On July 5-6, 1990, George Steinbrenner appeared before MLB commissioner Fay Vincent to discuss his association with Bronx gambler Howie Spira, who helped Steinbrenner dig up dirt on Yankee outfielder Dave Winfield. MLB later made a transcript of the hearing public. We've re-transcribed excerpts below. They contain some good details, including Steinbrenner and Vincent's thoughts on the "best interests of baseball" clause that commissioners use to mete out justice and that Vincent used to sanction Steinbrenner.
Vincent: Let me turn to the $40,000 payment to Mr. Spira ... Your testimony is that you made this payment out of a mixture of motivations. Correct me if I'm wrong.
Part of it was concern for your safety and for the safety of your family. Part of it was a hope that if you made this payment, this man would go his own way and never trouble you again. Part of it was out of a feeling of compassion for him—his mother had cancer. I think you testified—a variety of factors. Am I correct that there was no single factor that led you to make this payment? That it was a mixture of these and any others which I might have overlooked?
Steinbrenner: Let me, if I could, to help you on this, let me rate them for you. Which one is the most. I'm not making any bones about the fact that this guy was a bad guy.
Vincent: We will stipulate that.
Steinbrenner: And that he scare me and he really scared my children, particularly my one daughter. And I didn't know what to expect. Safety of my family had a lot to do with it. Security increased, as I said, around the clock, with my kids, they were frantic. They didn't understand why this stuff was happening.
Nuisance to my friends and to my people that worked for me and these calls, hundreds of calls, 10, 15 times, sometimes three, four times a day. I hadn't realized the number of calls Mr. [Phil] McNiff [head of security for Steinbrenner's American Shipbuilding Company] was getting because he never told me. I was as astounded as probably you were when you saw the number of calls he was doing. When I asked him, he said, 'I was doing that to shield you.'
The thing about being left alone, getting him out and go somewhere and start a new life: I just wanted him to get away from me and get away from here. He did tell me his mother had cancer. Thy were old people. They were in this little apartment. They had borrowed from other people in the building. And to a large extent, Mr. McNiff corroborated some of that. And I felt, felt for his family, as I do for my own family, when they are in something like that.
And then there was the matter about the Kelly Weidler situation 'former Yankees employeess Pat Kelly, longtime Yankee Stadium manager, and David Weidler, former controller and chief operating officer] and the LouPiniellaa situation. The Piniella family is very close to me. And I think the world of Lou Piniella. But when he [Spira] sad that he threatened to sell information, as I recall he told me, on Lou Piniella and his sports betting habits, I didn't want to see baseball or Lou Piniella dragged through something the way it would have been sensationalized. We couldn't take it. It was a judgment on my part.
Vincent: But you believe, what I'm having trouble with is, let's focus again on Spira. You dealt with this fellow for a long period of time. We developed information and you've confirmed that some of the things which Spira told you as they were investigated you found out were not true. Spira's a liar. Your materials make that clear. He may not lie on everything, but we all can concede that he lies a lot. So here he comes and says, 'Lou Piniella. I have allegations about Lou Piniella.' And am i correct that this late in the game you believe that what he told you about Lou Piniella was true?
Steinbrenner: Commissioner, I didn't know what to believe because as McNiff told me, much of what he told me was corroborated by another witness and that there were polygraph tests taken and that these things were proven right. I don't know that an awful lot of what he told us was proven to be totally false.
Vincent: That's your testimony. In other words, you are saying to me that at the time you paid him, you believed that much—you said not much of it was proven false. It's fair to say much, if not most of what he has told you was accurate?
Steinbrenner: And that a lot of the things he told me were accurate.
Vincent: And therefore that putting it in your terms, if he would sell information re: Kelly and Weidler and Lou Piniella betting on sports, that those were items or factor which you would like not to come out, and therefore by paying him you believed that those statements would not be made public. That was part of the motivation?
Steinbrenner: All part of the ball of wax. You don't know what I went through. I just wanted to get him away. I wanted to get him the hell out of my life and my family's life. You don't know what it's like when you've got a guy out there calling and threatening to kill people in your family or other people's family.
Vincent: This is really the guts of it, from where I'm sitting. I'm putting myself in your shoes and I'm saying here is a guy whom I have not promised to give any money to, I have no commitments to him. I don't owe him a thing. I'm sitting in Tampa and I'm talking to my advisers, as I assume you were. Indeed you've testified that they told you...
Steinbrenner: Not do it.
Vincent: Not do it?
Vincent: And they are telling me not to do it. And I'm a smart fellow and I have been around baseball. And here is a guy we know has been involved in some bad things. We know he's a gambler or a former gambler. We know, to put it in your terms, that he may be involved in extorting money from me. I'm taking your definition now.
Steinbrenner: Threatening me.
Vincent: Yes. Why didn't you behave differently? Why didn't you call authorities? Why didn't you surround yourself with people who could protect you, both physically and legally? You might have called us. You might have called law enforcement people. If I were in your shoes, and I was worried about my family. I goddamn well would have gotten some legal law enforcement people aware of the threat. I would have gone to them in Tampa. I would have wanted protection from this guy. I certainly would have come to baseball and said, 'Look, I'm in a very tough spot.' Even if you wanted to make the payment over your adviser's recommendation, why wouldn't you have come to me and said, 'I'm going to make the payment. I'm doing it for the following reasons. What is your advice?' Why did you not let me finish. Not only didn't you do that, but now I'm putting the most negative sense on it from your point of view.
