Posts Tagged ‘Howie Spira’

I took an English course this past semester at school, and the main theme of the class was “Spectacle”. For our final paper, we were able to choose a topic that we thought fit that category, and I chose George Steinbrenner’s reign as owner of the New York Yankees. The purpose of my paper was to show how the different personality traits that he possessed led to success in many different aspects of his job.

spec·ta·cle [spek-tuh-kuhl]

1. anything presented to the sight or view, esp. something of a striking or impressive kind:
2. a public show or display, esp. on a large scale

Steinbrenner’s Reign

              George M. Steinbrenner III has gone down in the record books as one of the most controversial and successful owners in the history of sports. His demand for excellence and his hunger to be the best did not always put him in a good light with the people he worked with, because he was stubborn and wanted to do things his way. During his reign as owner with the New York Yankees, he had run-ins with authorities, MLB officials, players, and team personnel. If things didn’t go according to his plan, he would take matters into his own hands, berating players and messing around with the minds of his managers and employees. Even though many of his tactics were thought to be unethical, Steinbrenner transcended the game of baseball in the process by: bringing about the development of free agency, having the first organization to own and operate its own television cable network, controlling the back pages of the newspapers, and changed the way other clubs ran their teams. These developments allowed the fans to forgive and forget about the stunts Steinbrenner pulled. It was his attitude, competitiveness, larger than life personality, and his generosity that allowed his to shine the brightest in the biggest media market in the country. These personality traits were critical factors in his success as an owner: financially, on the ball field, and with the media and fans.

            Steinbrenner was a remarkable competitor, who was motivated to be successful like no other owner in the sports world. “Winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing. Breathing first, winning next,” he said. His whole life was a competition, dating back to his childhood when he was constantly trying to gain approval from his father. George’s father, Henry Steinbrenner, “ruled with an iron fist” and instilled the idea that winning was all that mattered in life. George could tell him that he won two out of three races in school, but his father would only focus on why he lost that third race and what went wrong. In 1973, Steinbrenner and a small group of investors purchased the New York Yankees from CBS for $8.8 million dollars. Thirty-seven years later, the organization is now worth $1.6 billion, which is the most valuable baseball team in the league (and 3rd most valuable franchise in the world. 1st: Manchester United $1.8B, 2nd: Dallas Cowboys $1.65B). When he first bought the team, he led New Yorkers to believe that he would not be a hands-on owner, but he would rather keep his distance from the team and go back to his family shipping business. “I won’t be active in the day-to-day operations of the club at all. I can’t spread myself so thin. I’ve got enough headaches with my shipping company. We plan absentee ownership as far as running the Yankees is concerned,” he stated. It turned out to be the complete opposite, because he wanted his own project to work on, rather than staying put in his father’s shipping company. “I’m not here to run a country club,” Steinbrenner said. “I’m here to run a winning organization.” He soon donned the nicknames “The Boss” and “Manager George”, and would meddle in the general manager’s meetings and many of the on-field decisions. There were several occasions during the 1970’s where George would call Yankees manager, Billy Martin in the dugout during a game and give him a tongue-lashing. He would complain about anything from why they didn’t bunt in a particular situation to why Reggie Jackson wasn’t batting fourth in the lineup. It was a display of just how unreasonable George could be at times. (more…)

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A handcuffed Howard Spira leaves Manhattan Federal Court in March of 1990.

Howie Spira is the Bronx gambler who dug up dirt on Dave Winfield after being paid $40,000 by George Steinbrenner. Winfield sued George for failing to pay his foundation the $300,000 guaranteed in his contract. On July 30, 1990, Commissioner Fay Vincent banned Steinbrenner from baseball for life. Steinbrenner was reinstated soon after in 1993. Now, at 50-years old, Spira is down in the dumps.

“George Steinbrenner ruined my health, my life and my reputation. My life is a living hell,” says Spira, a short, slight man with a gray pallor who favors dark, natty suits. “I have no friends, no life and no future. Everything is complete emptiness, loneliness and misery. Everyone hates me.”

“Will somebody please come forward and help me tell my story?” Spira asks. “I go through my own private hell every minute of every day and every night because of George Steinbrenner.”

Spira wants to put his story into a book, but the writers and agents that he’s contacted won’t touch the project. I guess nobody wants to mess with the New York Yankees.

“They get scared of George and his sons,” Spira says. “Or they want the perks that come from hanging around the Yankees – the tickets and memorabilia and the mystique.”

In the 1980’s, Spira served as an unpaid publicist for Dave Winfield’s charity (the Dave Winfield Foundation). He wasn’t a very good gambler either, as he owed $100,000 to Mafia-connected bookies. Not only that, but he owed money to Winfield after he borrowed $15,000 from him. Later on, Winfield charged him outrageously high interest rates. Spira figured out a way that he could solve all of his money problems. In 1986, he contacted Steinbrenner and said he wanted $150,000, a job with his shipping company and a room in his Tampa hotel. In exchange, he would give him proof that Winfield was using his foundation’s money on girlfriends. Steinbrenner agreed to the deal.Spira, who serves 22 months in federal prison for extortion, says he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and can't work.

Steinbrenner called his repeated phone calls extortion. According to Spira, Steinbrenner sent his friends from the Tampa FBI office to go after him. The FBI went to his house and the rest is history. Spira wound up serving 22 months in federal prison for extortion. After that, his health started to decline. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, he can no longer work, lives with his parents, and he relies on disability checks and Medicaid.

He says Steinbrenner ruined his life, but it was Spira who sought him out for money. I’m not defending Steinbrenner in any way, as this was one of his lowest points as the owner of the team, but I just feel that Spira got into trouble and brought it on himself. It’s not like George made him owed $100,000 to Mafia-connected bookies and $15,000 to Winfield.

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