Steinbrenner Is Busy Near Quitting Time


As Aug. 20 nears -- the date by which George Steinbrenner must resign as the New York Yankees' general partner -- the state of the ballclub remains in confusion.

Developments last week only served to cloud the matter of Steinbrenner's removal from the hands-on operation of the Yankees as ordered by Commissioner Fay Vincent in his July 30 ruling on the owner's payment of $40,000 to professed gambler Howard Spira.

Steinbrenner attempted to have some sanctions imposed by Vincent reworded, specifically those with regard to input in financial matters, game attendance and re-instatement. No deal, Vincent said. Talk among some major league owners indicated the proposed appointment of Steinbrenner's son Hank as the Yankees' general partner would have difficulty winning approval. Despite Steinbrenner's agreement not to litigate, the possibility of a lawsuit challenging the commissioner's authority still looms.

The baseball operation of the Yankees is unsettling amid the corporate unrest as Steinbrenner gropes with the idea of naming a new general manager, one with marquee value, to whom he can entrust the organization. Meanwhile, Manager Stump Merrill is in limbo, awaiting a decision on his status. Steinbrenner may be further bogged down as the FBI pursues an investigation into allegations the owner used agents in Tampa, Fla., to conduct personal surveillance.

Those who thought Yankees intrigue would be a thing of the past after Vincent's decision have come to realize George Steinbrenner won't go away quietly. This week promises to be busy.

Despite reports to the contrary, Hank Steinbrenner, 33, is expected to be the limited partners' approved nominee to replace his father as general partner. A vote of the 18 partners is expected to be taken this week, probably Wednesday in Cleveland, although a site has not been determined. According to sources, George Steinbrenner is said to have the two-thirds approval required for passage among the limited partners. He has 55-percent interest in the club. His wife, Joan, has 5 percent. Steinbrenner is also believed to have the support of Daniel, James and Lester Crown; Harry, Robert and James Nederlander; Edward Rosenthal, Marvin Goldklang and Barry Halper, constituting a sufficient total to swing the vote to Hank Steinbrenner.

The younger Steinbrenner has had no comment on the matter. His silence is disturbing and lends credence to reports last week he did not want the job. Hank is believed to be uneasy about having to take up permanent residence in New York and abandoning his gratifying lifestyle as director of Kinsman Farm, the family's thoroughbred-breeding facility in Ocala, Fla. Even if approved by the limited partners, Hank Steinbrenner would have to get past the seven-member ownership committee's intense screening and then be accepted by a vote of major league owners -- a majority in the National League (seven of 12) and three-quarters in the American League (10 of the remaining 13).

George may fear some anti-Steinbrenner sentiment among owners could foil Hank's opportunity to keep the family involved in a major role with the Yankees. Since he must step down in nine days, Steinbrenner is also aware his chance to arrange the club's course will soon be lost. Time is too short for a new general partner to be in place by Aug. 20, but that date remains the last in Steinbrenner's term in that position.

The Yankees may be rudderless for some time. Ownership committee chairman Jerry Reinsdorf of the Chicago White Sox has said the matter of voting on a Yankees general partner would not be taken up until the owners meet Sept.12-13 in Pittsburgh. In the meantime, the Yankees' affairs could be overseen by chief operating officer Leonard Kleinman and director of operations Jack Lawn. There also is a possibility one of the limited partners -- Goldklang has been mentioned -- could serve as an interim general partner.

As for the baseball operation, currently divided between general manager Pete Peterson and player personnel director George Bradley, a new face may surface, but it probably won't be Tom Seaver's. The former pitcher was reportedly the top candidate to take over as general manager, but sources revealed Seaver's interview with George Steinbrenner did not go well.

Steinbrenner is said to have one other candidate in mind. Speculation rests on former Cardinals Manager Whitey Herzog or Padres general manager Jack McKeon. A remote possibility is former New York Mets Manager Davey Johnson or perhaps Seattle Mariners general manager Woody Woodward, who had the job with the Yankees when Hank Steinbrenner worked for the club in 1986.

The main order of baseball business is the continued assessment of the younger players in the system who have been on trial much of the season. Third baseman Jim Leyritz, first baseman Kevin Maas and outfielder Oscar Azocar have become regulars in the lineup. More will be on view come September. Likely to be called up are pitchers Dave Eiland, Alan Mills and Mark Leiter, third baseman Mike Blowers and outfielder Bam-Bam Meulens. Other possibilities are pitchers Steve Adkins and Kevin Mmhat and outfielder Bernie Williams.

"This is the ideal time to evaluate our young people," Peterson says. "If you don't bring them up now, then you go to spring training next year wondering who can help us."

By moving young players onto the roster, the Yankees have to decide the fate of veterans in the middle of contracts, such as outfielders Jesse Barfield and Mel Hall and designated hitter-first baseman Steve Balboni, any of whom may be used as trade bait. The Yankees also must make decisions about whether to re-sign players eligible for free agency at season's end, such as pitchers Dave Righetti, Tim Leary and Jeff Robinson. Two other pitchers, Dave LaPoint and Mike Witt, might be declared free agents as well, pending an arbitrator's penalty on the 1987 collusion case.

As for Merrill, he has the support of Peterson and Bradley. If Steinbrenner is intent on maintaining a youth movement, Merrill will be retained. Then again, a change in general manager may result in a change in the manager's office, too.

George Steinbrenner's last week as the Yankees' engineer could be most taxing.

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