You did quite the reverse. You made the payment in a way that wasn't direct. You did it through a law firm with a bunch of steps—I'm being critical here—that were not straightforward. You didn't write a check to Mr. Spira. The Yankees didn't write a check to Mr. Spira. It was done through Wachtel & Gold in a way that was not intended to be easily observed. I'm being—I'm playing devil's advocate.
Secondly, it was intended to be confidential. There was a major, in a direction that I suggest to you is entirely different from the direction that one might have gone in if one really believed that this was a serious extortionist and high risk to you personally. My question to you, cutting through it all, is why didn't you do what I suggest?
Steinbrenner: No, I talk about physical protection. The little guy with a club in his hand. I mean they shot the president of the United States. They shot the pope. With all the security that you could ever want around anybody, they still managed. If somebody wants to shoot you, they are going to shoot you.
I was sick. I was worried what they would do to my kids. I just saw a program on the radio or television just the other morning that somebody had raised $60,000 to get their people back from kidnappers against the advice of the U.S. Government. Don't pay the kidnappers. She said, 'We got him.' She said, 'We got our son back. The other person came back in a casket. And we would recommend to anybody.' It was strange: I watched yesterday morning. She got her son back. She'd recommend to anybody not to listen to people to tell you that they could protect and not to pay to get your son back. Those things went through my mind. I wouldn't just pick them out of the air. The pope and the president. And I was scared, and I was particularly scared for my kids. Very scared for them. So that's the way I would have to tell you. Maybe it was wrong. That's the way I felt.
Vincent: Let me interrupt you there because there is substantial testimony, sir, with all due respect, that extortion was not discussed. Mr. Kleinman and Mr. McNiff have testified to me that the talk of extortion was not a motivating factor. That is their testimony.
Steinbrenner: They don't know, they all told me don't pay. You don't owe him and he'll just come back. They were telling me that not sitting in front of me. The decision, in my mind, was my decision. I didn't take up with them any of those things that I have talked to you about. They were in my own mind Commissioner.
Let me tell you this. With regard to the law firm, I was down in Florida talking to them and I thought I did it exactly the legal and proper way. I said I want this thing done legally, nothing's going to be hidden. I said, 'You take care of it.' They said, 'He wants to be paid in cash so he doesn't have to pay taxes.' I said, 'No way. Never. You make a paper trail of this transaction with him so that we're not hiding it.' I thought I was doing it just the way I should have. And if I didn't then.
Vincent: So you were surprised that the money was paid from Gold & Wachtel?
Steinbrenner: I didn't know where the check was coming from, but I wasn't up there. They were up there with him, I was down here on the phone.
Vincent: Isn't it true—I think you testified that you insisted on the transaction being confidential?
Vincent: Well, I thought your testimony was it was confidential because you didn't want him talking about these other matters. That you felt...
Steinbrenner: I never saw the agreement that he signed. I never had any input into it. I still haven't seen it.
Vincent: Let me go back. If you thought the payment was made in part to keep him from talking about Kelly and Weidler, and about Lou Piniella, why wouldn't the agreement say that, that he had been paid and he was not to make disclosure of these issues?
Steinbrenner: No. What I'm saying, Fay, is that I didn't...I wasn't trying to protect and quiet the fact that I paid him.
Vincent: I'm asking you a separate question.
Vincent: You testified, I believe—again, I'm not putting words in your mouth—that Kelly/Weidler and Piniella were people you wanted to protect.
Steinbrenner: I didn't want him [Spira] talking about it.
Vincent: How did you think the payment protected them?
Steinbrenner: Maybe it was wrong. Maybe it was a judgment call. I felt that if this guy had this money, he would go away.
Vincent: Therefore the confidentiality provision in the agreement was not intended to keep him from talking about anything. I mean, what's the point of the confidential...
Steinbrenner: I didn't want him talking about that that. He promised me to—he said to me, 'I'll go away, you'll never hear from me again.' And I took it at his word. And maybe that's stupid on my part. It was not the first time and probably won't be the last time I did a stupid thing.
Vincent: And your testimony to me is—correct me if I'm wrong—that your advisers told you there was nothing illegal about the payment.
Steinbrenner: That's right.
Vincent: Did anybody tell you that it might be a problem within baseball?
Steinbrenner: They didn't say it was illegal to me.
Vincent: Nobody raised the flag that, 'Look, George: Forget about your intention or whatever is really in your heart. Eventually somebody is going to ask, and how are we going to demonstrate what really is in your heart?'
Steinbrenner: Neither Dowling nor Kleinman ever said that to me.
Vincent: Did that occur to you?
Steinbrenner: No, sir.
