As the George Steinbrenner hagiography train rolls on, yesterday brought new reminders that The Boss holds a special place in the pantheon of stadium extortion practitioners.
First, from New York Times columnist Jim Dwyer’s recounting of Steinbrenner’s impact on New York:
“He calls up the next day,” Edward I. Koch said Tuesday, remembering the end of a long negotiation in 1987 that had concluded — or so Mr. Koch thought — with a firm deal to extend the Yankees’ lease on the old stadium. Mr. Koch, then the mayor, had no interest in sports but wanted to make sure that the Yankees did not leave, and so the city agreed to improve parking and road access if the team would sign an extension of its lease.
The mayor was relieved to have the haggling and threats brought to an end. One provision that would continue from the old deal was the city’s 10 percent share of cable television revenue.
“He said, ‘I need two weeks to decide’ on an option on some obscure matter that really didn’t affect the city, and we didn’t care which option he chose,” Mr. Koch said. “So fine. It didn’t matter to the city which one he chose. We had shaken hands.”
Two weeks later, the phone rang. “He called and said he was not going to sign the contract, that the options were not acceptable,” Mr. Koch said. “The reason, we found out, was that in the two-week period, he had negotiated an increase in his cable television contract from $50 million to $500 million, and he didn’t want the city to get 10 percent of $500 million.”
And even before his arrival in New York, reports Roldo Bartimole in the Cleveland Leader, Steinbrenner was already lobbying for public stadium subsidies, authoring a report that helped lead to Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell getting taxpayer-funded improvements to Cleveland Stadium, writing: “We recognize that these improvements would be costly but they would result in a stadium facility of which both the city and tenants could be proud. The involvement of private management and capital would relieve the taxpayer of the burden — present and future — and, at the same time, assure them of a first class facility.”
Adds Bartimole: “Steinbrenner and Modell also were partners in a tennis resort development in Ft. Lauderdale at the time. No conflict, right?”
Finally, South Bronx residents protested at the new Yankee Stadium yesterday, calling on the Yankees to show proof that they’ve actually donated millions of dollars to local community groups, as Steinbrenner and his team execs promised during the run-up to the city council’s stadium vote but have never documented since. More in my Village Voice article.