NEW YORK, AUG. 13 -- A lawyer for George Steinbrenner accused Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent today of making a deal with gambler Howard Spira for evidence against the New York Yankees principal owner.
Robert E. Banker, Steinbrenner's lawyer in Tampa, said Vincent is trying to discredit the eight-count federal indictment against Spira, who is accused of threatening to harm and attempting to extort the owner.
"They made a deal with Spira that in return for information damaging George they would assist Spira in some way with regards to the criminal prosecution," Banker said in a telephone interview. "Or they simply don't want the Spira case tried because they don't want the public to hear what Spira has to say or what George has to say."
Banker said he decided to speak out after reading a quote from Vincent in last week's Sports Illustrated. Baseball investigator John M. Dowd said assistant U.S. attorney Gregory W. Kehoe had asked that baseball's investigation be postponed, a charge Kehoe denies. Vincent was quoted as saying: "The request was preposterous. The government should look into how it was initiated and why."
"It is preposterous and inaccurate," Vincent said. "I think Mr. Banker is feeling the heat."
Meanwhile, the New York Times reported in Tuesday's editions that lawyers for Steinbrenner prepared a news release last week accusing Vincent of damaging Steinbrenner's reputation and business interests by misrepresenting their agreement, but did not release it. A copy of the release was obtained by the Times.
A source told the Times Steinbrenner is concerned about the public perception of the commissioner's disciplinary action and feared repercussions would hinder his ability to get government contracts for his shipbuilding company.
The release said " . . . the commissioner's office reached an agreement with Mr. Steinbrenner, and then exhibited 'complete amnesia' as to their mutual understanding. . . . The commissioner put a spin on the agreement that has severely damaged Mr. Steinbrenner's reputation and business, by falsely suggesting that George was banned from life from baseball."
Vincent has said he will not modify the agreement.
Vincent ordered Steinbrenner to give up his position as Yankees general partner by Aug. 20. Steinbrenner has proposed his son Hank take control. But the Times quoted Edward Rosenthal, a Yankees limited partner, as saying Hank Steinbrenner may not want the job.
"It's getting nastier and nastier," he said. "I don't think Hank wants to do it, and that created monumental problems for George."