Vincent: So you never thought as you were doing this that you would be here with anybody in baseball asking about why you paid under these circumstances? And I'm taking your testimony completely, that there were no promises. But here we have strong argument on your part that you never promised the guy anything. Now the only way that I know you can be absolutely certain that you didn't promise anything is not to pay him anything. Once you pay him, you open up the question, 'Did you promise him?' Which is why we have never had this discussion. I'm saying OK, you never promised him. But you did pay him. Did that occur to you—that by paying him you were going to open up this whole issue of had he done all this work in exchange for $40,000. Did that occur to you?
Steinbrenner: No. It didn't. Maybe you are smarter than I am. You are a lawyer and I'm not. But it didn't.
Vincent: Didn't it occur to your advisers? Weren't they saying to you, 'George, look, when this is all over and you pay him $40,000, it's going to look as if we bought this information about Winfield'?
Steinbrenner: Never mentioned by any adversary [sic] to me, Fay. And never—and I didn't think about it. I had so many things going through my mind at that time about the things that I have told you, never occurred to me and nobody told me.
Vincent: Did anybody say to you, 'George, suppose this guy takes the money and pays off gambling debts. You are now an owner in baseball financing a gambler?'
Steinbrenner: Well, I didn't—I never thought of that. Nobody ever mentioned that to me, Commissioner. He had said he was a past gambler, gambler in the past. If I had to answer now...
Vincent: Let me correct you on that now perhaps. I thought there—let me read this testimony. This is tape..'I gave you'...this is you...'I gave you $40,000 because I cared about you. You told me the gamblers were after you and that they were going to get you and kill you because of the money you owe them'...It's a typo...'I wanted you to get out of New York so you could get away from them. Nothing else. I gave you money to do that.'
That's a tape. I think. You guys check that.
Stephen Kaufman, Steinbrenner's attorney: I am sure it is, if you say it is.
Vincent: Well, somebody tells me it is.
Mr. Steinbrenner, what I'm really asking you is this tells me that you have him money knowing the gamblers are after him, and therefore, in my stark and not very gentle way, I say you have to explain to me why I don't view this as you financing his gambling.
Steinbrenner: Because I understood when he told me he—these debts were from things that he owed. I wanted him, if he was confronted with these people, to get out of town. Commissioner, I have to tell you: If I made a mistake in judgment, I made an honest mistake. But you know the Commissioner's Office knew all about this. For two years they knew. Why didn't they—they even knew that he was going to come to me and ask me for money. Why didn't they reach out to me and say, 'Hey, be careful. You are dealing with a bad guy. He's going to come after you for money.' They never said a word.
Vincent: Let me answer that question because I feel strongly about that issue. 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: 'Do not make a payment.' I will help you in these circumstances. I will do whatever I can with our own resources in law enforcement. Both to protect you and to protect your legal position,'
You never came to me and said 'I'm being held up.' Your version: '$40,000, Fay. I'm going to pay the $40,000 because I am worried about my family, I'm worried about Kelly/Weidler, I'm worried about Lou Piniella.'
You never gave me a chance to give you what I would have thought was pretty straightforward advice. After all, all your advisers gave you the same advice?
Steinbrenner: Don't pay him.
Vincent: So what I'm saying is how can you say to me that you would have listened to me when the people who were closest to you gave you that advice and you ignored them?
Steinbrenner: I can't answer why I didn't call. I'm not holding you responsible.
Vincent: I don't feel responsible.
Steinbrenner: Why didn't somebody come to me in September of '87 and say, 'Keep us posted,' instead of the PRC [Player Relations Committee] secretary supposedly telling Spira, 'Continue dealing with the Yankees. We're aware of what's going on.'
Why didn't—why didn't someone come to me if I was wrong for dealing with this from '87 through—all through '88.
Why didn't someone come to me and tell me, 'Stay away from this guy.'
Vincent: I have an answer for that, and among the things that didn't happen is your own advisers didn't tell you in a way that persuaded you not to do what you are doing during '87 and '88 and '89.
So whether the commissioner would have been able to persuade you not to do it is at least open to question. I'm just focusing on right now because I happen to have been commissioner on the very day when you paid this gambler, former gambler?...Why didn't you call me, get help from other people before you did something which you advisers told you not to do, and which you, as a very bright guy who knows baseball thoroughly, had to wonder about in your soul. Here, you're paying $40,000. And out of your own words, this money is going to pay off gambling debts.
In my terms, it's hard for me to understand what you did.
Steinbrenner: I told you as honestly as I can: Nobody for the whole time from '87 on from the Commissioner's Office ever told me stay away from this guy. Nobody. Now, wait a minute: Let me finish, Fay. Because I'm trying to tell you as honestly as I can...
Vincent: I know it.
Steinbrenner: If it was a mistake to make the payment, I made the mistake. I can't erase that. The thing I'm having trouble understanding, and maybe I'm overreacting, but this guy, this Spira, was in the foundation for years...Let me finish.
Why aren't they—I mean you've got me. Literally, I feel like I'm on trial. If I am, why aren't they on trial?
Vincent: Let me define it for you. Because I think what I'm saying is, just give me the courtesy of saying, 'take everything out of the case.' Let's say that everything you have said has persuaded me that there's no issue of any misconduct by you, of any violation, any baseball rule. In dealing with this hypothetical, that's not a decision I made.
