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Posts Tagged ‘George Steinbrenner’

(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeAnalysts.)

You don’t mess with Nolan Ryan, at least not in Texas. Today, former Rangers’ managing partner and CEO Chuck Greenberg learned that lesson the hard way.

I have great respect for the Texas Rangers franchise and am enormously proud of all we have accomplished together since August. Unfortunately, Nolan Ryan, the co-chairmen and I have somewhat different styles. While I am disappointed we did not work through our differences, I remain wholeheartedly committed to doing what’s right for the franchise.” – Chuck Greenberg, quoted by MLB.com, March 11, 2011

A showdown with Nolan Ryan prompted Chuck Greenberg’s resignation as CEO of the Texas Rangers.

Less than one year ago, Greenberg was an instrumental figure in the long, drawn out and often messy process that resulted in the sale of the Texas Rangers from the Hicks Sports Group to Rangers Baseball Express. Although Greenberg was the leading figure throughout the initial sale process and subsequent bankruptcy court-ordered auction, the name of the ownership group he put together pretty much said everything about where the future of the franchise was headed.

The initial plan was to have Nolan Ryan (the Express) focus on baseball operations, while Greenberg took care of the business side. At first, that formula seemed to be working well. In the couple of months they ran the team together, Greenberg scored a number of business successes, including a new lucrative cable TV contract, while Ryan oversaw a roster reconstruction that culminated in the franchise’s first trip to the World Series. Soon thereafter, however, it seems as if egos got in the way and the partnership fell apart.

According to an MLB.com report, the first sign of friction occurred when Greenberg injected himself into the team’s pursuit of Cliff Lee. Unhappy with the blurring the lines of their division of power, Ryan reportedly objected to Greenberg’s increased profile on the baseball side of operations, and that dispute resulted in the latter’s resignation.

Greenberg’s decision reportedly comes after weeks of attempted mediation. After that process failed, it seems as if Ryan laid down an ultimatum, thereby forcing the team’s two largest investors, Ray Davis and Bob Simpson, to make a choice. Davis is from Dallas and Simpson is from Ft. Worth. Needless to say, the New Jersey-born Greenberg probably didn’t stand a chance. If there was only going to be room for one sheriff on the Rangers, you can bet it wasn’t going to be the east coast lawyer.

Whether or not he was treated fairly, Yankees’ fans aren’t likely to have sympathy for Greenberg. After all, when he wasn’t criticizing the denizens of Yankee Stadium for being uncivilized, he was exulting in the role he played steering Cliff Lee to Philadelphia. It remains to be seen if those high-profile incidents contributed to Greenberg’s demise, but many in New York will undoubtedly enjoy the karma.

Greenberg and Ryan are going separate ways after attempts to reconcile their differences failed.

The friction between Ryan and Greenberg really isn’t that unique. In fact, a very similar situation occurred when George M. Steinbrenner purchased the Yankees from CBS back in 1973.

When the Yankees’ sale was made official on January 4, 1973, the AP headline read “Burke Heads Syndicate Buying New York Yankees”. Burke referred to Michael Burke, who served as Yankees President when the team was owned by CBS. At the time of the sale, Burke’s role as matchmaker between Steinbrenner and CBS head William Paley was vital. Some have even argued that Steinbrenner would not have been able to buy the Yankees without his intervention. This claim is supported by a story from Bill Madden’s recent book, “Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball”, in which Paley cited Burke’s continuation with the team as an important consideration of the deal.

“Mr. Paley. I can assure you we wouldn’t want to it any other way…I won’t have much time for baseball, so Mike’ll have to carry the load…He’s Mr. Yankee, and that’s a helluva asset for us”. – George M. Steinbrenner, quoted in “Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball”

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The news for the Mets keeps getting worse. Although most people expected a steady stream of pessimism to emanate from between the white lines, it’s really the organization’s bottom line that has been the greatest cause for concern.

Empty seats at CitiField could spell big trouble for the Wilpons.

