George Steinbrenner’s lifetime of stadium-grubbing

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.


20 comments on “George Steinbrenner’s lifetime of stadium-grubbing

  1. Neil,
    I couldn’t agree with you more regarding the obsequious reporting on Steinbrenner’s death. You took some unnecessary shots, in my opinion, from those who felt you were too hard on the man. I have trouble with the line George was an ogre as a boss but his quiet philanthropy made up for it. I would have preferred for Steinbrenner to have been a bastard all the time, have paid for his own stadium, and have been forced to pay a high percentage estate tax.

  2. If you want to know why Steinbrenner has been treated, relatively, since his death, with kid gloves, you can look no further than the 7 championships that happened under his ownership. For all the talk about New Yorkers being so above everyone else, they are the ultimate frontrunners. They make Miamians look like Chicago Cubs fans in comparison. Imagine if the Yankees had the same record as the Mets in the same amount of years the Mets have been in existence. There would not be as much fawning, for sure. The media just do what they do best, selling copies.

    They could win a hundred championships and it still would not excuse the way they’ve operated as a business, treating fans as if they were a giant ATM and little else. But then, as we saw in 2009, the “fans” didn’t care as long as they won another championship.

  3. Can you wait until the man is at least buried before jumping on him with both feet?

    For all his faults, and he had a truckload, he put a moribund franchise back on the map and increased franchise value from $8M to over $1B.

    What have you done, Neil? Oh that’s right, you wrote an article on this nickel and dime website whining about his negotiation tactics with city government bureaucrats. Classy.

  4. It’s actually debatable how much Steinbrenner had to do with righting a “moribund franchise”: The groundwork for both the 1970s dynasty and the 1990s one was laid during the times that George was suspended from acting as owner. (The first time for illegal campaign donations to Nixon, the second for hiring Howie Spira to spy on Dave Winfield.)

  5. I appreciate that you may dislike the man, but to use his death as an outlet to take shots at public subsidies is not why I come to this website. I remain a fan, but this one is not one of your better articles.

  6. Let me ask a question, then: If George Steinbrenner were alive but, say, being inducted into the Hall of Fame and so the subject of lots of favorable news coverage, and Jim Dwyer and Roldo Bartimole were taking the opportunity to point out his history with stadium subsidies, would it be okay to quote those articles then? Is it just the fact that he’s dead that makes you object to discussing his record?

    If so, it seems like the same should go for arguing that Steinbrenner was a great man because he built a new stadium, or signed Reggie Jackson, or whatever. A human being has died, and that’s sad for his family and friends, as it always is. But if you’re going to open up the floor to discuss what he did with his public life, it’s only fair to allow for both the good and the bad.

  7. There is a time and place for everything.

    I do not argue a word of what you typed, but I think its in good taste to wait a few days before subjecting anyone, no matter who they are, to a persecution after death.

    I just do not think that you need to stoop to that level of writing, but do what you want.

  8. “Is it just the fact that he’s dead that makes you object to discussing his record?”

    No, Neil, its not that he is dead, it is the fact that for some unknown reason, your hatred of the man runs so deep that you can’t help but use his passing as a justification for more Steinbrenner bashing.

    Everything your wrote could have been written by you a week ago, a month ago, a year ago. Nothing new hear. So why now?

    It’s a matter of good taste more than anything else.

  9. Actually, it would have been difficult to write any of this post a week, month, or year ago, since it’s all links to things that were written or happened this Thursday.

  10. Why blame Steinbrenner for the subsidies he got, not once but twice? Blame the bureaucrats who failed to do their jobs. To blame Steinbrenner for any lease deals would be to blame the buyer for a great deal she got on a car.

    The bureaucrats negotiated and signed the deal. Private stadiums and arenas were build in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and the Maryland suburbs. The city could have told the Yankees either build the stadium yourself or move to Newark.

    How is it Steinbrenner’s fault that the bureaucrats cannot do their job?

    From a fan’s perspective, though, Steinbrenner was the best owner. He poured resources into the franchise. The argument presented here and elsewhere that others should receive credit for the Yankees glory years is simply sloppy logic and ignores the role of ownership.

    In a 38 year time span, no team appeared in and won more World Series than the Yankees. The Yankees did it throughout the 38 years and in a era of player free agency. The general managers, managers, and players came and went. The winning came and went and came again.

    The one constant throughout the 38 years of winning and losing and winning again was the owner who signed the checks, and hired (and fired) the personnel.

    Steinbrenner was a complicated man. Because he cannot wear the good guy white hat, let’s not denigrate, deny, and devalue his accomplishments and his role in the Yankees’ good and bad fortune.

    If Steinbrenner had owned the Expos, then Montreal would still have a team.

  11. Why blame Steinbrenner for the subsidies he got, not once but twice? Blame the bureaucrats who failed to do their jobs. To blame Steinbrenner for any lease deals would be to blame the buyer for a great deal she got on a car.

    That is actually a great point. Its the theory of can you blame someone who asks for the moon if someone is willing to give it to them.

    I would guess that that would not be as flamboyant of an article however.

    Neil, I have always liked your work, but im not sure about your motivations now, It seems that your so focused on all the negatives of these deals, but you are loosing that human edge that use to be prevalent.

    I always have liked this site, but this is not what I come here to read.

  12. Why blame Steinbrenner for the subsidies he got, not once but twice? Blame the bureaucrats who failed to do their jobs. To blame Steinbrenner for any lease deals would be to blame the buyer for a great deal she got on a car.

