1990 | BRONX, NEW YORK – A messy soap opera involving New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and Dave Winfield, one of his players, hit the headlines again today with the arrest of Howard Spira. Spira, a small-time gambler and former sports radio station stringer, was arrested and charged with extortion.
Spira was convicted a year later for trying to extort $110,000 from Steinbrenner. The mess ended up getting the Yankee owner banned from baseball when it was revealed that he had given Spira $40,000 to find out some dirt about Winfield. Steinbrenner insisted the money was to help “Howie” get back on his feet.
Steinbrenner and Winfield had been feuding for a number of reasons since Winfield signed a 10-year, $23 million contract with the Yankees that Steinbrenner didn’t feel he quite lived up to. Winfield was upset with Steinbrenner for, among other things, claiming he reneged on a promise to donate $300,000 to Winfield’s foundation. That’s where Howard Spira came in. Spira once worked as a publicist for the Foundation. Steinbrenner paid Spira to find out some stuff on Winfield that Steinbrenner could use against him.
Steinbrenner was reinstated as Yankees owner in 1993. Howard Spira served 26 months in a federal prison for extortion. What’s never been clear is why someone with the resources of George Steinbrenner would seek out someone like Howie Spira rather than, say, an ex-FBI agent.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK • George Steinbrenner bought the New York Yankees for $10-million on this day in baseball history. He put together a group that bought the team from CBS, but Steinbrenner was clearly the boss.
George Steinbrenner would prove to be the most domineering owner since Connie Mack. Where would the Yankees be without him? Where would Seinfeld be without him? He was more famous, or infamous, than many of his players. He was not one to sit back and let the baseball people run the team, although that’s what he said was his intention in 1973. As time went on he assumed more and more control of the daily operations, and grew more and more impatient, going through a slew of managers in a short time. He was also loyal, he hired former Yankee second baseman Billy Martin as manager five times, which of course means he fired him five times.
George Steinbrenner was born July 4, 1930. He grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland, the son of a Great Lakes shipping tycoon. He did well enough in the family business to have enough money to pursue the Yankees. Despite having little experience in baseball, he made a successful bid on the Yankees at the age of 42.
Prior to purchasing the Yankees, Steinbrenner’s experience was in other sports. He ran track and played football in college. He was an assistant football coach at Northwestern and later at Purdue. Steinbrenner got into sports ownership in 1960 when he bought the Cleveland Pipers of the National Industrial Basketball League.
As owner of the New York Yankees, Steinbrenner found himself in the baseball commissioner’s dog house more than once. He was suspended from baseball for two years in 1974 after making illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon’s presidential re-election campaign. He was suspended again in 1990 after making payments to a confessed gambler who had some dirt on one of his former players, Dave Winfield.
But you can’t argue with success. During Steinbrenner’s reign the Yankees went to the World Series ten times and won seven of them. And that $10 Million investment in 1973 is now estimated to be worth over $3 Billion.
George Steinbrenner died in 2010 at the age of 80.
More on George Steinbrenner
MLB Team values