Pending further consideration of the quality and reliability of that information, the commissioner will not take any action concerning Mr. Steinbrenner's request."
Messages left Monday at Steinbrenner's office in Tampa and the New York office of his attorney, Arnold Burns, were not returned.
Steinbrenner, however, was not happy with the terms of his reinstatement when provided with them Thursday. Because of his involvement with the Olympics, he did not mind sitting out the rest of this season, but hoped to regain control as soon as the season ended.
Vincent, however, was prepared to delay Steinbrenner's reinstatement until December, at least, because of dissatisfaction with Steinbrenner's behavior during the last two years. Steinbrenner raised Vincent's ire by sending a letter to the other owners, threatening to sue Vincent if he wasn't reinstated quickly. Under terms of the banishment, Steinbrenner agreed never to sue the commissioner or baseball and never to contact the other owners.
Vincent was scheduled to review the reinstatement terms with Steinbrenner Monday morning. That meeting was canceled, pending investigation of the new information.
Has there been contact between Steinbrenner and club officials?
Joseph Molloy, Steinbrenner's son-in-law, is the Yankees' managing general partner. The club's scouting director and his department have been based in Tampa, where Steinbrenner resides, for several months and had no contact with General Manager Gene Michael in New York during the recent amateur draft.
The New York Times quoted an unidentified team official Monday as saying "a lot of people" connected with the club now or in the past would like to let the commissioner know there have been incidents of contact since the ban.
The Times said that Yankee employees have had to sign statements every six months to the effect that they have not had contact with Steinbrenner and don't know of anyone who has.
But instead of being sent to the commissioner's office, an unidentified team official said, the statements are collected by in-house lawyer David Sussman.
"They'd get a lot more truth if the statements went directly to someone in baseball," the official said. "People are more afraid of Steinbrenner than the commissioner."
A spokesman for the commissioner said Monday that he didn't think a review of the new information would take long, but that it appeared unlikely now that an announcement on Steinbrenner's possible reinstatement will be made this week.