Questions arose yesterday about whether the proposed transfer of day-to-day control of the New York Yankees from George Steinbrenner to his son, Hank, will be approved by other major league owners, even though the concept has been blessed by Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent and several of the Yankees' limited partners.
A well-informed source in baseball said the deal could meet with considerable resistance from other team owners and some of Steinbrenner's partners because of concerns about the degree of Hank Steinbrenner's independence from his father.
And a source familiar with the Yankees' partnership situation said significant opposition from limited partners could endanger the deal, by raising fears among owners of other teams that George Steinbrenner had rammed through the appointment of his son as general partner.
All of this has prompted speculation at the highest levels of baseball that if Steinbrenner is sufficiently frustrated in his efforts to keep control of the team in his family or participate in baseball in almost any fashion, he might eventually decide to sell the Yankees and reap what is expected to be a tremendous profit on his original investment.
Many sports financial consultants believe the franchise is worth upward of $250 million, about 25 times what Steinbrenner and his partners paid for it 17 1/2 years ago.
In order for Hank Steinbrenner to become general partner, he first must be approved by owners of two-thirds of the Yankees' stock. Including George Steinbrenner's 55 percent stake, the Steinbrenner family is believed to own about 60 percent of the club. His wife, Joan, owns about 5 percent. The remaining shares are owned by 17 limited partners, whose stakes vary between 1 and 12 percent.
If, as expected, Hank Steinbrenner wins approval of the Yankees' ownership group, his assumption of control then will be up to owners of the other major league teams. Under baseball rules, such a change must be approved by 10 of the 13 other American League owners and seven of the 12 National League owners.
Several of the Yankees' limited partners already have indicated that they would vote to support Hank Steinbrenner's election as general partner. "I've already given my agreement," said William Rose Sr., a New York silk importer who owns a 4 percent stake in the team with his son.
At least two other limited partners, sports memorabilia collector and paper company executive Barry Halper and Cleveland steel industry executive Michael Friedman, reportedly have said they will vote to approve Hank Steinbrenner at a partnership meeting that has been scheduled for Aug. 11 in Tampa.
Rose said he thought most of the partners would go along with the appointment of Hank Steinbrenner. "I think we may have one or two that don't agree," he said. "But I don't think it will mean anything. I believe he will be okayed."
But others familiar with the situation said they are not sure the elevation of Hank Steinbrenner is such a sure thing. They said that while it is likely the younger Steinbrenner will get the two-thirds majority needed to win election as general partner, the victory could be tainted if there is significant dissent among the limited partners.
"I think he'll get the two-thirds," one source said. "I don't think there's any question about that. The key is whether there's a solid split."
In other words, the source said, a 67-33 vote might raise questions among the baseball hierarchy as to whether Hank Steinbrenner had simply been pushed through despite objections from some of the Yankees' limited partners.
A key to the voting, the source said, will be Chicago industrialist and billionaire Lester Crown, who with his two sons owns 12 percent of the Yankees -- the biggest stake outside of the Steinbrenner family. Crown did not return telephone calls, and his position on the appointment of Hank Steinbrenner is not known, but the source suggested Crown could sway several other limited partners if he decides to vote against Hank.
The scenario may depend on how Hank Steinbrenner's nomination is presented to the partners, the source said. If it is presented in a businesslike fashion, with the partners given time to interview the candidate and become comfortable with him, objections are likely to be minimal. But "if it's something that gets rammed through, I think it's a very real possibility" that several partners could vote against the nomination, the source said.
Chicago White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said if there were a significant number of limited partners opposed to Hank Steinbrenner's appointment, "that would have to be considered" when owners of the other teams vote.
Reinsdorf chairs the owners' eight-person ownership committee, which studies all changes in ownership and day-to-day control over teams and then makes a recommendation to the remaining owners.
He said the committee will meet "very soon" to "discuss how to go about" evaluating this proposed deal. The committee includes John McMullen of the Astros (one of Steinbrenner's original partners in the Yankees), Fred Kuhlmann of the Cardinals, Peter O'Malley of the Dodgers, Charles Brumback of the Cubs, Bud Selig of the Brewers and Walter Haas of the Athletics. Steinbrenner also is on the committee.
"He still holds his position," said Reinsdorf, who added, "I assume he will recuse himself" from the discussions about the Yankees.
None of the owners or high-ranking club officials contacted yesterday would express even a preliminary opinion about the prospect of Hank Steinbrenner taking over for his father, who must resign as general partner by Aug. 20 because he paid self-described gambler Howard Spira for information he intended to use against former Yankees outfielder Dave Winfield.
Philadelphia Phillies President Bill Giles said, "Personally, I have an open mind. . . . I'd like to find out more about Hank. I'd like to find out more about the restrictions he'd be operating under. I've read a little bit about it, but I'm not too clear. I mean, if he can't talk to his dad, it makes it a little difficult."
"He's been very kind to our ownership," said Jeff Smulyan, the Seattle Mariners' chairman of the board. "I've never had any bad experiences with him."
But Smulyan, who took over the Mariners in October 1989, added: "He has been dealing with a number of people for a long time, and he's had his peaks and valleys with others."
Kuhlmann, however, said he viewed Hank Steinbrenner's qualifications to become general partner as "the only question.
"The commissioner has said he can live with" Hank Steinbrenner replacing his father "even though he has some skepticism about their ability not to communicate with each other about the team."
Although Hank Steinbrenner has been around the Yankees sporadically over the years, some limited partners interviewed said they didn't know him very well. Rose said he'd met Hank Steinbrenner only once, a couple of years ago, but he said, "I think he'll have enough people from the old crew to give him all the advice that he needs. They're qualified people." Rose said the team's success in recent days shows that the Yankees' baseball management is sound.
Another source close to the team said: "The fundamental issue is really whether Hank Steinbrenner -- whether George wants him or doesn't want him -- has the capabilities to oversee the Yankees as its top executive. . . . You obviously have to be someone who has a feel and sense for the game, someone who knows how to attract good baseball people." YANKEES' LIMITED PARTNERS
Harold Bowman: Retired real estate developer from Florida.
Lester Crown and his sons Daniel and James: Chicago industrialists.
Michael Friedman and Edward Rosenthal: Partners in Cleveland steel firm.
Marvin Goldklang: Lawyer, banker and owner of three minor league teams, from Livingston, N.J.
Barry Halper: Owner of Edison, N.J., paper-products company.
Harry Leighton: Steel company executive in Cleveland.
Daniel McCarthy: George Steinbrenner's tax and business attorney.
Robert, Harry and James Nederlander: Brothers and theatrical producers.
William Rose Sr.: New York silk importer.
Jack Satter: Florida meat importer.
Joan Steinbrenner: George Steinbrenner's wife.
Charlotte and Richard Witkind: Federated Stores heiress and her husband from Columbus, Ohio.