A graduate of Yale and the UCLA law school, he has been a minor league player, a major league player agent and managing partner of a big league Los Angeles law firm.
As a son of Hank Greenberg, the late Hall of Famer, Steve Greenberg grew up in a baseball household and now, at 41, will help run baseball’s household as Fay Vincent’s deputy commissioner.
Deputy? Greenberg defines it as a partnership.
“I want to be where the action is, and it’s my understanding that Fay and I will work together on those kinds of issues,” Greenberg said, cleaning out his office in the West Los Angeles firm of Manatt, Phelps, Rothenberg & Phelps in preparation for his Jan. 1 move to the commissioner’s office in New York.
The selection of Greenberg to fill the job Vincent held before the September death of commissioner Bart Giamatti has been widely hailed, though that appointment to the No. 2 post in baseball’s chain of command--a high-level position on the side of management--was something Greenberg would have thought infeasible, considering his background as an agent for Bill Madlock, Eric Show, Mark Langston, Tim Flannery and dozens of other players.
“I never dreamed, representing players all those years, that working for the commissioner was a viable option,” he conceded. “Really, Fay Vincent made it possible.”
Vincent and Greenberg met in the early 1980s while serving as directors of a Connecticut boarding school.
They have since represented a mutual admiration society in much the same way that Vincent and Giamatti did.
And, as it happens, in the same way that Giamatti and his former Renaissance lit student Steve Greenberg did.
In fact, their shared admiration for Greenberg had prompted Giamatti and Vincent to discuss ways they could lure Greenberg to New York before the stunning events that created the deputy vacancy.
A player agent in the commissioner’s office? A man from the side of labor?
A definite aspect of his appeal, according to Vincent, describing that phase of Greenberg’s background as an “important part of his arsenal.”
Important because Vincent sees a clear need to improve relations between management and players, as Giamatti did.
Important because Greenberg could be a conciliatory factor in the collective bargaining negotiations that many believe will produce a spring lockout or strike.
Attorney Arn Tellem, who represents free agent pitcher Langston now and who calls Greenberg his mentor as an agent--having broken in under Greenberg--is among those who believe it would be a mistake not to employ Greenberg in the negotiations.
Tellem portrays his former tutor as a non-confrontational moderate--one of the few people, he said, with the potential to forge a settlement.
“I don’t view Steve as an ideologue on either side,” Tellem said. “He’ll do what’s best for the game.
“And there are two specific ways he can be helpful.
“The first is that he has a firm grasp of what’s important to the players and won’t unwind the clock to hurt the union.
“The second is that he has a good sense of political persuasion. Working quietly behind the scenes, he has a great feel for developing a consensus among people of divergent views, and he did that as managing partner of the firm.”
Said a skeptical Don Fehr, executive director of the Major League Players Assn.: “There’s a perception that personalities matter a lot more than they do in collective bargaining. The fact is that the issues are driven by institutional concerns. Steve has one set of interests when he’s negotiating player contracts and another when he’s sitting on the side of management.
“I respect Steve’s intellect and professionalism and acknowledge that he would bring a different perspective (to the negotiations), but it won’t surprise me if he’s not involved.”
The commissioner seldom sits at the negotiating table, but his weight can be influential behind the scenes.
Peter Ueberroth helped restrict the 1985 player strike to two days. Bowie Kuhn, by contrast, seemed to disappear during the 50-day strike of 1981.
What role will Vincent and Greenberg play in the current negotiations?
“We’ll have to be opportunistic and see what develops,” Vincent said. “I think we’ll be helpful, but I don’t know in what way yet.”
Greenberg became an agent in 1976. He was still a second-year law student and clerk at Phelps, Rothenberg.
At that time, only superstars like Hank Aaron and Pete Rose had agents. But the arbitration decision in the Andy Messersmith case then created free agency and a rush for representation.
Greenberg--"merrily on my way to becoming a corporate lawyer"--received a call from Madlock, who had been his roommate when they played together at Burlington, N. C. Madlock was then with the Chicago Cubs and said he needed an agent. Greenberg said he would try.
“I made a demand on the Cubs that so offended Mr. (Phillip) Wrigley (the then-owner) that he immediately traded Bill to the (San Francisco) Giants, where he signed a five-year contract,” Greenberg said, laughing.
“I was on my way to becoming an agent totally by accident.”
Greenberg isn’t sure now how his experience as an agent will be put to use--if at all--in the negotiations of this winter.
“I do think I offer an unusual perspective in terms of the people who have worked in the commissioner’s office previously,” he said, citing insight into the concerns and suspicions that are important to the players and steps the owners can take to eliminate the differences.
Will that insight be sought or heeded? Too early to tell, Greenberg said.
“I think that in regard to every issue the commissioner should use the authority of the office to facilitate a result in the best interest of the game, but that’s a lot easier with some than collective bargaining,” he said.
“Some issues can be solved by edict. Collective bargaining isn’t one of them. The commissioner’s role in collective bargaining seems to be ad hoc at best.”
The new deputy commissioner also seems to offer special insight in the area of minority affairs.
No player other than Jackie Robinson may have encountered more bigotry than Hank Greenberg, a two-time most valuable player who went on to own the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox.
