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THE BOSS NO MORE
The announcement by baseball commissioner Fay Vincent on Monday night was stunning. " Mr. Steinbrenner has agreed to resign on or before August 20, 1990, as the general partner of the New York Yankees," read the commissioner in a New York City hotel ballroom crammed with reporters. "From there on, Mr. Steinbrenner will have no further involvement in the management of the New York Yankees or in the day-today operations of the club."
Vincent had done the dreamed of and the undreamed of: He had permanently banned George Steinbrenner from running the Yankees. News of the decision drew a 90-second standing ovation at Yankee Stadium, where the Yanks were in the fourth inning of a 6-2 win over the Detroit Tigers. Fans delighted in the realization that Steinbrenner would now have to buy a ticket to see his last-place team play.
Vincent's ruling ended baseball's four-month investigation of Steinbrenner (SI, July 23 and 30). After 11 hours of hammering out final details with Steinbrenner and a passel of lawyers on Monday—a scene deputy commissioner Steve Greenberg described as "full of sound and fury"—Vincent announced that, in his view, Steinbrenner had engaged in activity "not in the best interests of baseball," a violation of rule 21(f). Vincent said that Steinbrenner had acted against baseball's best interests by paying $40,000 in January to self-described former gambler Howard Spira, by maintaining "a working relationship" with Spira without informing baseball and by conducting, again without telling baseball, a private investigation of charges made by Spira against former Yankee Dave Winfield, with whom Steinbrenner had a long feud. Vincent concluded, contrary to what Steinbrenner had stated during the investigation, that the Yankee owner had paid Spira the $40,000 for potentially damaging information about Winfield, now a California Angel. "I don't think Mr. Steinbrenner intended to harm the game," said Vincent, "but the fact remains that he did harm the game."
In a written summary of his decision, Vincent reproved Steinbrenner on one point after another. He said Steinbrenner and Steinbrenner's advisers had given baseball conflicting explanations for the payment to Spira. Without saying directly that Steinbrenner had lied, Vincent called Steinbrenner's often meandering, evasive testimony before him at a hearing on July 5 and 6 "an attempt to force explanations in hindsight onto discomforting facts." Vincent also noted that Steinbrenner's advisers had told him not to pay Spira but that Steinbrenner had made the payment anyway.
Steinbrenner, who said only that he was "happy" to have the case resolved, agreed not to challenge Vincent's ruling in court, even though it strips him of nearly all his power in team affairs. Steinbrenner will still be allowed to vote, as any limited partner in the team would, on major business decisions regarding concessions, leases and so on, but that's all. The ruling requires Steinbrenner, who currently owns 55% of the Yankees, to reduce his ownership to less than 50% and cut himself off from personnel decisions and other day-to-day Yankee business. Bucky Dent's axing in June will go down in history as Steinbrenner's 18th and final managerial firing.
Steinbrenner will be allowed to nominate a replacement for himself as managing partner of the Yankees. It could be any of the 18 other part owners of the team (none of whom has a share larger than 8%), but Steinbrenner's side said the nominee will be Steinbrenner's 33-year-old son, Hank. The new managing partner won't be George's puppet, however; whoever replaces Steinbrenner must win the approval of Vincent and of big league owners and then abide by strict guidelines forbidding Steinbrenner from exerting even a pinkie's worth of influence.
Steinbrenner still could face further embarrassment when Spira goes to trial in New York on charges that he tried to extort money from Steinbrenner and threatened to harm Steinbrenner and Winfield. Vincent dismissed Steinbrenner's claims that he had paid Spira because Spira had threatened him and his family—"These claims of fear and extortion are not credible," said the commissioner—and Spira's lawyers contend that Steinbrenner used his Tampa law enforcement connections to orchestrate Spira's indictment.
If baseball won't be the same without Steinbrenner, not a lot of people in the sport will miss him, either. As Winfield noted when asked about the decision effectively removing his longtime antagonist from the game, "The Yankee fans, I think they deserve a new chapter. An old chapter is closed, a new chapter opens."