But for the purposes of this question, right up until the time when you made the payment, let's say up until that day in January of '90, you can persuade me with your distinguished lawyers you did nothing that ought to occasion my disciplining of you.
And I'm saying, if I accept all that, now we're in January of '90, we wipe the slate completely clean. It certainly calls into question what you understanding with Mr. Spira was. I can accept your view that you never committed to make any payment. You never had a promise with him, you never had any understanding that he would be paid, but, in fact, you pay him. So at least it calls that into question as a matter of logic.
Secondly, it calls into question this sensitivity to gambling. You have testified—and I take you totally at your word because I know you—gambling is really something that troubles you. Yes, you pay $40,000 to a man who tells you he is going to take the money to pay off gambling debts.
Thirdly, I just read you this testimony. You said, 'You'...Spira...'told me the gamblers were after you and they were going to kill you because of the money you owed them. I wanted you to get out of New York so you could get away from them.'
Steinbrenner: Take the money and get out of New York.
Vincent: Nothing else: 'I gave you money to do that.'
Steinbrenner: To take the money and get out of New York. Not to pay gamblers. I got to really say to you, Fay, that's honest to God what I said.
Kaufman: I've been trying to make a note on that, Commissioner. I really think that it is not an offense but is an accurate characterization to say Mr. Steinbrenner—that Mr. Steinbrenner believed that the money was to pay off gambling debts.
Vincent: I read that testimony and my impression from reading it is that he [Steinbrenner] knew that Spira had to pay off gambling debts and you were trying to help him by giving him money to pay off those debts.
Steinbrenner: No. Then let me clarify that now.
Kaufman: I think that is...
Steinbrenner: Let me clarify. It wasn't that at all. It was to take that money and get out of town. Get away if these guys were after you.
Vincent: You don't know if Mr. Spira used the money to pay off gambling debts?
Steinbrenner: I think Mr. McNiff—I don't. I think Mr. McNiff related to me at one time that there were hundreds of thousands of dollars in gambling debts.
Vincent: But it's at least possible that what this money went for was gambling, and you would have had to consider that as one of the reasons he wanted the money was to pay gambling debts.
Steinbrenner: I told him—he told me his life was in shambles. He wanted to get out. He had no money to. I told him to take this money and go away from here and start a new life.
Vincent: That wasn't really my question. My question was, 'When you were worrying about this, whether to do it or not to do it, didn't it occur to you that one of the things that he might do with the money is pay gambling debts'?
Steinbrenner: No, sir.
Vincent: It never occurred to you?
Vincent: And none of your advisers raised that with you?
Steinbrenner: No, sir.
Vincent: I want to check that record because I have the very clear impression from reading the record that the money was intended to get him clean, away from these gamblers, at least in part, and let him start his new life. And that was one of his arguments with you, that he wanted more money. If I misread that, I'll clear that up before tomorrow. We'll come back to this.
Steinbrenner: I wanted him to go away.
Vincent: But let me go back to this circumstance, which was a very troublesome one for you, and ask you why you dealt with it by yourself against the advice of your counselors and without going to law enforcement to protect you on extortion. After all, if it was extortion, why wouldn't you treat it as extortion? And not deal with it individually. And why not come to me to be sure that in baseball terms, whatever was done here was at least something that I was aware of?
Steinbrenner: I think you know how I feel about you and maybe I should have...come to you as a friend.
Vincent: Not as a friend. As commissioner.
Steinbrenner: As commissioner. All right, as commissioner. Not as a friend, as commissioner. See, if I had wanted to not—I knew that when I talked to the government that I had been lied to by the guy and maybe that's my stupidity in doing it. I could have kept paying him. I could have sent him somewhere and given him a job and do all that if it cost me $100,000 a year. That's an easy thing for me to do.
Vincent: Excuse me. You just said when you talked to the government, you knew you had been lied to by the guy. You just told me...
Steinbrenner: And that it was extortion. That he'd never bother me again.
Vincent: The lie was that he'd never bother you again?
Steinbrenner: Never bother you again.
Vincent: You testified earlier when he told you about Piniella, you believed him because you felt his accuracy or his veracity had been pretty good. I'm having trouble with the difference between believing him...
Steinbrenner: I never believed that Piniella was a gambler. I mean I saw him at horse races. I didn't know what this guy had or knew. I had no way of knowing. Some of what he told us was proven to be true. Was absolutely true. What I was trying to say to you is that when he came back that second time, I could have given him money and just kept paying him the rest of his life. But I didn't. I wasn't tying to hide the fact that I did. And that's why I decided to do this. Because every day it seemed I was finding out other people he was threatening. And doing this to. And I just paid him. I don't know why except for the things I have told you.
I didn't come to you. I don't know why I didn't come to you. I can't answer you.
Vincent: I may be beating a dead horse, but to the extent that you were very worried about Spira as a bad guy and as someone who was making threats and to the extent you were concerned or should have been concerned about making this payment to him, and you had to be concerned because all your advisers told you not do it. That has to make you concerned. I'm having trouble squaring those things with your not dealing with either law enforcement or the Commissioner's Office, particularly when you and baseball had to know that making this payment to somebody like Spira, with his background, if it came out, if it came out, was surely going to be investigated. I mean you had to know that if Spira went public, as he ultimately did, just this would happen. But you are smart enough to recognize that. And I'm having trouble sort of figuring out what the mental processes were. If it was a mistake, it was a mistake. And that's the end of it. But I'm having trouble figuring out the reasoning.