By now, everyone should be familiar with Fred Wilpon’s entanglement in Bernie Madoff’s massive financial fraud, but lately even more distressing news has emerged. Earlier in the week, it was revealed that the Mets received a $25 million loan from Major League Baseball. Although such a transaction is not unprecedented, tapping into the central fund usually presages rougher times ahead (and sometimes an eventual sale). In the Mets’ case, we know the Wilpons followed up the November loan with the intention to sell a minority stake in the team. Since that announcement, no news of an impending sale has emerged, so if the Mets can’t take on a new partner soon, liquidity could continue to be an issue.

Compounding the Mets’ financial problems is interest in the team continues to wane. Despite opening brand new CitiField in 2009, attendance has declined thanks to two sub-.500 finishes. Unfortunately for the Mets, debt payments don’t abate when attendance does, and according to early reports, 2011 could see an even greater attendance decline. In an effort to reverse this trend, the Mets have not only enacted significant ticket discounts, but also revamped its ticket operations, including hiring a new head of sales. Of course, the 25-men on the active roster are the ones who really sell tickets, and it doesn’t seem as if reinforcements are on the way.

Financial empires can collapse over night, especially when they are constructed like a house of cards. Moving money from one entity to another works well when cash is plenty, but once liquidity dries up so does the organization’s financial health. The Wilpons are finding this out the hard way. According to several reports, including the lawsuit filed by Madoff trustee Irving H. Piccard, the Wilpons have used their other businesses to support the Mets, a lifeline that is now being cut off by their current financial predicament. Without the ability to fund the team’s operations from its own revenue, the Wilpons and their partners may have no choice but to sell out completely.

Adding insult to injury from a Mets’ point of view is the massive shadow being cast by the cross-town Yankees. Not only has the team enjoyed great fortune on the field (i.e., playoffs every year but 2008 since 1995, not to mention five championships and seven pennants in that span), but it continues to make one off it. Upon his passing, former Yankees’ principal owner George M. Steinbrenner was lauded greatly for the triumphs he helped the Yankees achieve on the diamond, but his best work was done in the boardroom. (more…)

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Proving that he is indeed a chip off the old block, Hank Steinbrenner stopped by the Yankees’ Spring Training camp in Tampa and immediately made his presence known. Speaking to an assembled pack of reporters, the elder Steinbrother sounded off on a variety of topics, including the Yankees’ growing revenue sharing bill as well as the viability of small market teams. However, the comments that raised the most eyebrows pertained to the perceived lack of focus by last year’s team, including those who were “too busy building mansions and doing other things, and not concentrating on winning”.

Each Spring, Steinbrenner would deliver a state of the team address to a horde of assembled reporters, like in this photo from March 1, 1995.

That last comment in particular, which was an obvious reference to Derek Jeter, was right out of the George Steinbrenner play book (in fact, the remark was a reiteration of his father’s December 2002 criticism of the distractions stemming from Jeter’s “bachelor lifestyle”). Predictably, Hank’s outspokenness was widely criticized in the mainstream media and around the blogosphere, but considering his bark is without bite, I am actually kind of glad he took the time to share his thoughts. Since George’s declining health forced him to recede from active involvement, Yankees Spring Training has missed some of the entertainment that the Boss used to provide. Of course, when his father sounded off, it was much more likely to have an impact on the team. With Hank, however, you get all the fun with little of the worry. As long as his comments don’t translate into the decision making, an occasional stream of consciousness from Hank isn’t so bad.

When the Boss was in charge, Spring Training always followed the same pattern. Steinbrenner would report to camp like a general inspecting his troops, vow that he would no longer meddle with the team and then usually break that promise before the end of spring (sometimes even before the end of the conversation). The Boss would also typically single out one of his players for a pointed comment or two, particularly if that player happened to sign a new contract at a displeasing level of compensation during the previous offseason. Listed below are some of George Steinbrenner’s more memorable spring salvos (followed by context).

