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From Cleveland Magazine, April 1974
The long table around the corner in the Pewter Mug on nkfort has not been quite the same since last fall's Watergate hearings, and the men who gather there nightly to drink and exchange cutting one-liners will not talk about it, other than to acknowledge the fact that George M. Steinbrener III is an enigma.
Steinbrenner used to stop here for a drink or two and exchange ripostes with those at the table, while they in turn would call him "Fuehrer" after his Prussian ways. It was George's table, for when he was there he dominated it.
"Just one drink and then diner," Steinbrenner would sometimes command to the group that included J. William Petro, the Congressional candidate, and John Minco, the advertising salesman for the Cleveland Browns.
"Ja, General, we vill eat it and we vill like it," the group would chorus with their imitative Geranic gutterals.
It was all good fun and to outiders watching from afar there s a sense of glamour to the scene, for here was a millionaire, the owner of the New York Yankees no less, a backer of Broadway musicals, and a man of extraorinary accomplishment drinking in the Mug like themselves. It was hardly a typical Cleveland tableau.
But since November, when two employees of his American Ship Building Company testified before the Watergate Committee that they had been party to an illegal bonus scheme to raise money for Richard Nixon's 1972 campaign, Steinbrenner has not been around much anymore. Rarely is he seen in Cleveland, let alone the Mug.
When the news of Steinbrenner's troubles swept through the board rooms, law offices, executive suites and pubs of the town, it was met with two distinct reactions. One of his friends, a partner in some of Steinbrenner's many ventures, sat in a paneled office and with downcast eyes said: "It could have happened to a lot of people. He didn't do anything that anyone else didn't do. He was under a hell of a lot of pressure. He made only one mistake, one mistake and now everyone is going to hang him."
There ~was the other reaction, too. "George got what he deserved," said one businessman who has known Steinbrenner for many years. "George pushed a lot of people around. Bragged about knowing that the action was in Washington and look what it got him."
No Clevelander provokes such diverse reaction as does George Mitchell Steinbrenner 111, an enigmatic man whose temperament, as described by a friend, is akin to "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," a man whose emotions flit between anger and charity like the random dartings of a water flea.
Those close to Steinbrenner accord him the role of a victim in Watergate, a man with opposite political convictions besieged by an administration that loathed him because of his fund raising for the Democrats and his friendship with Democratic Senator Edward M. Kennedy and brought to bear the forces of the Justice, Labor and Commerce Departments to harass his business.
others believe that Steinbrenner played by the system that American business and government had long established, and if the system victimized him, it did so in an internecine way according to the rules that existed. Rules he had played by and profited by in the past. The sin, they say, was, of course, in getting caught. But when the illegal corporate contributions were exposed, Steinbrenner sought to defy the rules and the system and tough it out his own way.
ronically, George Steinbrenner Itgrew to manhood as somewhat the personification of his birth date, July 4, 1930, and became an explosive man brimming with old-style independence, Yankee shrewdness and an insatiable desire to achieve. He matured too, with other American characieristics: a naive belief that all could be accomplished with power and a certain philanthropic nature that would give him the characteristics of a modern day benevolent despot.A descendant of one of the oldest shipping families on the Great Lakes, Steinbrenner was reared
a household that had long had a tradition of discipline and business. His great-great grandfather, Peter J. Minch, founded a lake fleet in the 1840s that exists today as the Kinsman Marine Transit Company and is managed by George's father, Henry G. Steinbrenner. The family business was the first tenant in John D. Rockefeller's building on West Superior Avenue shortly after the turn of the century, and its offices remain there today.
Henry Steinbrenner, too, now a robust 68, is a man given to discipline, competition and achievement. A naval architect and a marine engineering graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1927, he is the school's only national track champion, having won that distinction in the low hurdles.
The elder Steinbrenner ran a disciplined household on the Bay Village farm on which George and his two sisters grew up. Instead of giving the youngster an allowance, the father staked him to some chickens and told George to make money by selling eggs. Later, when George went off to Culver Military Academy, he sold the chickens to his sisters for a total of $50 in what probably was his first business deal.