It would impress me a lot if all my advisers told me not to do it, even if it was—if I was concerned about baseball and my future position in baseball. Because here's a gambler and I'm paying money to a gambler and certainly it's going to look lousy when it blows.
And thirdly, if this is going to at least open up the question as to whether everything I had done vis-a-vis the Winfield case wasn't, in part, compensation. And those thoughts certainly would have occurred to you in the course of you internal deliberation.
Steinbrenner: What occurred to me was that my family, and my concern for their safety. And my kids: they were scared.
The second thing I got to tell you, I thought I was going to protect some things that in the Piniella case and the Kelly and Weidler case that I didn't think I wanted exposed. And if it's wrong, it's wrong.
Vincent: When you made the payment, you believed in your heart that there was a very good chance that Spira would go away?
Steinbrenner: I really thought there was.
Vincent: Otherwise you wouldn't have made payment?
Steinbrenner: Correct. I really thought there was.
Vincent: So you believed that what he was telling you about what he was going to do was, in fact, what was going to happen?
Steinbrenner: I was worried if I didn't, what he might do. And I thought that he would take this and go away.
Steve Greenberg, deputy commissioner: One thing that occurred to me is that Mr. Kaufman and Mr. Steinbrenner, I gather, have essentially changed Mr. Steinbrenner's testimony with respect to the extortion or the motivation issue from his prior deposition, and I'm not sure how—if at all—that impacts on the proceedings. But it occurs to me that assuming you've reviewed your prior depositions, overnight—well, maybe you should with counsel—overnight if there are other significant matters where you have a different slant today that you did then, maybe you ought to let us know...
Vincent: Let me put it to you clearly, George. I think in the prior testimony, as your counsel properly suggested, you took the position that you did not believe you were being extorted. And you may not have known and you certainly didn't know the definition of extortion. I have no interest in the prior testimony. I have an interest in what your statement is today on the record. Today you say you believe that you were being extorted. And of course from my point of view, it doesn't really matter. The real issue is what did you do. Why did you do it?...If there was anything which was said today that contradicts or changes what was said previously, if you would at least bring it to our attention, we'll use this and not that.
Steinbrenner: Commissioner, the thing that I was asked to think about is the question of best interests of baseball. And I spent a greater part of the night writing, finally reducing down some of the thoughts I have about that clause after 17 years in the game. And how my—at the beginning and at the end—the giving of the $40,000 to Spira and how at the beginning my first meeting with Spira might fit with that clause. The best interests of baseball.
And I thought about that last night myself through most of the night and I wrote up something myself.
First of all, in the first instance, the instance where I received a phone call and met with Spira late December of '86, I don't, in my mind, feel that meeting with him at that time was not in the best interests of baseball. I don't feel it was not.
I wanted—I had a call from a man who I didn't know very well, didn't know that much about him, he came down, he gave me certain information. To the best of my ability and the best of my own mind, I took parts of that information and turned that man over to a man in my organization that I felt was able best to deal with it.
So I'll be honest with you. At the time I never even considered the question. I just did that. And as I said to you, put it in the hands of a fellow I thought could best handle it. And that, at a point, started to advise the Commissioner's Office, on advice of other people, to law enforcement officials, and steadily did that throughout.
When we come to the payment at the end, Commissioner, I, in hindsight, must say to you that if I had to do it over again, I would not do it. I went against the judgment of people who I had involved in it. It was—in retrospect—a rather dumb thing to have done.
But I must tell you that I did not do it thinking that it was not in the best interests of baseball. I did it for reasons that I stated yesterday, as honestly as I could to you. I was afraid. I was afraid for my family more than myself.
One always thinks that he can handle any situation that may occur, and I'm certainly not intimidated by any guy, whether he's bigger than I or smaller than I. That has not been my history.
But with a man that—who might just get a gun and kill somebody, I was scared. But more scared for my family. I thought I was doing that for my family. I thought that in some ways, I must tell you, that I was doing it maybe in the best interests of baseball.
And third, I did tell you that this was a pitiful guy. I wanted him to go somewhere. Start his life over, leave me alone.
I did not probably differentiate between blackmail and extortion and coercion. I couldn't define those three terms or separate them for you.
But I do know that I was scared. I really was. And I said that to you yesterday and I can only tell you that again. And scared for my family. And they were scared.
So I really couldn't say that what I did I did knowing that it was not in the best interests of baseball. … But it wasn't that I hadn't made an effort to keep people appraised, in this particular instance when I … paid the money, appraised of Mr. Spira and the [Winfield] Foundation and the other things all along. I felt I had done that.
I think the record substantiates that. But I—if somebody knew that he was coming to me, I wish that they had warned me. And I was aware of it myself. I did not consider it to be not in the best interest of baseball. Your point that I should have gone to somebody else or come to you: 1 will certainly say that that is … probably at that time would have been the right move to make.
