It's my investigation.... It's my responsibility to know essentially what's going on.
—BASEBALL COMMISSIONER FAY VINCENT,
discussing his office's handling of the Steinbrenner investigation
George Steinbrenner got what he deserved. He acknowledged in his July 30 agreement with Vincent—the deal under which the New York Yankee owner was forced to permanently remove himself from the day-to-day operations of his team—that he had acted contrary to the best interests of the game. Steinbrenner's sin was maintaining what the agreement called an "undisclosed working relationship" with admitted gambler Howard Spira, who brought Steinbrenner potentially damaging information about the Boss's longtime nemesis, former Yankee outfielder Dave Winfield, and about the charitable David M. Winfield Foundation. Steinbrenner compounded his guilt by paying Spira $40,000 in January, at least in part for the dirt Spira had provided.
But baseball did not do itself proud in the Steinbrenner case. An examination of its handling of the Steinbrenner-Spira-Winfield matter over the last three years sheds a harsh light on leads not pursued and questions not asked. It is a tale of contradictions and double standards. Never mind that Steinbrenner, through his own statements, gave baseball all the rope it needed to hang him. What's disturbing is that others who may also have acted contrary to the best interests of baseball through their relationships with Spira were barely looked into.
Who are the principal characters in this case? Peter Ueberroth, who seemed to be wearing blinders as commissioner from 1984 to '89; Kevin Hallinan, baseball's director of security, who was given enormous leeway in determining which leads to pursue (and, more important, which not to); John Dowd, Vincent's special counsel and the chief investigator in the Steinbrenner probe, who chased evidence relating to Steinbrenner like a hound but didn't always pick up other scents; and Vincent, who told SI in an interview last week that Hallinan doesn't talk to him about "the vast majority of things" that the security chief handles. Vincent also said that "the way I operate this office, I am not running a criminal investigation. I am not trying to find every person in baseball who has done something illegal, such as place a bet with a bookie."
The commissioner's office was created in 1920—with Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis as the first occupant—specifically to rid the sport of even the hint of gambling involvement. Yet in discharging this mission, Vincent seemed to take the position last week that alleged transgressors in baseball should merely be asked their version of events and then taken at their word. "I am not a prosecutor," Vincent said. "I am interested in dealing with things that are very clear, and where I can't be wrong. I do not want to make major findings in baseball on the basis of credibility contests."
Indeed, the source of many of the most sordid allegations in the case is Spira, who has tried to peddle to the media juicy information about first Winfield and later Steinbrenner. Acquaintances of Spira's say it is hard to overstate how desperate and conniving he is. On the other hand, a lot of what Spira has claimed over the years has been borne out by further investigation. Baseball insists that it put no credence in anything Spira said. But Vincent's findings in the case squared with key portions of Spira's account. The commissioner accepted as true that Spira was a gambler, that he had organized crime connections and that Steinbrenner had paid him the $40,000 in exchange for dirt on Winfield—all of which Spira has maintained. At the same time, Vincent dismissed as not credible potentially embarrassing allegations from Spira about individuals other than Steinbrenner.
SI has conducted extensive interviews and obtained documents relating to baseball's investigation from the courts and a number of sources, including members of the Steinbrenner camp who have axes to grind with Vincent and Dowd. Although some of the sources accuse baseball of a cover-up of wrongdoing on the part of others, SI found no evidence that baseball officials or investigators knowingly covered up anything. But the evidence does suggest that as far back as 1987, baseball investigators knew about a variety of matters that should have, but inexplicably did not, set off alarms in the commissioner's office. These matters include:
•Indications that organized crime figures were getting perilously close to the Yankees. The mobsters were alleged associates of Spira, who was a gofer at Winfield's foundation from 1981 to '83 and who was a regular in the Yankee clubhouse in the early '80s, and of Albert Whitton, a chauffeur for Winfield's agent, Al Frohman. Whitton occasionally drove Winfield as well. Two of the mob figures, Joseph Caridi and Al Grecco, ran large sports gambling operations. Caridi's name appears in a document that has been in baseball's possession since September '87, and SI recently identified him as having had ties to Spira at a time when Spira was working for Winfield and frequenting the Yankee clubhouse (SCORECARD, Aug. 13). Nevertheless, when SI asked Vincent last week whether Caridi's name meant anything to him, the commissioner shook his head no.
