It never ceases to amaze me how many of baseball's wounds are self-inflicted. Take the sale of the New York Yankees to CBS.
Since I am known to deal in ball clubs the way more worthy men deal in antiques, I am usually well aware of what clubs are available. For instance, if you are in the market for a club right now, hire an Indian guide to paddle you across Lake Erie, get off at Detroit and ask the corner cop to direct you to Tiger Stadium. One cautionary note: bring money, lots of it.
I heard perhaps three years ago that Frank Stanton, president of CBS, had some slight interest in buying the Yankees, and there was vague talk floating around from time to time that the Yankees were among the teams that could be had. Del Webb's participation in the affairs of the club had been rather limited for years, and Dan Topping, who had once thrilled to being part of the great sport scene, had found that one championship was getting pretty much like another. Besides, Webb and Topping had long since stopped seeing eye to eye.
When I first heard the rumors I called Roy Hamey, then Yankee general manager, and Roy let me know that, sure enough, if a tax angle could be worked out the club could be had. Over the next couple of years the rumors kept smoldering just often enough to demonstrate to the true connoisseur that there was a little bit of fire down below.
Then on Thursday, August 6, 1964 the smoke signals began to rise in clouds. I received a call from an old Chicago friend, Jerry Loebl. Loebl is a close friend of Henry Crown, who is, among other things, the largest stockholder in General Dynamics. He and Connie Hilton—of the Hilton Hiltons—had been among my backers in the foredoomed attempt to buy the old Athletics from the Mack family in 1954 for immediate delivery to Los Angeles. Since those days Crown and I have had a running project—conversational only—to buy the Cubs from Phil Wrigley and force-feed such comforts as night baseball and winning ball clubs to the underprivileged North Side of Chicago.
Jerry Loebl was calling to tell me that Webb had just offered the Yankees to Henry Crown. Since Crown was not interested, Jerry was passing the information on to me—I assume at the suggestion of Crown—for whatever it might be worth. Well, over the years the Yankees have been a good club, a winning club, a bonny club, but they are not the club for me. I want a club like the Washington Senators that I can build and promote and romance and have some sense of accomplishment about. What are you going to do with the Yankees that hasn't been done? Win another pennant?
I've got friends too, though, so I quickly called Hank Greenberg to pass the information on to him. Henry was not interested either. He felt that the economics of baseball were such that you could no longer handle that kind of deal by getting a syndicate together. You had to have some kind of corporate structure going for you to pick up the original sale price and absorb any operating losses.
There was one other consideration that had to give you pause, too. Whenever anybody is anxious to sell something, it is well to examine the merchandise. When Topping and Webb run, the ship may not be sinking but the deck is awash. The word was out that Topping, with all his assets, was in need of cash, which is more than understandable when you consider what he has paid out in alimony and such through the years. Still, you could not ignore the cold, heartwarming fact that Casey Stengel's little Metsies were in the process of out-drawing the Yankees by almost half a million fans. If the Yankee owners weren't frightened they had reason, at the very last, to be thinking long, deep thoughts.
And then there was that ball park, the massive and legendary Yankee Stadium, complete with tradition and statuary. Well, the massive and legendary Yankee Stadium has been wrestling with a parking problem for years. The stands have reached the stage where they are not only in need of a little fixing here and there but will soon be in need of a complete overhauling and rehabilitation. The Yankees don't own Yankee Stadium—about three other organizations do—but the Yankees are responsible for its upkeep. At today's prices, as CBS will shortly discover, a complete overhaul will stick them for another million or two.
Most important of all, there was the ball club itself. Studying it objectively, you had to come to the conclusion that at the time of the sale the team was falling apart even more rapidly than the park. Mantle's leg had become a day-today proposition. Whitey Ford's arm had been troubling him. Maris had never quite recovered from the shock of hitting 61 home runs. The Yankees were, if you remember, dropping further and further out of the pennant race. There was little doubt that this was the kind of situation in which the seller would wake up far happier the next morning than the buyer.