As concerns the best interests of baseball—and I stayed up late last night working on my thoughts about this thing. Because you have to wrestle with it and it's a very difficult, difficult problem.
The clause that deals with the best interests of baseball is a term with little or no definition in the 17 years I have been in baseball. It's been allowed to linger for many, many years. It's been there in an undefined, and in my opinion, kind of a dangerous state. It can be viewed as an omnipotent tool. And if it's used—and I underline "used" and stress "used"—it can become dangerous.
On the other hand, in my mind, I know there's a need in sports—they are so complex today—for some sense of orderly discipline. I'm totally in agreement with that with you. I'll think there are many dangers lurking out there in sports today, be it drugs, be it gambling, be it whatever, that really make it awfully difficult to be sitting in the chair of the commissioner.
But the rule itself is not only too broad, it's dangerous. Arid it's a dangerous burden for leadership to carry. I think that somewhere along the line, maybe some commissioner is going to take it upon himself to try to define just what the rule means.
I have seen a history shown to date that it's kind of a machination. I know a lot of owners regard it this way, Fay, Commissioner, as, if you can't get the guy on this rule or that rule: 'I can always get you on the best interests of baseball.' That's the way a lot of people have looked at this rule.
And in some ways, this rule kind of takes the office of commissioner and baseball itself above the law of the land. It really seems to me that it does, that it puts us in such a situation that we're above the nation's laws and the law of the land. And I jotted down a few things that I thought were perhaps necessary with regard—and I hope I'm not going on about something you didn't want to hear my thoughts on it.
Vincent: It's very helpful. Be my guest. I think you are doing exactly what I asked last night.
Steinbrennener: I think that in the term itself, it requires that it cannot be arbitrary, arbitrarily used, and it can't be selectively used. And it seems to me if you go back through the past, there had been some examples where it might have fit in one place and it didn't fit in another place or was not used in another place. It's got to be used, it seems to me, uniformly. And in the present state, I'm not sure how difficult a task it will be to get it so it's used uniformly. But I think that's awfully important in this.
I don't think the rule can be used with popularity as a gauge. I saw—I can give you an instance which you weren't privy to because you were not yet in baseball, where Commissioner Kuhn made a ruling that Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays had to divorce themselves of baseball because they worked at a gambling casino. A tremendously unpopular decision. Got Mr. Kuhn castrated. Just people took him apart in the newspapers. Was not a popular decision.
Vincent: I remember that.
Steinbrenner: And Mr. Kuhn, to his credit, stood up for it and said, 'This is the way I feel and this is the way it had to be, regardless of what papers were going to say or what people were going to say.' It was not a popular move.
In came Commissioner Ueberroth and he reversed that. He said, 'No, it's OK.' A popular decision that was greeted by columnists and writers saying what a great thing. I'm not saying—judging which was right or which was wrong. But that was an area where I believe popularity had some bearing. And I don't think that that can be a part of decisions under this particular rule. I know it's tempting. I know it's hard to say. But I think that that is very important.
As we come to it, I think that there also has to be dealing with a mind-set. In any action, whether it be by a player, owner, an umpire, anybody, the mind-set has to come to bear. What were the thoughts in his mind? Did be willfully do something that was not in the best interests of baseball? Did he willfully do it?
I think that's awful important that that be considered and that reasonableness, therefore, be part of it.
In this particular case, as I looked at all the things that could happen, sometimes I think maybe we would be best instead of saying in the best interests of baseball in just turning that a little and saying what in this case would be best for baseball. Not so much what is in the best interests of baseball because I don't think that I can come to grips with that terminology as broad as it is, with as little definition as it has.
But I can also say that taking these other precepts into account that I think that I could better deal with it if I looked at what is best for baseball with all ramifications that are concerned in the decision that has to be made.
And I think that's where I came out after literally 4 a.m. this morning. Thinking about what had happened. I don't want to get into specific cases or details with you, Commissioner, because I think you are aware of most of those cases, as I am. But I think those three things that I just pointed out to you would be guidelines. And I hadn't reviewed this with my people. I have not talked to them. I wrote this myself.
I think if we could focus more on these cases, whether they be me or players or whatever, what's best for baseball, what are all the fallout, what is all the fallout of this thing. And then try. It's not an easy job. It's probably more difficult than some of the decisions that have to be made by the Supreme Court or by the President, because there it is set. Laws are laws, and you obey them or you don't obey them. But this particular phrase, for whatever reason, was put in like this, without definition, presents a real, real problem for anybody that has to wrestle with it.
So that, I guess, is where I came out after, as I say, until 4 a.m. By myself. I have seen it. I've seen it used. I've seen it, I know how people feel about it in ownership. And it's not a task that I envy you having to wrestle with it. Those are my thoughts after 17 years with it. And if that's what you were talking about yesterday…
Vincent: Well, it was. And is. And Mr. Steinbrenner, it's very helpful to me. You have more experience in baseball than anybody in this room. I, unfortunately, even though I have only been involved with baseball a very short time, have more experience as commissioner. By definition.
And no one as commissioner can avoid confronting early on this clause. It is important to baseball. I believe it was written by Judge Landis. I believe it was written to give him the authority to deal with this large charier, with what he thought he was going to be confronting.