    That is actually a great point. Its the theory of can you blame someone who asks for the moon if someone is willing to give it to them.

    I would guess that that would not be as flamboyant of an article however.

    Neil, I have always liked your work, but im not sure about your motivations now, It seems that your so focused on all the negatives of these deals, but you are loosing that human edge that use to be prevalent.

    I always have liked this site, but this is not what I come here to read.

  13. When someone dies, there’s an obligation to present a full picture of that person’s life. That means good and bad, as appropriate. Just because most of the media have ignored the bad doesn’t mean Neil has done anything inappropriate. When Phil Spector dies, do you honestly think his obit will be about the Wall of Sound and nothing else? I doubt anyone will be crying to let Roman Polanski rest in peace, even though the guy made some pretty amazing films.

    Notice how no commenters have accused Neil of lying. Which means that if you don’t like what you read here, direct your complaints to Steinbrenner himself or the politicians who put him on the dole.

    Steinbrenner is credited with spending what it takes to win. But he was indirectly spending taxpayer money on his players. Let’s say there was no subsidy for his new stadium. That makes Steinbrenner $1.2 billion poorer. With expenses like that, there’s no chance he’d have a $200 million annual payroll. New Yorkers should be crediting themselves for subsidizing the Yankees’ World Series. And they should be asking Steinbrenner when Britt Burns, Kevin Brown, and Carl Pavano will rejoin the team.

  14. There simply is a time and place.

    That said, as others have pointed out, you need to be just as hard on those who agreed to the deals as he has been on Steinbrenner.

    Had he posted it today or tomorrow it would be fine, but on the day he was buried? There may not be any lying involved, but it is not something I would do.

  15. As the writer of the item Neil linked to I have to say that in my 50 years of reporting I’ve found entirely too much fawning over these successful people. Especially when they have taken tens, if not hundreds of millions of scare public dollars for their private businesses.

    Get real, will you some of you who insist only on reading what’s good about such a public figure.

    He should have been in jail several times.

    Professional sports is simply big business and has absolutely no business going the the public for fantastic subsidies, especially when there are great human needs going largely unmet.

    I’ve watched locally in Cleveland where the same sports owners have reaped great wealth and where taxpayers are still paying for Progressive (formerly Jacobs) Field and the Quicken Arena (formerly) Gund arena. The promoters of the taxes promised millions of dollars each year to the Cleveland Public Schools. They promised they’d seek no tax abatements of their propertes. Instead, they went to the state legislature and got not tax abatement but tax exemption. No major league facility in Ohio pays property taxes, the largest share of which goes to public school.

    The general public at some point has to cast blame on those who are to blame. Instead of complaining about the few in the news media who tell the unvarnished truth.

  16. Roldo,

    Thanks for posting,

    I have no issue with a blogger or reporter calling it as he sees it. My issue always has been that he did so on the day he was buried. The day after or day before, go to town. His family, who did nothing wrong, should not have to deal with that on the same day that they burry the man, that is not fair to them.

    My other issue, and one that you fall under as well, is that all the negative is pointed at Stienbrenner (he deserves his fair share), but none at the city that bent over backwards for him.

    To be fair and balanced, shouldnt you hold the public officials who gave them the deals, and the judges who granted the appeals in Cleveland that you speak of? I rarley, if ever, see that.

    I think THAT, would be balance. Everyone needs to be held accountable, not just one man.

    I look forward to your response.

  17. Sean, I’d say that Neil spends every day on this blog criticizing the politicians who stick us with these ridiculous subsidies. And the owners are more than just a little complicit. Steinbrenner insisted his business couldn’t survive without that big honking welfare check. But what’s newsworthy here is not that there’s a new stadium or that there’s a new subsidy. The news item is that Steinbrenner is pushing up daisies.

    The journalist’s job is to give us a glimpse of this man’s life–and to do so immediately, because that’s when it’s newsworthy. Why immediately? Well, as Steinbrenner himself once said many moons ago, the newspaper is the most perishable item on the front porch–not the milk and not the eggs. It’s even truer today, in our 24-hour news cycle. What’s newsworthy today is not worth reporting (or reading) a week later. People have extremely short attention spans.

    The real issue is the way we idolize celebrities, sports figures, movie stars, and the insanely affluent, to the point that we get defensive when somebody treats them like human beings.

  18. Hi Art,

    I agree that Neil calls it as he sees it, thats fine, thats why I come here.

    My comment on holding Judges and public officials accountable was towards Paolo, who i addressed at the top of my note.

    I hope he comes back and responds.

  19. I just wanted to add that I feel that this story was entirely appropriate. If being truthful hurt someone’s feelings, I’m not sure who that would be. The deceased’s family has more than enough accolades to refer to in both print and online. Or is there some fear that New Yorker’s will be shaken from their reverie of championships past?

    Thanks, Mr. deMause for your ongoing coverage of this issue.

  20. There’s also something to be said about the fragility of today’s culture where it’s politically incorrect to cite someone else’s bad behavior as long as it’s some celebrity, politician or sports figure. Steinbrenner, say what you will, was old-school. He could take a punch (figuratively) about as much as he could dish it out. That’s how he was able to thrive in the back pages.

    Today’s owners just use proxies such as astroturfing groups, compliant media members and ex-elected officials to do their bidding.