Henry Steinbrenner insisted that his son attend grade school dressed in a shirt and tie, a style of dress that did not endear him to upper classmen who sometimes took exception to Steinbrenner neatness with physical dissent.
Years later when George joined the family business as treasurer of Kinsman Transit, Henry Steinbrenner had not lost much of his spirit. The elder Steinbrenner was opposed to George selling his shares of Kinsman to raise enough money to buy the Cleveland Pipers basketball team, a venture that would end in bankruptcy. Henry forbade his son to engage in basketball business during Kinsman working hours, and one friend remembers the times the father walked into George's office while he was on the phone talking basketball. Henry would stride to the phone and click the receiver down, admonishing George and reminding him again that this was Kinsman time.
However, George was never one to lack for resourcefulness. One day while his father was out of the office, he had the telephone company install a private line that could be locked in his desk drawer. Piper business was conducted on that phone and while several of the office people knew of it, Henry Steinbrenner never found out. Once in a while, when George was away from the office, the clandestine phone would ring and Henry Steinbrenner would say to the secretaries that he swore he could hear a phone ringing somewhere.
If his father had the primary influence on his life, Culver Military Academy
was the place where the values of discipline and achievement were further encouraged
in George Steinbrenner. He entered the Indiana school in 1944, at a time when
the training was particularly tough and the discipline rigid. His interest in
athletics blossomed as he played end on the football team and, like his father,
ran the hurdles. At first George's grades were only average, but he did finish
fast, and one of his academic achievements was an A-plus in military science.
For a time he considered a military career, a field that some feel George would
have been well suited for and no doubt would have excelled in.
That Culver left an indelible mark on George Steinbrenner is indisputable. Not long ago he donated funds for the renovation of the Culver Inn, insisting only that the dining room be named for Col. Edward Payson, who helped him in school and influenced his life. Steinbrenner is probably the school's mosr generous benefactor, donating an all - weather track, film equipment and scholarships, serving on its board and ultimately being named the Culver Man of the Year in 1971, an award that can rest beside the one he received upon graduation in 1948 for his all-around excellence. Today a son and daughter attend the school and, no doubt, his younger son and daughter will in time, too.
Mushy Wexler, the owner of the Theatrical Grill and a man of some accomplishment himself, is a friend of Steinbrenner's and a sometime adviser on things dealing with horseflesh. George likes to kid with Mushy and tell him what he missed by not going to Culver. One day Steinbrenner presented Mushy with a Culver school tie, an event that caused some merriment in the Grill.
In the fall of Ilk8, there seemed to be a spate of qevelanders going to Williams College in Massachusetts and since George Steinbren7 ner was acquainted with several, he, too, was among their number. In those postwar years George's attitudes changed somewhat. He continued to pursue his track career with vigor, competing in the hurdles in all the big East Coast indoor meets and racing against the likes of Harrison Dillard, a competitor he was never able to best; but he could boast that he ran against the Olympian in meets where world records were set.
In 1952, after graduation from Williams College where he had studied English and played football, Steinbrenner served a tour in the Air Force as a general's aide at Lockbourne Air Force Base in Columbus.
In college, he had considered a career in coaching, and he pursued that work with some seriousness at Lockbourne, where he coached the base basketball and baseball teams and took enough time off to continue his hurdling, setting an Armed Forces record for the 440yard low hurdles. While stationed at Lockbourne, Steinbrenner met his wife, Joan, who lived in Columbus. When his Air Force tour was completed, he enrolled at Ohio State to study for his master's in physical education.
His coaching career was brief, about three years, the first as basketball coach for a Columbus high school and then on to Northwestern as end coach where he and the entire staff were fired after a disasterous season, and, finally, a year at Purdue where he coached the backfield and helped develop Lenny Dawson, who later became one of the National Football League's finest quarterbacks.
By 1957 the future for independent shippers on the Great Lakes did not look particularly bright. The big steel companies that had hired the independents found there was not enough work for their fleets, let alone the independents, and slowly some 14 independent companies operating nearly 60 ore boats, mostly Clevelandowned lines, went out of business.
