There was a time, during Alex Rodriguez’s 2013 “wild west show” summer of lies, lawsuits, demonstrations and general anti-Yankee, anti-MLB mayhem, that baseball’s now most notorious drug cheat invoked the name of George Steinbrenner in an email to Yankee president Randy Levine, pleading for a truce.
“Can u please stop!” A-Rod begged. “I want to play baseball and I could make a big difference to the game. (George) Steinbrenner would roll in his grave if he knew what was happening. Randy, this isn’t going to be good for any of us. You are a businessman and what you are doing is ruining the business of baseball.”
We all know now what a crock that was — A-Rod saying he could make a big difference in the game (without steroids?) — but he was right about one thing: The Boss would be rolling in his grave, just not for the reasons A-Rod thought. As if he hasn’t made a big enough mess of his life himself, A-Rod should be grateful that Hal Steinbrenner — and not his Yankee Boss father — has been running the team throughout all of this steroids-driven scandal and upheaval. If George were alive, you can be sure he would be doing everything in his power to get retribution for the $275 million contract A-Rod signed with the Yankees under false pretenses in 2007 — as well as for everything he has done to besmirch and embarrass the Yankees.
Even though it was probably a long shot given the sacrosanct nature of guaranteed major league contracts, I never understood why the Yankees didn’t at least broach the prospect with MLB of getting the contract voided when, 15 months after signing the 10-year deal — which included all those bonus clauses for various home run milestones en route to A-Rod someday surpassing Barry Bonds as the supposed “clean” all-time home run champion — he admitted to having used steroids from 2001-2003 with the Texas Rangers.
“Judge me from this day forward,” A-Rod said at the time. Meanwhile, all those joint marketing deals the Yankees were going to reap with A-Rod when he surpassed Bonds were in the trash like a bunch of used syringes.
“I don’t think George could’ve gotten the contract voided,” said Bob Costello, an New York attorney who worked for Steinbrenner on a number of matters in the late ’80s and early ’90s when The Boss was seeking to get his lifetime ban from baseball by commissioner Fay Vincent overturned. “But I’m sure he would have spared no expense in trying.”
Costello should know. In 1990, he engineered a plan that ultimately led to the downfall of Vincent in which Leonard Kleinman, the COO of the Yankees, sued Vincent after having been rejected by the commissioner as Steinbrenner’s choice to be Yankees general partner. The lawsuit was a way of getting out in the open (for the other baseball owners to see) all the things Vincent did to deprive Steinbrenner of his due process during the commissioner’s investigation of The Boss’ $40,000 payment to admitted gambler Howie Spira for providing dirt on the Dave Winfield foundation.
“We were in his office in Tampa,” Costello related, “and after we filed the suit, George pounded on his desk — like Nikita Khrushchev with his shoe at the UN — and shouted: ‘I want you to bring that fat bastard down!’ ”
It was with the same relentlessness that Steinbrenner went after Winfield, almost from the moment the outfielder signed his 10-year, $23 million contract with the Yankees in 1980, and it was then revealed by the New York Times there were a bunch of cost-of-living clauses in it, potentially making it a lot more valuable. Their relationship was frayed immediately — Steinbrenner detested Winfield’s agent, Al Frohman — and it definitely wasn’t helped when Winfield took a 1-for-22 pratfall in his first and only World Series for the Yankees in 1981. Throughout Winfield’s career with the Yankees, he endured Steinbrenner’s periodic slings and arrows, and hostilities between them came to a head in 1989 when they countersued each other over payments each was required to make to the Winfield Foundation.
At the same time, people always wondered why Steinbrenner could be so hostile to Winfield and engage in verbal warfare with so many other of his core Yankee players, yet go out of his way to give chance after chance to noted drug abusers Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry. The difference, Costello reasoned, was that Gooden and Strawberry never did anything to Steinbrenner, only to themselves.
“George had a soft spot for the helpless and he kept that side to himself as best he could,” Costello said. “But cross him and you did so at your own risk. He once said to me, ‘What’s black and brown and looks good on a lawyer?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, what?’ And he said: ‘A Doberman Pinscher!’ Well, as we all know, George had a lot of Doberman Pinscher in him.”
Do you think Steinbrenner wouldn’t consider himself crossed by A-Rod? A-Rod lying repeatedly to the Yankees and everyone else about his steroid use and his involvement with Tony Bosch and the Biogenesis scandal? A-Rod suing the Yankee team doctor, Chris Ahmad, accusing him of malpractice? A-Rod and his handlers hiring people to follow Yankee officials and other perceived enemies around?
I would think by now, especially after all these new revelations and confirmations of everything that MLB prosecuted A-Rod for, Steinbrenner would be revolted at the thought of him ever wearing a Yankee uniform again. Whether he would go so far as to write him a check for $60 million and say goodbye and good riddance, no one can say. But we do know this: A-Rod himself has told his lawyers he can’t play without steroids — and proved that by beating the system right up until baseball launched its investigation of him. Does he really want to go to spring training and embarrass himself while being subjected to the daily media hordes and “cheater” chants from fans everywhere?
This is why there has to be a meeting of the minds, between A-Rod, the Yankees and MLB, to negotiate as graceful an exit from the game as possible for him before he has to report for spring training. As bad as it’s been for A-Rod this past year and half, he was fortunate to never know what a Doberman Pinscher The Boss could be.