It wasn't simply that Fay Vincent booted George Steinbrenner out of baseball. When it happened, the game's commissioner directed that Boss George be taken away in cuffs and ankle chains and other symbols of constraint befitting a knave considered incompatible with "the best interests of baseball."
In his own chosen words, Commissioner Vincent termed the Steinbrenner case "bizarre." Here, before him, was the all-powerful boss of the New York Yankees fighting for his baseball life for the stupid act of allying himself with a scurvy two-bit gambler whom he paid $40,000 to "get the goods" on his rebellious outfielder, Dave Winfield.
No less bizarre was Steinbrenner's choice of his punishment, after an 11-hour inquiry in Vincent's court. Offered the alternative of a two-year suspension from which he could recover and regain control of the Yankees, he opted instead for humiliation as a baseball leper -- barred forever as a club owner, and declared unwelcome in specified areas of the game.
The extent of his shame is defined by the grist of indictments he chose to accept. He will now be remembered as:
The club owner who was forced to yield control of the Yankees; to cut his interest below 50 percent.
The owner who is now denied entry to the Yankees' clubhouse, to their offices, the owner's box that was once his home, and the press box he liked to invade and harangue.
There is more.
He is ordered to so distance himself from the game to stay away from the Yankees' spring training headquarters. Also, forbidden to communicate on baseball matters with his son, Hank -- who likely will be installed as the new boss of the team -- except regarding the Yankees' finances. And to attend such meetings he must seek the written permission from the commissioner.
And if he is caught in any such hanky-panky, both the elder Steinbrenner, his son and any sinning Yankees official will be barred from the game forever, under Vincent's order.
Moreover, it must be certified in writing every six months that there has not occurred any of the forbidden communication with his son. Boss George is not only out of baseball for life, but like a parolee he is on probation for the next five years with the American League president as his probation officer.
Lest there be any misunderstanding, Vincent stated: "it is clearly understood by Mr. Steinbrenner and Yankee officials that it is the intention of the commissioner to monitor their behavior closely." He was not vague about it.
The instant question is why Steinbrenner, a proud man if an arrogant one, would accept the shame and humiliation as a baseball outcast rather than a two-year suspension that might be curtailed to 15 months as was his last two-year banishment by Bowie Kuhn.
As for Steinbrenner's choice of exile, Vincent had only a brief comment. "I can't read his mind," the commissioner said.
But there are others more inclined to read Steinbrenner's mind. They postulate that he traded his dignity for the continued authority to manage the Yankees' finances. A two-year suspension would deprive him of any voice in Yankees financial affairs for that term, and he was unwilling to give up that authority.
Two years away from control of his Yankees empire seemingly had no appeal for Steinbrenner. The Yankees are a vast corporation that under Steinbrenner's administration has commanded $50 million a year merely from the local radio-TV rights, and millions more from network television. The franchise he bought for $10 million in 1971 is now valued at $200 million, perhaps more. In the art of the deal, George has proved he is no peahead. He does not care to leave the finances in other hands.
Despite Vincent's order that Steinbrenner diminishes his 55 percent share of the team below 50 percent, Vincent is aware Steinbrenner would still have ranking control, what with others in his family owning 5 percent of the club. In money matters, George is still boss, although sidelined in all else.
There is a similarity in the acceptance of agreements barring both Pete Rose and Steinbrenner from the game. Both were crafted by Vincent without spelling out the sins of the miscreants, no mention of Rose's betting on games, no mention of Steinbrenner's dirty dealings in the Winfield matter. It was Vincent's trade-off for getting their agreement to accept exile. If they agreed to the electric chair, he wouldn't quibble about language.
When it was all over, Steinbrenner in a most debatable statement said: "I'm glad the case is resolved. I'm happy with it." As for the naming of his son as the new Yankees boss, George put it this way: "It's time for a change." Exactly the commissioner's thinking, in positive terms.