Steinbrenner was pleased with his coaching job at Purdue, but the family began to prevail upon him to return to Cleveland because the Kinsman fleet of five boats which carried iron ore, coal and grain seemed destined for precarious times, if not total demise. So young Steinbrenner returned to the company as treasurer and began, with his father, the struggle to keep the century-old business in existence.
"We really worked like hell," says Steinbrenner. "We got out and pounded the bushes and we created some business by going to the steel companies and by really hounding them for business. The real turning point for the company came when . Jones and Laughlin Steel Corporation made a decision to help the independents and we signed a contract guaranteeing us tonnage. That was in 1960."With things looking up at Kinsman, Steinbrenner, barely 30, launched into a venture that for the first time would give him exposure as a public figure and in the process cause him great anguish and in the end, failure. It was one of the few times in life that Steinbrenner did not succeed. Prior to Watergate, it was the low point in his life.
Striking out on his own and against the advice of his father, Steinbrenner sold his small portion of Kinsman stock and headed up a partnership that bought the Cleveland Pipers basketball team. The initial investment was $125,000. The team played in a crack industrial league made up of teams from big companies like Goodyear and Phillips, and the games at the Arena were just a notch or two below the quality of the National Basketball Association.
At first things seemed to go well, but a new professional basketball league was forming and the Pipers faced the choice of either joining it or facing competition against the new league's franchise in Cleveland. The Pipers chose to join the new league.
Steinbrenner became consumed by the team, attending games and riding his coaches and players from the stands when he did not think they were playing well enough. Financial problems began to press the team and, as they heightened, Steinbrenner could not meet the payroll and the coach, John McClendon, resigned, citing pressure from the ownership. The players at one point threatened to walk out if the payroll was not met. The Cleveland Press called Steinbrenner "congenitally unsuited" to run the team, a phrase that still causes his temper to flare.
It was harsh criticism and Steinbrenner to this day finds his role As a public figure difficult, chafing at critical commentary like a man braised with a hot iron. While his relationship with certain reporters and editors may be cordial, his general reaction to the media can be testy and emotional. Although he denies it, Steinbrenner has influenced the coverage of his activities in the media by direct appeals to editors.
Once when an announcement by the Pipers of the signing of a key player went afoul and received scant play in the afternoon paper, Steinbrenner called the team and the front office together and exhorted each of them to tell 15 of their friends to cancel the Press.The frustrating thing for Steinbrenner was that he had a good team. It won two championships, and he was making efforts to gain more quality players, including Jerry Lucas, fresh from his triumphs at Ohio State, who did sign a Pipers' contract, but never played a game for the team nor collected cent from it. Steinbrenner tried in vain to raise money from Clevelanders.
The dying days with the Pipers were frantic. Steinbrenner fired and then rehired his public relations man. The general manager, Mike Cleary, quit and picked up with the Kansas City team and had to take his final Pipers' pay check out of the gate receipts when Cleveland played a game in that city.
Today, reflecting on those Piper days, Steinbrenner says:
"I was too vociferous in exhorting my coaches and players from the stands. I'd get on their backs when I didn't think they were trying hard enough. I did bring in Bill Sharman and we had a great understanding and we are the closest of friends today. He wanted to win as badly as I wanted to win. I guess over-exuberance, enthusiasm and youth made me the kind of owner that, perhaps, I shouldn't have been."
Years later, after he acquired the New York Yankees, sports writers in New York would complain that Steinbrenner had lost none of his exuberance, enthusiasm and exhorting spirit.
"Around New York, you get the feeling Steinbrenner is sort of Charlie Findley-in-training," says Maury Allen, the baseball writer for the New York Post. "His attitude has been so haughty that a lot of us call him King George III. He's got a lot of hard work ahead of him to undo some of the things he did."