Fans, players and press alike dumped anti-Semitic remarks on Greenberg. Umpires even had to stop play in the 1935 World Series between the Cubs and Greenberg’s Detroit Tigers in an effort to halt the virulent bench jockeying.
Greenberg, in his recently published autobiography, wrote that he always used it as a source of motivation.
He told his children--Steve, Glenn (who operates a New York investment firm) and Alva (the wife of a Connecticut lawyer and mother of three)--that it was like getting a cold shower in the fifth inning, that it got his adreneline running again.
Steve Greenberg even encountered some of it during his five years as a minor league player in the early 1970s.
“There’s always going to be a measure of ignorance and bigotry,” he said. “I don’t think I have to be Hank Greenberg’s son to be sensitive to that.
“But my perception today is that it’s a different time. Whatever discrimination there is tends not to be on the field as it was in dad’s day or Jackie Robinson’s.
“That’s not to say there isn’t bias or bigotry that comes out on occasion. But by and large, the talent prevails. If you’re Latin or black or whatever, if you can play, you’ll get a chance.
“But obviously, it’s in the establishment, in the front office and the manager’s office, where the next steps have to be taken. It’s in those areas were progress is still needed, and I definitely favor policies of equal employment.”
Steve Greenberg was born in New York and grew up there and in Cleveland, while his dad owned the Indians. He attended Hotchkiss, the Connecticut boarding school where he would later meet Vincent, and went to Yale, where he played four years of varsity baseball at first base, Hank Greenberg’s position.
Drafted by the Washington Senators, who later became the Texas Rangers, Greenberg was asked about pressure of following in the footsteps of a Hall of Famer.
The pressure, he said, was greater on older brother Glenn, who was bigger, stronger and ended up playing football at Yale.
“I think we all carry pressures being the sons of whoever our fathers are,” Greenberg said. “If your dad comes out to watch you play, you’re nervous.
“In my case, when dad wasn’t around, I didn’t feel the pressure. I mean, I was interviewed a lot and people yelled things at me, but none of that bothered me. It just all sort of rolled off.’
Greenberg went from Geneva, N.Y., to Burlington, N.C., to Pittsfield, Mass., to three years in triple A at Denver and Spokane.
He smiled and said:
“I can tell you about the home run that I hit off James Rodney Richard in Denver and I remember all the big leaguers I ever got a hit off, but with each year I regret more not having a line, not even an 0 for 1, in the Baseball Encyclopedia (which lists only major league records).”
Greenberg would even settle for an 0 for 0 like Archie (Moonlight) Graham, the Burt Lancaster character in Field of Dreams.
Graham played one inning in the outfield for the 1905 New York Giants. No at-bats, but he’s in the book. Greenberg looked it up after seeing the movie.
“He’s in there and will always be there, and I regret that I’m not,” Greenberg said, adding that even if he were, even if he had gotten the chance and delivered a hit or two, he knows it wouldn’t have turned his career around.
“I was what I was,” he said. “I was a a pretty good triple A player who could have been a fringe major leaguer bouncing up and down for a few years. But that wasn’t what I was looking for in a professional career. It wasn’t the reason I went to Yale.”
It was at Yale, in a class on the English poet Spenser, that he met Giamatti.
“He was the most exciting professor I ever had,” Greenberg said. “He made centuries old literature come to life. He as a showman with style, humor and that tremendous intellect, of course.
“He was also one of the handful of regulars at Yale baseball games. That was the pre-Ron Darling era. We weren’t a powerhouse, to put it mildly.
“But Bart showed up for most of the games, soaking up a little sun in the bleachers while he watched the action.
“I got to know him a little then, and when he became president of Yale he would look me up on his West Coast trips and we would talk a little about everything and a lot about baseball.”
Greenberg developed a similar relationship with Vincent, a graduate of the Yale law school and president of Columbia Pictures when they met while serving on the Hotchkiss board.
Each was attracted to the other’s intellect and interests.
“Obviously, a position in baseball was the farthest thing from my mind at the time,” Greenberg said.
Vincent probably shared that view, but it all eventually changed.
Giamatti, who became National League president and then commissioner, brought in Vincent. And Vincent brought in Greenberg, as he and his late friend had discussed.
Greenberg, of course, has had to sever ties with his players, but he had been doing that anyway, becoming more involved with corporate and real estate law.
Did he have to be encouraged to give up the pleasant life style of Southern California? Not really, Greenberg said, though his wife, Myrna, and daughters, Jennifer, 15, and Melanie, 11, supported the move, considering it the opportunity of a lifetime.
He also asked his stepmother what his father might have thought.
“Her response was that he would have unequivocally said, ‘Go for it,’ ” Greenberg said. “She said he would have probably thought back to when he was fighting his battles with anti-Semitism in the ‘30s and ‘40s, and said he would never have dreamed that his kid would be working in the commissioner’s office. She said he would have been proud.”
For Greenberg himself, the chance to work with Vincent is the foremost factor, he said. Baseball is the icing.
“I felt this is something I wanted to do, and, in a sense, had to do,” he said. “It’s been an emotional period for me. My dad passed away three years ago and we were very close. So now, in the year of Field of Dreams, I have this opportunity come along to stir up all the feeling I have about baseball and my dad.
“It’s a very exciting and emotional proposition for me.”