For one of the few times during his tumultuous reign as New York Yankees owner, George Steinbrenner today may not be in control of a matter concerning his club.
Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent will preside over a hearing this morning in New York concerning the relationship among Steinbrenner, self-described gambler Howard Spira and former Yankees outfielder Dave Winfield.
Vincent began investigating the matter in March, when Spira told the New York Daily News that Steinbrenner had paid him $40,000 for information Steinbrenner could use to discredit Winfield.
Permitted by baseball rules to investigate "any act, transaction or practice charged, alleged or suspected to be not in the best interests of the national game of baseball," Vincent could suspend Steinbrenner. But Rich Levin, a spokesman for baseball, said he doubts Vincent would reach a verdict today.
Levin said the main purpose of the hearing is to give Steinbrenner a chance to discuss the matter with Vincent. Levin would not discuss the ground rules other than to say the commissioner basically sets them, and if Steinbrenner wants to call witnesses, he can.
Steinbrenner, whose birthday was yesterday, is represented by a legal team that grew to four with the recent additions of New York criminal attorneys Stephen K. Kaufman and Dominick F. Amorosa. Vincent has retained as counsel Harold R. Tyler Jr. of New York, a former federal judge. Today's hearing will be in Tyler's office.
Washington attorney John Dowd, who led baseball's investigation of gambling allegations against Pete Rose, conducted the probe of Steinbrenner. Dowd submitted a confidential report to Vincent on June 7. Vincent scheduled the hearing on June 22.
Dowd's report has not been made available to Steinbrenner because, according to Levin, Steinbrenner's lawyers were present during many of the depositions Dowd took. Kaufman reportedly has requested the report. This could raise the issues of fairness and impartiality, the ones that prompted Rose's protracted legal challenge of then-commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti's right to conduct a hearing on the gambling allegations.
According to The New York Times, Dowd focused on Steinbrenner's dealings with Winfield, who was traded to the California Angels in May after nearly 10 years of almost nonstop feuding with Steinbrenner.
A particularly bitter aspect of that feud involved a legal dispute over annual payments Steinbrenner was supposed to make to the David M. Winfield Foundation, a nonprofit organization set up to benefit children. The foundation sued Steinbrenner, alleging he was behind in the payments, which were provided for in the 10-year, $20 million contract Winfield signed with the Yankees as a free agent in December 1980. Steinbrenner countersued, charging Winfield and the foundation misused funds.
Spira, who had received a loan from Winfield in 1981, reportedly gave Steinbrenner information about the the foundation. Steinbrenner initially said his payment to Spira was made "out of the goodness of my heart. . . . Because I cared about the guy." Later, he said he paid Spira to keep him from revealing potentially negative information about Yankees employees.
Spira is scheduled to be arraigned today in New York on charges he tried to extort money from Steinbrenner and threatened to harm him.