Among the writers there is also strong sentiment that Steinbrenner was largely responsible for the exit of Lee MacPhail, the Yankee general manager, and Ralph Houk, the manager and long-time member of the Yankee organization. MacPhail, a respected baseball man, had previously discouraged talk about becoming American League president. When the spot became vacant in January, however, he took it. He says the "new Yankee ownership" had nothing to do with his decision. As for Houk, now manager of the Detroit Tigers, the feeling is that Steinbrenner poked his nose into Houk's clubhouse once too often.
"Houk is the kind of guy who takes defeat hard," says Phil Pepe, baseball writer for the New York Daily News (and, by the way, one writer who likes Steinbrenner: "Not everything about him is easy to dislike.") "The last thing he wants when he gets back to the hotel at two in the morning after losing a tough game to the Angels is to have a note waiting for him saying, 'Call George Steinbrenner immediately.'" Not a rare occurrence, says Pepe, although he wrote in a recent series on Steinbrenner that the Yankee owner says he has made only one call to a member of his team and that was to congratulate him for a good game.
A former Yankee front-office employee says this about Steinbrenner's arrival in New York: "When George came to the Yanks, he had a very defensive attitude about New York. He had the idea people here were more sophisticated, and he felt like a kind of a clod. And in order not to make mistakes of a country boy in the city, he overdid it. He pushed, he was loud, demanding, in a restaurant he wanted this table-all that kind of thing. And you wouldn't think it in this rough, gruff, hard-talking, shrewd, bright guy, but for some reason or other, he panics over things he should be very cool about. He just blows up."
A few days into the season last year, Steinbrenner noticed from the stands that a lot of hair billowed from beneath the caps of several Yankees. He scribbled down uniform numbers as they stood along the foul line for the National Anthem. Then he fired off a memo to manager Houk, directing that he read it at a clubhouse meeting. It listed the long-hair offenders by numbers . . . "1, 17, 28."
Later in the season in a game with the Texas Rangers, New York shortstop Gene Michael trotted out to his position and put his hand in his glove. Michael has a phobia about snakes. In horror, he yanked his glove off and shook it violently. Out fell part of a hot dog. Realizing he had been had by the team pranksters, Michael sailed the hot dog toward the dugout. It landed in front of Steinbrenner, who was in the box seats next to the dugout. He retrieved the gravel-and-dirt encrusted frank and after the last out he called over to Houk and said: "Hey, Skipper, you see this?""Yeah," said Houk.
"Well," said Steinbrenner, "one of your men put this in Michael's glove. I want you to find that man and discipline him." Afterwards Houk told a reporter, "For crying out loud, he's got to be kidding."
During that same Ranger series, Yankee reserve outfielder John Callison, 34, a veteran of 15 years in the major leagues, muffed a fielding chance. At breakfast the next morning with Houk and general manager MacPhail, Steinbrenner announced: "I will not have that man on my team." Callison was gone before lunch.
"He was very anxious to win," says MacPhail. "And he liked to argue and fight with his staff. That's how he found out if you felt strongly about something. But in fairness to him, anytime that his field people-Houk and I-were opposed to making a move, why, the move wasn't made."
Houk refuses to comment about his days with George, but it is understood that he does not want to have anything to do with the Yankee organization.
When the Cleveland Pipers finally went under and filed for bankruptcy, the team was $125,000 in debt and for George Steinbrenner, there were not only the debts to be considered but a great deal of ego to be salved.
"When you're down, you don't want to see your friends, you don't want to go to places and restaurants," he says. "Human nature is funny. When you are down, a lot of people walk the other way. You find out who your two friends are.
After the bankruptcy proceedings in which Steinbrenner was not liable for the debts nor for the money his fellow investors had lost, he began calling partners and creditors, against the advice of his lawyers, assuring them that at some point he would pay them back. If he was to remain in Cleveland and in business, he felt he had no other choice. Each month be began paying out small amounts from his Kinsman pay and as time passed he was able to gather larger amounts until the debts were paid off.
Then, to settle with his ten partners, Steinbrenner bought an ore boat in 1963 and put the vessel in a special company and passed its earnings on to each of the ten partners until they were paid off three years later.