•Winfield's possible gambling. In the SCORECARD item, SI quoted two sources as saying that they had overheard Winfield discussing his apparent involvement in sports gambling. One was an unnamed source who was close to Winfield throughout the 1980s. The other was New York City free-lance writer Allen Barra, who told of having heard Winfield discuss his own gambling in '85. Last week Kim Slamka, a former secretary at the Winfield foundation, told SI that Spira and Whitton had placed bets on sports events for Frohman and Winfield from the foundation's offices in the early '80s. "Frohman would complain to Whitton and Spira about how much money he and Dave lost," said Slamka. A fourth source, a close associate of Frohman's and Winfield's in the early '80s, told SI of having been present when bets were placed for Winfield with bookies. Winfield has denied any involvement in sports betting.
•Mounting evidence that Winfield knew Spira was a gambler when Winfield lent him large sums of money, including $15,000 in December '81. Spira has repeatedly made this allegation. The Aug. 13 SCORECARD item quoted Frohman's widow, Barbara (whose husband died in November '87), Whitton and an unnamed source who was close to Winfield in the early '80s as saying that when Winfield lent Spira the $15,000, he knew that Spira intended to use the money to pay off gambling debts. Last week Slamka told SI that Winfield was aware of Spira's gambling debts even as Winfield lent Spira money. In August the New York newspaper Newsday quoted a source identified as "a former employee of Dave Winfield" as saying, "[Spira] was a gambler, they [Frohman and Winfield] knew it, they got him out of debt." The employee was quoted as having heard Winfield say to Frohman of Spira, "What are we going to do, keep getting him out of debt?" In an interview last week with SI, that source stood by the Newsday account and said, "David did know Spira was a gambler."
•Winfield's unsavory associations. Spira was a gambler with mob connections. According to Spira, Slamka and the Newsday source, Frohman was a heavy gambler; all three sources, as well as a law enforcement source, also said that Frohman boasted around the foundation office about his ties to the Colombo organized crime family. Whitton served several months in prison in 1974 for bookmaking and told SI that he had played cards with Grecco, the reputed overlord of the Genovese family's sports gambling operations in New York and New Jersey. According to Slamka and two other sources, Whitton was betting on sports while driving for Frohman and Winfield.
•The likelihood that the well-publicized death threat against Winfield during the 1981 World Series was concocted by Frohman. In December '86 Spira told an investigator for the Yankees, Phil McNiff, that he and others had been enlisted by Frohman to help write the fake threat to give Winfield an excuse for his 1-for-22 batting performance in that Series, and that Winfield, after being told by Frohman that the threat was fake, lied publicly about it. Baseball later received a copy of McNiff's summary of Spira's account. Last week Slamka told SI that she had helped Frohman prepare a fake death threat. She said that when Winfield learned of the fabrication, he was angry at Frohman but that he subsequently went along with it.
•Spira's contention in a 1989 interview with baseball that Lou Piniella, a Yankee outfielder from 1974 to '84 and now manager of the National League West champion Cincinnati Reds, discussed football gambling with him in the early '80s. In the same interview Spira made a passing reference to catcher Bob Boone, now with the Kansas City Royals. "Piniella used to—was an avid horse bettor," Spira is quoted as saying. "That, everyone knew. But we would talk about betting football. He'd get The [New York Daily] News, and we'd go over it, and like, you know, for an afternoon game, they used to play in the afternoon a lot, like 2 o'clock, so you're [at the ballpark at] 11 o'clock, and we would talk, and 11 to 12, we'd go over all the football games. College [on] Saturday and pro [on] Sunday. And then, when you walk out of the Yankee Clubhouse, you go to the right and maybe 10 feet, and there's a pay phone, or there was.... And [Piniella would] call his bookie." Spira goes on: "I mean even Bob Boone.... He used to call me in my house, like, and discuss football games with me, like I'm some expert." Piniella told SI that he has never met Spira. Boone, through a Royals spokesman, said he would not address Spira's comments.
