THE BOSS NO MORE
The announcement by baseball commissioner Fay Vincent on Monday night was stunning. "Mr. Steinbrenner has agreed to resign on or before August 20, 1990, as the general partner of the New York Yankees," read the commissioner in a New York City hotel ballroom crammed with reporters. "From there on, Mr. Steinbrenner will have no further involvement in the management of the New York Yankees or in the day-today operations of the club."
Vincent had done the dreamed of and the undreamed of: He had permanently banned George Steinbrenner from running the Yankees. News of the decision drew a 90-second standing ovation at Yankee Stadium, where the Yanks were in the fourth inning of a 6-2 win over the Detroit Tigers. Fans delighted in the realization that Steinbrenner would now have to buy a ticket to see his last-place team play.
Vincent's ruling ended baseball's four-month investigation of Steinbrenner (SI, July 23 and 30). After 11 hours of hammering out final details with Steinbrenner and a passel of lawyers on Monday—a scene deputy commissioner Steve Greenberg described as "full of sound and fury"—Vincent announced that, in his view, Steinbrenner had engaged in activity "not in the best interests of baseball," a violation of rule 21(f). Vincent said that Steinbrenner had acted against baseball's best interests by paying $40,000 in January to self-described former gambler Howard Spira, by maintaining "a working relationship" with Spira without informing baseball and by conducting, again without telling baseball, a private investigation of charges made by Spira against former Yankee Dave Winfield, with whom Steinbrenner had a long feud. Vincent concluded, contrary to what Steinbrenner had stated during the investigation, that the Yankee owner had paid Spira the $40,000 for potentially damaging information about Winfield, now a California Angel. "I don't think Mr. Steinbrenner intended to harm the game," said Vincent, "but the fact remains that he did harm the game."
August 5, 1990
In a written summary of his decision, Vincent reproved Steinbrenner on one point after another. He said Steinbrenner and Steinbrenner's advisers had given baseball conflicting explanations for the payment to Spira. Without saying directly that Steinbrenner had lied, Vincent called Steinbrenner's often meandering, evasive testimony before him at a hearing on July 5 and 6 "an attempt to force explanations in hindsight onto discomforting facts." Vincent also noted that Steinbrenner's advisers had told him not to pay Spira but that Steinbrenner had made the payment anyway.
Steinbrenner, who said only that he was "happy" to have the case resolved, agreed not to challenge Vincent's ruling in court, even though it strips him of nearly all his power in team affairs. Steinbrenner will still be allowed to vote, as any limited partner in the team would, on major business decisions regarding concessions, leases and so on, but that's all. The ruling requires Steinbrenner, who currently owns 55% of the Yankees, to reduce his ownership to less than 50% and cut himself off from personnel decisions and other day-to-day Yankee business. Bucky Dent's axing in June will go down in history as Steinbrenner's 18th and final managerial firing.
Steinbrenner will be allowed to nominate a replacement for himself as managing partner of the Yankees. It could be any of the 18 other part owners of the team (none of whom has a share larger than 8%), but Steinbrenner's side said the nominee will be Steinbrenner's 33-year-old son, Hank. The new managing partner won't be George's puppet, however; whoever replaces Steinbrenner must win the approval of Vincent and of big league owners and then abide by strict guidelines forbidding Steinbrenner from exerting even a pinkie's worth of influence.
Steinbrenner still could face further embarrassment when Spira goes to trial in New York on charges that he tried to extort money from Steinbrenner and threatened to harm Steinbrenner and Winfield. Vincent dismissed Steinbrenner's claims that he had paid Spira because Spira had threatened him and his family—"These claims of fear and extortion are not credible," said the commissioner—and Spira's lawyers contend that Steinbrenner used his Tampa law enforcement connections to orchestrate Spira's indictment.
If baseball won't be the same without Steinbrenner, not a lot of people in the sport will miss him, either. As Winfield noted when asked about the decision effectively removing his longtime antagonist from the game, "The Yankee fans, I think they deserve a new chapter. An old chapter is closed, a new chapter opens."