In the meantime, Steinbrenner decided the way to come back from his financial debacle was through building the shipping company. He began to get active in the shipping industry and made attempts to convince other independent companies not to abandon the business, urging them, he says, to band together to survive.
Despite his pleadings, Steinbrenner's family was anxious, too, to get out of shipping and Henry Steinbrenner went to various relatives who held stock and urged them to sell to George. Without any major capital of his own, Steinbrenner was able to borrow $25,000 from a small bank in New York in order to get the deal moving and then convinced Union Commerce Bank to give him a substantial loan.
As the other independents began to go out of business, Steinbrenner bought their fleets. "I tried to persuade them to stay in but they wouldn't," he says. "I didn't want to acquire more boats because only half of them were any good."
However, most of the ore carriers were relatively small, so Steinbrenner bought from U.S. Steel four of its lesser boats, but vessels larger than anything Kinsman possessed at the time. The fleet was expanded and upgraded and by 1964 Kinsman was in healthy financial condition.With his business on solid footing and his financial reputation growing in stature, Steinbre ner turned some of his efforts to ward civic projects. He was troubled over what was happening in Cleveland, which at the midpoint of the 20th Century, plunged into a d cline: the old-line wealth -- the moneyed families -- had cloistered themselves among their trusts and the ease of inheritance created inaction among the second and third generations of the old leadership.
Out of this despair, in the mid 1960s, began to emerge a new group of younger men. Energetic men, who were anxious to make their fortunes and their mark, men willing to take chances and flaunt the city's clubby business establishment either by choice or because of exclusion. At the forefront of this emerging group that included men of Jewish descent, ethnic heritage and working backgrounds was George Steinbrenner, a man of staunch Christian Science upbringing considered to be the best of the bright young men.
Steinbrenner's drive and brashness did not always sit well with the establishment. He was flourishing in a business where the oldline families had held sway and it was tough to take George, not just because of his manner, but because he did not seek the sanctity of the Union Club. Instead he sought the casual conviviality of the Pewter Mug or the Theatrical Grill, where he and his wide host of friends that included struggling politicians, horse players, athletes and an occasional corporation president met.
When Bunkie Knudsen, the chairman of White Motor Corporation, wanted to meet George, he invited him to lunch at the Union Club. Steinbrenner declined, noting that he does not go to the Union Club, and invited Knudsen to his club, the Pewter Mug owned by his friend, Al Bernstein. When Ted Kennedy came to Cleveland to visit with him, they dined at the Mug, much to the surprise of the young stockbrokers and lawyers who inhabit the bar in Public Square.Steinbrenner denies that he harbors any dislike for the Union Club set. Maybe he did some years back, but he insists that many are his friends and he wonders whether he would be accepted in the club. He once was put up for membership, but says he had no interest.
Friends say he is more at ease with partners like Al Rosen and Sheldon Guren and his friends in the black community like Herman Alexander, the dean of the evening division of Cuyahoga Community College.
Alexander met Steinbrenner when George was trying to recruit a black athlete for Purdue and since then they have been friends. Alexander can talk about another
side of George Steinbrenner from firsthand experience. While he was coaching at Glenville High School, there were a number of times he went to George for help.
"A lot of the kids are poor," Alexander says. "They can't afford shoes and clothes, let alone things like college, but every time I asked George he would send me a check to take care of a problem."
(Steinbrenner estimates that he has loaned money for college to 56 students over the years and only in one instance was he disappointed. Once when he attended a football game at the East Side's Patrick Henry field, he tried in vain to find out the score since the field did not have a scoreboard. He told school officials to order a scoreboard and bill him for it. The cost was $4,000 and a couple of weeks later he bought another for the West Side's Rhodes High.)
Included among the black athletes whom he has helped are Frank Perez, a standout at Glenville who is now principal at Kirk Junior High School, Nate Adams, a premiere track man a decade ago who is now an actor, and Stanley Albright, a Big Ten champion in the high jump who is now preparing to study law at Case Western Reserve and who works for Steinbrenner.