Any of these matters, if substantiated, would certainly be contrary to the best interests of baseball, but none of them has ever been fully investigated by the commissioner's office. Vincent last week described the Steinbrenner probe as "very careful, very scrupulous," and Dowd pronounced himself "very proud" of his role and added, "I am wholly satisfied that we pursued all of the information that we, in our collective judgment, primarily mine, thought that we ought to look into." After saying that SI could interview Hallinan, baseball decided that he would "not be made available." However, in a brief conversation with SI outside his Rockland County, N.Y., home last weekend, Hallinan said, "It's easy to Monday-morning-quarterback something like this [the Steinbrenner probe]. I'm a thorough guy, and I'm satisfied with what I've done."
Nevertheless, there are many troubling aspects of baseball's handling of the case. Among them:
•Baseball investigators failed to follow up evidence relating to Winfield's associations, his possible gambling and his $15,000 loan to Spira. Baseball never talked to Frohman. Nor has it talked to Slamka, even though documents indicating she was a possible source in these matters were given to baseball in September '87. "She had no information which bore on what baseball was doing," Dowd said last week. Dowd said baseball's investigators tried to reach Barra, but Barra says he has no knowledge of any calls made to him by baseball. Dowd said last week, "If [Barra] claims to have some information, he ought to bring it in." The investigators never tried to talk to Caridi or Grecco. They didn't talk to Whitton until after he was mentioned in SI's Aug. 13 report. Then, they say, they received a signed statement from him attesting that Winfield didn't know Spira was a gambler at the time of the $15,000 loan. They have yet to talk to Barbara Frohman, who in SI's SCORECARD recounted her husband's having told her that Spira got "on bended-down knees" while pleading for the $15,000 to pay off mob debt collectors who were going to kill him. After that was published, she was quoted by Newsday as now denying that Winfield knew of Spira's gambling at the time Winfield made the $15,000 loan. SI stands by its account of its interviews with Whitton and Frohman.
•Baseball appeared to be derelict in dealing with Spira's allegations concerning Piniella. Dowd, Hallinan and Terry Lynam, another of baseball's investigators, didn't interview Piniella until April '90, 14 months after Spira made those allegations to baseball, and then they largely confined their questions to Steinbrenner's activities. They did ask Piniella if he knew Spira, and his answer was no. On July 18 a transcript of Steinbrenner's two-day hearing before Vincent earlier that month was leaked to the media. During the hearing Steinbrenner had said that one of the reasons he had paid Spira the $40,000 was that Spira had threatened to go public with information about Piniella's "sports gambling habits." That same day Vincent issued a press release: "John Dowd subsequently [after the hearing] interviewed Mr. Piniella, who cooperated fully. I am satisfied that Lou Piniella did not engage in any activity warranting further attention from my office." But Dowd told SI last week, "I didn't investigate Lou Piniella." In fact, contrary to what Vincent said in his press release, Dowd conducted his only interview with Piniella before the July hearing.
•By his own admission, Dowd, without telling Steinbrenner's side, made numerous, if minor, alterations in transcripts of sworn testimony from some of the witnesses in the case. Dowd and Vincent defend these changes as routine, given that the documents were not depositions and that the proceeding was an administrative hearing, not a civil or criminal case, but legal authorities contacted by SI said that out of fairness, Dowd should have shown his changes to Steinbrenner's side.
•ABC last week shelved a report, prepared for the news show 20/20, that was critical of Dowd's altering of transcripts. Vincent declined to talk to the show's reporters, and Dowd also refused, according to a 20/20 source, after promising to go before the cameras. Dowd denies making such a promise. The source said that when the show's producer, Don Thrasher, pressed Richard Levin, baseball's public relations director, on Dowd's change of heart, Levin said, "Major league baseball's official comment to 20/20 is 'You can go——-yourself.' " But Levin told SI that he had expressed that sentiment as his own and hadn't characterized it as being "official." In a presumably more cordial exchange, Vincent called Daniel Burke, president of Capital Cities/ABC, with concerns about the 20/20 segment. ABC spokesperson Maurie Perl said that a lawyer for Dowd had called an ABC lawyer to complain that the allegations in the Dowd story "were completely unfounded and untrue." Perl said the calls had "no influence" on ABC's decision not to air the report. She said the segment had been pulled because ABC hadn't been able to "fully substantiate" it, though some 20/20 staffers disputed that there were holes in the piece and also noted that Capital Cities/ABC owns 80% of ESPN, which has a $400 million contract with major league baseball to televise games. When asked by SI if he had called Burke about the Dowd piece, Vincent replied, "If there was such a [call made], I am not going to talk about it."
