Improbable as it sounds, Steinbrenner told Vincent he didn't know exactly what Yale did or discovered. Deputy commissioner Steve Greenberg showed Steinbrenner a letter from McNiff to Yale dated Jan. 14, 1987, indicating that Steinbrenner's side already believed Spira's allegations. The letter listed four possible ways to use the information: "Federal prosecution of Frohman regarding the death threats, civil suit against the foundation, something else going to the IRS criminal division and finally a usury prosecution of Winfield and Frohman." Steinbrenner claimed never to have seen the letter, but one baseball source suggested to SI last week that the letter could hardly have been unknown to him. "It's like Patton's battle plan," said the source.
Vincent upbraided Steinbrenner for not having informed the commissioner's office about Spira back in December 1986, when Spira admitted to Steinbrenner that he had been a gambler. Steinbrenner says he did tell Peter Ueberroth, the commissioner at the time, about Spira within a few months but couldn't recall exactly when. Ueberroth last week declined to comment on the case.
"George and Howard, they're the same, except George has money," says a source who has had frequent dealings with both men. "That's the only difference. They're both megalomaniacs, compulsive, insincere pains in the ass. They're two of a kind. What they say today applies, not what they said yesterday. The truth doesn't matter to them if it doesn't benefit their position."
At one point during his session with Vincent, Steinbrenner grew exasperated at Vincent's repeated questions about his associating with Spira. "Maybe I'm overreacting," said Steinbrenner, "but this guy, this Spira, was in the foundation for years.... Why aren't they [Winfield and the foundation]—I mean, you've got me, literally I feel like I'm on trial. Okay, if I am, then why aren't they on trial?"
The answer is that baseball looked into the allegations against Winfield and his foundation—including those leveled by Steinbrenner that Winfield might have bet on baseball—and found nothing of substance, according to a source close to the commissioner. Steinbrenner, however, doesn't believe that baseball examined Winfield closely enough. He told Vincent that the "best interests" clause should be applied uniformly, and that means subjecting Winfield to the same scrutiny to which he has been subjected. Steinbrenner's lawyers would be likely to raise that point in a legal challenge if Vincent suspends their client or forces him to sell the Yankees. They have already failed to get Vincent to excuse himself from the case because of what they allege to be his bias against Steinbrenner.
"What has [Steinbrenner] done wrong?" says one friend of the Yankee owner. "He climbed all over Winfield for 10 years because Al Frohman got him to sign a long-term contract, and he went to baseball with a charge that Winfield was betting. How is this not in the best interests of baseball? The contract says that he can't get rid of him unless he [Winfield] consents, so for 10 years, he [George] makes life miserable for Winfield. So what? That's the way business works."
That hardball attitude contrasts with Steinbrenner's rather feeble complaint to Vincent that if the commissioner's office had only warned him about Spira, Steinbrenner never would have made the $40,000 payment and the whole mess would have been avoided. "Why didn't they reach out to me and say, hey, be careful. You are dealing with a bad guy," Steinbrenner said.
Replied Vincent, "Mr. Steinbrenner, I was commissioner at the time this payment was made. Had you come to me, that is precisely what I would have told you."