If Sparky Lyle isn’t mature enough to understand that he has a contractual and moral obligation to the New York Yankees, we certainly are not going to waste one minute of our time in attempting to find out where he is.” – February 22, 1978, Modesto Bee

Sparky Lyle had made a habit of reporting late to Spring Training, but in 1978, he was particularly unhappy because of the exorbitant salaries paid to newcomers like Rich Gossage and Andy Messersmith. The Boss was unsympathetic to Lyle’s plight, but managed to keep a cool head and good sense of humor about the situation. When Lyle finally arrived, Steinbrenner had him greeted at the airport by a 100-piece high school band playing “Pomp and Circumstance” underneath a banner that read “Welcome to Fort Lauderdale Sparky – Finally”. (more…)

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(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeU.)

Pat Gillick was an accomplished baseball executive for well over 40 years, including 27 seasons as a general manager for four different franchises. Although he isn’t a blight on the Hall of Fame, his election this afternoon by the new Expansion Era committee process is an absurdity when juxtaposed against the exclusion of two much more worthy candidates.

Marvin Miller, flanked by Joe Torre, announces the end of the first player’s strike (Photo: AP).

The mission of the Hall of Fame is (or at least should be) to honor excellence and preserve history, but unfortunately, the new era-based committee process seems just as prone to the cronyism that corrupted past iterations. One could not write the story of baseball’s expansion era, which the Hall of Fame defines as 1973 to the present, without devoting massive chapters to the contributions of MLBPA executive director Marvin Miller (1966 to 1982) and Yankees’ principal owner George M. Steinbrenner III (1973-2010). By excluding each member, the Hall of Fame is presenting an incomplete history…one influenced more by personal relationships than impact on the game.

The argument against Miller seems to be from those who think free agency ruined the game. “Because of the fiery union leader, the wholesome sport of baseball was undermined by greedy players no longer interested in simply playing for the love of the game”, Miller’s detractors have usually argued in one way or another. Sadly, such sentiment is pervasive, even though Miller’s labor revolution ushered in an era of growth and competitive balance. If he was an NFL commissioner, he’d be widely lauded as a hero. In the baseball world, however, he is still viewed by many as an enemy, especially by former executives who failed time and time again when squaring off against him at the bargaining table. By collecting 11 of 12 votes needed, Miller just missed joining Gillick, but as long as the committee contains a strong element of his past adversaries, getting over the hump could be difficult.

Steinbrenner was an industry leader during his tenure as Yankees owner.

Steinbrenner’s exclusion comes as a surprise because it seemed as if part of the reason for the Hall’s new voting process was so the recently deceased Yankee owner could be awarded with immediate posthumous enshrinement. Incredibly, however, he received less than eight votes. Even Dave Concepcion received eight! There is no legitimate argument for not electing Steinbrenner. The history of baseball without mention of Steinbrenner is simply incomplete, and that fact should override any other concern. The idea that his two suspensions should detract from his overall contribution to the game is ill conceived, especially because a careful look at each situation reveals that Steinbrenner was unfairly treated during both investigations. Putting that aside, the bottom line is George Steinbrenner was arguably the most gigantic figure during the expansion era, so having fewer than half the electors recognize his accomplishments doesn’t speak well for the process.

Getting back to Gillick, his three world championships and 2,276-1,388 record as a general manager are impressive, but are they Hall of Fame worthy? The only other men who have been elected purely as front office executives are all legendary figures in the game: Ed Barrow, who was the architect of the first Yankees’ dynasty; George Weiss, who carried the flag from Barrow by winning seven World Series in the Bronx; and Branch Rickey, who was a pioneer in so many regards, not the least of which was his role in breaking the color barrier. Two other men elected based largely on contributions as an executive were Larry and Lee McPhail. Again, both father and son left behind a legendary imprint on the game well beyond wins and losses. With all due respect to Gillick, he has not had the same impact as the front office executive he now joins in the Hall of Fame.

Most of the unworthy Hall of Fame selections in the past have emanated from the backroom politics of the veteran’s committee process. Instead of focusing on the historical integrity of enshrinement, committee members lobbied for friends and ex-teammates, resulting in more than a few curious selections. Sadly, it seems as if that process hasn’t changed. By having 16 contemporary voters preside over friend and enemy alike, the vote is almost certain to be impacted by personal bias.