And while in the historical context I can understand why he would have written it—he wanted the authority from the owners—and he did it in such a way that he had this particular clause, he had the owners agreeing that they wouldn't challenge him or go to court. He had them agreeing that they couldn't fire him. I mean all the things that you and I are familiar with. Because I think he believed that he had to be able to deal without being vulnerable during the period of his tenure.
I have always thought that the ‘best interests' clause is like the clauses we know constitutionally, due process, equal protection. They are hardly self-defining. And we as lawyers know that we have to make the best we can with not too much guidance.
The thing that you point out that is difficult for me is there isn't a very well-defined common law, if you will, of baseball. That is, we don't have a number of cases with ample records that Mr. Banker and I could examine, or Mr. Amorosa, and say here is the way this has evolved. There's been a history of discipline without much in the way of reasoning.
In other words, I go back and I look with some diligence to see what has happened and what guidance could I get in terms of how people approached these problems. And there isn't much guidance. There are a number of decisions. But there isn't much in the way of reasoned thought about how this should be approached. Which is why I asked yesterday for you to help me.
I mean I don't view this—this is a baseball issue. And we're all in baseball. And you love it as I do, and we're talking about the difficult problem of you and me having to confront this particular issue, albeit as in disagreement perhaps or at least in adversary—what could be an adversarial form. But the essence of what we're talking about here is protecting baseball. You have the same interests ultimately as I do because you have a major investment. And the texture of baseball is what supports all that you care about. Both financially and personally.
If baseball isn't run fairly and with a sense of integrity and with a sense of order, as you put it, then baseball won't have the popularity, and the thing that you have invested in and done magnificently with no longer has the value that you want it to have.
The mind-set point I think I want to explore a little bit because I think that's very important to me in terms of this process. But as I understand … you spoke of, I think, three or four things. Uniformity, being careful not to let popularity be—or popular decision—[be] the determinant. And you offered me a new standard. And you also spoke about mindset.
Steinbrenner: And selectivity.
Vincent: Yes, where did I say selectivity? Maybe I called that…
Steve Greenberg, deputy commissioner: Uniformity.
Vincent: Uniformity. I take that your counsel and the way in which you or I as commissioner or any commissioner approaches this problem, you have to be fair in dealing with these issues with some sense of equanimity. You can't look at one case and not be guided by the other cases that have come along in other episodes.
Secondly and I take that point. I think uniformity is an acceptable guideline. Again, as we discussed yesterday, it's not always easy. I pointed out to you some things on the record yesterday that looked to me like they should have been treated uniformly and weren't. And you explained to me why. Kelly, Weidler [the two Yankee employees dismissed for stealing] on the one hand and Winfield on the other. So uniformity is something which we now can agree is not easy.
Steinbrenner: No, it's not.
Vincent: … to deal with. Secondly, on popularity, I take that very seriously. And I tell you on the record and to your face here that I am generally aware of the circumstance you are in here in New York. I read the same papers you read, and I guarantee you, I guarantee you as a man of honor—and I think whatever is said about me, and you can say some things that are unattractive about me, though I don't know that you ever have—but nobody has ever to my knowledge said that I'm not a man of honor. I value that more than anything in the world.
I will pay no attention to the issues of the popularity of the Yankees, the fact that they are performing less well or to all that drumbeat that you are reading about. This case is within the four corners that we talked about yesterday and that's all there is to it.
Vincent: Let me suggest to you that any [previous] disciplinary matter [involving Steinbrenner] other than the suspension should not be addressed by you. I will tell you as a matter of commitment that I have no interest in the other instances. There have been nine, I will tell you. The only one that I want to consider seriously is the suspension.
Steinbrenner: What I am about to say I have never said publicly in many years. I mean I think that this occurred 17 years ago. When I was just coming into baseball, I headed the Democratic national dinners. I was not into politics at all. I was a young fellow in Ohio. And they invited me down lo the Congressional dinner in Washington and I sat at a table when Mr. Johnson was the President. And certain people had talked to me about coming in and trying to raise funds for the Democratic party. I was neither Democrat-registered nor Republican.
And I at the time sat with the President, and it was quite an experience for my first dinner. Then I was asked if I would consider chairing the Democratic National Committee … I said I would agree to do that.
So I assume they wanted an enthusiastic-type person to come in there. I chaired the dinners for two straight years, and I guess they raised more money than they ever had before. I think the previous high was $300,000. The first year I raised $800,000. And the year after that over a million for the first time.
So in the course of getting involved with politics, had even been asked at one time by a group of congressmen, headed by a fellow I didn't know, Joe Evins from Tennessee, if I would consider heading the Democratic Party. And I told him I didn't think I could. I had businesses to run, and I didn't know that much politics. Well, I soon learned about politics. When President Nixon came into office, you see, in the Democratic dinners or in die Republican dinners in the District of Columbia at that time, there was no reporting because it was a district and it wasn't a state. The rules applied to those states.
So lots of things happened in those dinners. People came in with large amounts of cash for them. And I would see this stuff come through that office and I had to wonder, but that's the way it was explained to me. But it was legal.