Hall Thompson, founder of the all-white Shoal Creek Country Club in Birmingham, site of the PGA Championship later this month, appears to have become a historic figure in golf. By telling the Birmingham Post-Herald in late June that his club would not be pressured into accepting black members (SCORECARD, July 9), the 67-year-old Thompson touched off what has grown into a nationwide uproar over the exclusionary membership practices at many private golf and country clubs. Last week civil rights leaders reiterated plans to picket the PGA Championship if Shoal Creek doesn't add a black member immediately, and a number of advertisers—including Honda, Sharp Electronics and Toyota—withdrew from the scheduled telecasts of the event because of the membership controversy. The lost commercials could cost ESPN, which is to broadcast the tournament's first two rounds, several hundred thousand dollars, and ABC, which is to show the final two rounds, more than $2 million.
The Shoal Creek controversy, while disconcerting to many country club members, is changing golf for the better. The PGA of America, which runs the PGA Championship, announced new guidelines in mid-July under which it would start taking into account clubs' membership policies and practices when choosing sites for the event. The next four PGAs are already scheduled for clubs with no black members, but don't be surprised if those clubs add minority members before long to avoid bad publicity and boycotts by sponsors. Shoal Creek, by the way, has assured Birmingham Mayor Richard Arrington it will have black members within a year.
As for the PGA Tour, it said last week that it will ask its tournament policy board to mandate that any club hosting a PGA Tour, Senior PGA Tour or Ben Hogan Tour event abide by nonexclusionary membership policies and practices. That would be a significant change: Of the 39 PGA Tour events this year, for example, at least 17 were or will be held at clubs with no black members, according to a Charlotte Observer survey. The USGA, which runs the U.S. Open and has scheduled four of the next five Opens for clubs with no black members, says it will "reevaluate" how it addresses membership practices of potential Open sites. The LPGA says it already looks at membership policies when picking event sites.
Henceforth, any club that hosts a pro tournament should expect to be scrutinized for evidence that it discriminates against racial minorities, women, Jews or any other group. Even the most hallowed of clubs has been put on warning: Rev. Joseph Lowery, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, has called for advertisers to boycott next year's Masters if Augusta National, whose 300 members are all white, does not add at least one black. Last week Augusta National said that it has "for some time been seeking to include" minority members and "will continue our efforts in that direction."
Like cymbals and drums, aluminum baseball bats can be designed to produce a particular percussive sound. Japanese ballplayers have long preferred loud, high-pitched bats whose resounding pings bespeak—at least to the Japanese—power. "They associate performance with sound," says Dave Ottman, a vice-president of Ten Pro, a U.S. aluminum-bat company, "but now they say they're going deaf."
Ottman isn't joking. Researchers in Japan have found that, when striking a hardball, the Japanese-made bats used in high school and other amateur competition in that country produce pings of as much as 96.3 decibels. That's as loud as a circular saw ripping through wood, or loud enough to cause hearing loss through sustained exposure. Most American bats, by contrast, send out slightly more than 80 decibels.
"We've heard from a customer over there that umpires are complaining that they're going deaf," says Jim Easton, president of Easton, another U.S. maker of metal bats. "Also, people who live near ballparks complain that the pinging goes on all day and into the evening. It isn't a very pleasant sound."
Aluminum bats are hollow. The typical American model is relatively quiet because it has either a plastic plug at the end of its barrel (the plug also makes the bat lighter, as U.S. players prefer) or sound-clamping foam inside. Japanese bats generally have metal ends and no foam—though that will soon change. To protect umpires and players, the Japanese high school baseball federation has just approved rules barring the use of any bat that produces a ping louder than 92 decibels.
THEY SAID IT
•Syd Thrift, former baseball executive: "I like to call the American League East the Fortune 500, because its teams are spending a fortune and playing .500."
•Karl Mecklenburg, Denver Bronco veteran, on being shifted in recent years from noseguard to defensive end to inside linebacker to his current position, outside linebacker: "I'm moving right up the evolutionary ladder."