Marvin Miller and George Steinbrenner were such towering figures that their legacies will grow regardless of whether they are elected to the Hall of Fame. It is a shame, however, that for at least the next three years, visitors to that institution will be witness to an incomplete history.

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The Hall of Fame’s inaugural “Expansion ERA” ballot has been released and the Yankees are well represented. Ron Guidry, Billy Martin and Tommy John are all eligible for consideration, but the headliner is George M. Steinbrenner III. When the new “veteran’s committee” process was announced back in July, I suggested that the revised rules seemed intended for the purpose of expediting Steinbrenner’s election, and that still appears to be the case.

The appearance of Steinbrenner and Martin on the ballot together is almost too good to be true considering how inexorably the two were linked from the time Steinbrenner bought the Yankees until Martin’s untimely death on Christmas in 1989. However, an even more intriguing pairing involves one of the men who will be voting on Steinbrenner’s candidacy.

Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner in happy times. The two men are reunited as the only deceased candidates on the Hall of Fame's new Expansion Era ballot.

In order to get the posthumous nod, Steinbrenner will need a vote from 75% of the16-member panel, which the Boss would be pleased to know includes long-time friend and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf. Steinbrenner would probably also be greatly amused by the irony of Reinsdorf sitting in judgment over his legacy because before the two became friends they were professional enemies.

Kemp caused a war of words between Steinbrenner and Reinsdorf in 1983.

The Reinsdorf/Steinbrenner feud began in the 1982 offseason when the Yankees made an aggressive play for White Sox outfielder Steve Kemp. When the ink dried on Kemp’s new five year, $5.5 million contract with the Yankees, Reinsdorf decried Steinbrenner’s fiscal irresponsibility and derisively stated that the Yankee owner was collecting bad contracts.

In addition to his public criticism, Reinsdorf also took aim at Steinbrenner by signing free agent pitcher Floyd Bannister to a five year, $4.5 million contract. The Yankees were rumored to have great interest in Bannister, so when Reinsdorf and fellow White Sox co-owner Eddie Einhorn had the last laugh with the signing, the Boss was not amused. In response to the Bannister contract, Steinbrenner fired back, telling AP, “[Reinsdorf and Einhorn] are the Abbott and Costello of baseball…a couple of pumpkins who should get their thinking straight”.

As thanks for turning that offseason’s winter meetings in Hawaii into a battle ground, baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn fined Reindorf and Einhorn $2,500, but doubled the penalty for Steinbenner. Not surprisingly, the Boss bristled at being fined twice the amount as his adversaries, stating to AP, “I’m sorry to see that Kuhn is bowing out by bearing down on the owners as usual, especially me”.

Steinbrenner would eventually see justice delayed during the 1983 season when Reinsdorf was fined another $5,000 by Kuhn for once again taking a swipe at the Yankees’ owner. While attending a party for the All Star Game, which was being played at the White Sox’ Comiskey Park, Reindorf, who had a little too much to drink, entertained the attendees by explaining how to tell when George Steinbrenner was lying. “When you see his lips move,” Reindorf informed the crowd, which included Kuhn.

The Boss had his buddy beat on World Series championships (7 to 1), but Reinsdorf evened the score with the Bulls’ six NBA titles. In 1985, Reinsdorf purchased the Bulls from an ownership group that included Steinbrenner.

Kuhn wouldn’t last as commissioner for much longer. In August 1983, he eventually resigned, washing his hands of Steinbrenner and Reinsdorf, but in his absence, the two battling owners formed a strong friendship that would last for over 25 years.

Of course, just because they were friends, didn’t mean they still didn’t enjoy taking a dig at each other. The two teams were still fond of sabotaging each other in trades (the Britt Burns deal being an excellent example), and on a personal level, Reinsdorf always enjoyed flaunting his success with the Chicago Bulls, not the least of which was because one of the men from whom he bought them was Steinbrenner.

Very few men have a greater insight into Steinbrenner’s contribution to the game of baseball than Reinsdorf. As both an enemy and a friend, he has seen the best and worst of him. It remains to be seen which side will win out when Reinsdorf weighs the balance, but either way, you can bet the Boss is keeping a close eye on his buddy from up above.

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