Alexander came to Steinbrenner and asked for help when Albright was a sophomore at Glenville. The youngster came from a big family that needed help. Steinbrenner hired the boy's mother and sister as housekeepers, paid for Stanley's clothes and gave him a job.
When Albright's eligibility ran out in high school because of his age, Steinbrenner saw to it that the young high jumper was sent on at least a dozen trips across the country with Alexander to participate in Amatuer Athletic Union meets.
"There were no strings attached," says Alexander. "Those trips cost George at least $700 apiece and he insisted that we fly first class and stay in the best hotels."
Tales of Steinbrenner's paradoxical personality abound. "He is the kind of guy," says one of his partners, "that will call his secretary a son of a bitch one minute and send her kid to college the next."
Once George was boarding a plane on a business trip and found that his secretary had neglected to make first class accommodations for him. So he got off the plane, called the secretary and fired her over the phone. The girl, somewhat distraught and not knowing whether to leave that day or not, asked an Amship official what she should do. He told her to stay on the job.
A few days later when Steinbrenner returned, he walked into the office and did not say a word. A short time later he sent the secretary and her husband to Florida for a week, just so they could get away. Secretaries come and go and some come back again.
Another time Steinbrenner learned the death of the father of a Bay Village student meant that any college plans for the youth had to be cancelled. George drove the young man to Ohio Wesleyan University and spoke with school officials who said they could not possibly enroll the boy. George began to raise hell and threaten to cause trouble if the school did not accept the young man. The school finally did accept the student even though there was nothing that Steinbrenner could have done had it not. Today, the young man is a doctor.
There is probably no single person who knows the extent of Steinbrenner's philanthrophy for often it is spur of the moment, involving only a few dollars. Sometimes it will be more long-term, like the annual Call and Post sports banquet for black athletes that he has sponsored for the past 12 years. When the Huntington Playhouse in Bay Village burned, Steinbrenner donated $10,000 for its rebuilding. When a group of youngsters were on their way to the West Coast to an olympics for the handicapped and were stranded penniless at the last minute, Steinbrenner paid the air fare of $13,000. When Bay Village needed hockey equipment, Steinbrenner was there. The list of his beneficiaries is both incredible and endless.But there is scarcely a person who knows him who cannot add another Jekyll-Hyde anecdote to the Steinbrenner saga, which has been a series of endless transitions between conflict and charity. He is an emotional man, given to tirades on one hand and serious dissertation on the inequities of society on the other. He is a man whose patience is painfully thin and a man whose concern for others often times is overshadowed by his demands that they succeed.
It is this attitude that makes many of the persons he knows as friends reluctant ever to be in his employ. Yet, as if to demonstrate his disdain for the unaccomplished and those down on their luck, he courts them, surrounding himself with many men who have met hard times and have not succeeded. He demands of these men, pushing them further than they have gone. Some leave, but most stay.
"He has picked up men from their ass when they were so low that life had just about bottomed out for them," says one of George's friends. "Sure he is tough to work for. He's more than that. He can be a real son of a bitch, but when all is said and done, he's helped more people than any single guy in this town. But me work for George Steinbrenner, you wouldn't catch me dead doing that. Anything else I'll do for the man, but not that."
Steinbrenner's reaction to this appraisal of his personality is candid:
"Patience has been one of my faults. I've tried to work on it. I am hard to work for because I like to try and make a guy think. A guy who doesn't think he has the ability to work on a high level and to do that, I've got to lead the way. Some guys can lead through real, genuine respect. There are some guys who people would walk through a wall for, OK, but I'm not that kind of a leader. I wish I were. I've known people who are that kind of leader, but I've not been able to lead that way. An Eisenhower, when he was in the Army, was that type leader. Unfortunately, I'm probably more of a George Patton. He was a gruff son of a bitch and he led through fear.
"I hope I don't lead through fear and I would hope it was more love and respect, but maybe it isn't."
Conversely, Steinbrenner can be charming with his boyish enthusiasm laced with wit and self-effacing humor. When he chooses, he can make new aquaintances feel as if they have been friends for years, a characteri