I think that in being so successful, I may have been set out by certain people. So what happened in the following years was as chairman of the board of American Shipbuilding Company, and on the advice of legal counsel, in-house and outside counsel, I was told that it was perfectly legal for me to say, ‘Look,' to my employees, 'you put in money, and we'll put in money. I'll put in personal money. I'll match you,' No. l. No. 2, that we even got to the point where people were paid in their salary, and it was expected to come back, some for politics. And I guess it was a 57-year-old law that nobody really knew much about in those days. The accounting firm of Arthur Andersen audited everything. Said everything done, was proper in the course of the audit of the year.
And my two lawyers, one of whom later was disbarred, told me that it was OK what I was doing. So I put in $75,000 of my own money and it was matched almost by employees.
The practice—Mr. Cox, who was in there then, said, ‘Look'—and they did say it over and over again—'any of you that think had violations, come down to Washington and tell us about it. Beforehand.' And Mr. Cusick, who was with me, and I discussed this and I said, 'Let's go down and tell them what we have done here. Is there something wrong?'
And the government was fair. A fellow named McBride was fair about it because he said, 'Come down and tell us, and it won't be as bad.'
We were told by a Mr. Melcher not to. Not to go down. We didn't have to go down. He was the lawyer.
And later we found out that Mr. Melcher had been guilty of a—he is deceased now, so I hate to speak of him in these terms—of taking documents, taking stationery from the law firm of Thompson, Hine & Flory after he had left the law firm and writing opinions to the accountants that it was perfectly legal to do what we had done. Later, two partners of that firm, which is a very good firm in Cleveland, came to me and apologized for what had happened. But at that time, it was too late.
So I was served with papers right in 1973 on Opening Day of the ball season. And I was on my way to the opening game, and I had young Ted Kennedy, I can remember like it was yesterday, and the Senator. I was going to have young Kennedy throw out the ball. And I was informed over the phone of the plane that I had better turn around, that I had been indicted. So I came back, and on advice of other people retained Edward Bennett Williams as my attorney. I did not know him at that time. I came to know him and respect him. We had our differences at times, but he was a fine man. Fine man.
And they represented me with an old classmate of mine named Vincent Fuller. So during the course of the investigation, there came a time when I had to make a choice. And the choice was made at Duke Seaver's restaurant. And the choice was that I accept the charges against me or did I go to trial.
And the way it was put to me in that restaurant that day was that you had many friends that are involved here. And if you would, in fact, cooperate concerning these friends, that it might be different.
I didn't feel that I could do that. So we went into court and I was charged. I was charged with illegal election campaigns and with trying to influence or have my people say certain things. It was not true. I tried to explain to the judge that, in my relating my version of what had happened, if my people thought that they had to repeat that or say that, that I couldn't help that. If I considered that telling these people—the person who had told these people what to say was the gentleman I referred to earlier.
And I hope this never goes beyond this room.
So I went in and pled rather than have to testify. And the government gave me a fair chance to testify. And I was fined. Later in the hearing, I guess they have a hearing with a probation officer, and both the employees in question admitted that I had never told them what to say at that time, that they had thought it's what I wanted them to say. But I had never told them to say. So in that record I can furnish for you. I still have that sheet. And I was pardoned for that just a few years back by President Reagan.
Ed Williams told me that Bowie Kuhn wanted to discuss this matter. I could not tell a lot of what I just told you—I haven't told you everything—to Commissioner Kuhn. Ed Williams told me that at that time that he had discussed it and that this wasn't relevant to baseball in his mind, didn't have to do with baseball.
He wrote a brief about it, and he said that they brought up a couple of cases involving a ballplayer at that time who they had proof had actually had somebody, had his wife, his wife was killed.
And that he came back to me afterward and told me that the commissioner said, 'Well, that didn't happen during the baseball season. That was a well-known player.' And yet there was proof of money being paid, $30,000 to a magistrate.
But for whatever reasons, he said to me, 'Look, the commissioner has given you an opportunity and he says I think we should take it." To literally come to him and say, 'Whatever you say, commissioner.' Throw yourself—without going into any detail.
And he said, 'I think we should take this because I think it's going to be good and it's going to be all right." Well, a few weeks after that, or a month after that when the decision was handed down that I was suspended, I believe for two years, Ed Williams, I have never seen him the way he was. He pounded the desk, He said, 'They can't do this,' so forth and so on. Mr. Galbraith at that time went to the commissioner in my behalf. Tip O'Neill went to the commissioner on my behalf. Nothing seemed to sway Bowie. And I believe in his right to make the decision he had to make.
And I told Ed Williams, ‘Look, I'm not going to do further harm to baseball. We will sit out this suspension.' And we did. And then after about a year and a half or so he lifted the suspension.
That was 17 years ago, 16 years ago.
That's as true as I can tell you. There are things in there that I would never want to become public.
Vincent: I understand that.
Steinbrenner: But that's the first time I ever told the story in full.
Vincent: Mr. Kaufman, as just as a conclusionary matter, your view about the way in which I should view that particular episode is?
Stephen Kaufman, Steinbrenner's attorney: Whatever you think appropriate. And I think it's got whiskers on it. It's 17 years ago. To me, it is not a relevant consideration … but I recognize your right to consider it. The man's been pardoned.