THE BLOG

Steinbrenner: One Degree of Separation

07/13/2010 11:44 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

My sons grew up as major Yankee fans during the 1970s and 80s, when George Steinbrenner, who just died of a massive heart attack, was the colorful Yankee owner who captured the headlines.

As a single mom I often took them to Yankee stadium as a special reward. I knew that Steinbrenner was both a philanthropist and a bully who dissed Yogi Berra and changed managers like most people change oil filters.

But Steinbrenner spent big money. He had New York chutzpah. And he bought the super-talented players needed to create one of the great baseball dynasties of all time.

One of these players was good-natured star outfielder Dave Winfield.

In 1997 I was going out with the former commissioner of baseball, Fay Vincent. In 1989, when Vincent was commissioner, Dave Winfield sued Steinbrenner for failing to pay the Winfield Foundation the $300,000 that had been guaranteed in the outfielder's contract.

To get back at Winfield, Steinbrenner paid $40,000 to gambler Howie Spira, to dig up dirt on Winfield.

Not good. It was a sordid situation.

So on July 30, 1990, Fay Vincent banned George Steinbrenner for life from running the Yankees. This controversial decision enraged Steinbrenner and he bad-mouthed Vincent from that point on.

Two years later, Vincent allowed Steinbrenner to return for the 1993 season. But the team owners, led by Steinbrenner, rebelled against Vincent, who was not reinstated as commissioner.

Through my relationship with Vincent, I heard stories about his long-time love of baseball, and meeting legends including Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio. Fay Vincent believed in fair play, and would have liked to have continued as commissioner. But Steinbrenner, and the baseball team owners, were ultimately more powerful.

Hanging with Fay Vincent made me realize even more about the pitfalls of money and power. And how too much of both can nourish bullying and grudges in American-as-apple-pie baseball. And in any field.