Keep in mind, as we retrace baseball's handling of the Steinbrenner case, Judge Landis's aformentioned concern about protecting the sport from the taint of gambling. Only last month, Vincent said in a court affidavit that "it is my duty to take whatever action is necessary to protect the game of baseball from any suspicion that anybody involved in baseball has any relationship, financial or otherwise, with gamblers."
But if the commissioner's office had taken that duty seriously, baseball could have and should have halted the Spira-Steinbrenner relationship during Ueberroth's tenure. Spira told Steinbrenner as early as December 1986 that he had damaging information about Winfield. Steinbrenner flew Spira to Tampa and turned him over to McNiff, a former special agent in charge of the FBI's Tampa office, who questioned Spira about matters involving Frohman, the Winfield foundation and the death threat. As for Winfield's possible involvement in gambling, McNiff says that in his first meeting with Spira he learned that Spira was betting on baseball and that Winfield knew he was betting; that Spira owed more than $1 million; and that Winfield had lent Spira money.
Steinbrenner repeatedly talked to Ueberroth about Spira's charges, as well as about Steinbrenner's concerns that some umpires were involved in gambling. In sworn testimony taken by Dowd last May, Steinbrenner said, "[In the late '80s] I had lunch with [Ueberroth].... He told me...that certain umpires were known to be staying and being entertained and dining at the houses of gentlemen who were involved in gambling on the West Coast. I said, Peter, this is very serious.... He told me, with regard to Boston...somebody went up from the Commissioner's Office and...went into the umpires room at Fenway Park. That upon going into that room there were several men in there with the umpires, which is irregular...." SI has been told that when he said "somebody," Steinbrenner meant baseball security men. In his testimony Steinbrenner said Ueberroth told him one of the men with the umpires looked at one of the baseball representatives "and he made the statement, I am not standing here with that guy; he put me away for gambling at one time." Ueberroth told SI on Sunday, "I won't comment on anything that Steinbrenner says."
While taking Steinbrenner's testimony, Dowd told Steinbrenner that he had looked into the Boston incident and that it had been "dealt with specifically in detail and disposed of by this commissioner [Vincent]." A former Ueberroth associate told SI that baseball had previously investigated the same incident during Ueberroth's tenure. He expressed surprise that Dowd had reinvestigated. Neither Dowd nor the source indicated what action, if any, baseball had taken.
Ueberroth said in sworn testimony during the Steinbrenner probe that he found much of the information brought to him by Steinbrenner to be vague. Some of the allegations that McNiff provided to Ueberroth's office were more specific, but they were slow in arriving. Ueberroth's staff became aware of the then 10-month-old relationship between Steinbrenner and Spira on Sept. 3, 1987, when Ueberroth, at Steinbrenner's urging, sent Hallinan to Yankee Stadium to meet with Bill Dowling, the Yankees' general counsel, and McNiff. McNiff and Dowling gave Hallinan a number of documents, including McNiff's December '86 interview of Spira, a transcript of a taped phone conversation between Spira and Slamka and the results of polygraph tests of Spira and Slamka.
In the documents Spira stated that he worked for the Winfield foundation and claimed to be more than $1 million in debt to bookmakers. He said that he, Slamka and Whitton were all present when Frohman allegedly wrote the phony World Series death threat. Spira unloaded a fusillade of other charges: that Frohman had told Winfield about the fake threat shortly after writing it; that Winfield had then lied about it to the FBI (Winfield denies that); and that he, Spira, had twice borrowed money—$7,000 on one occasion and $15,000 on another—from Winfield at usurious interest rates. Slamka stated that Frohman had been misappropriating Winfield foundation funds. The polygraphs—which baseball claims were badly flawed—purport to show Spira and Slamka to be truthful in their claims that Frohman wrote the fake death threat. Spira also is shown as telling the truth about his gambling debts and his loans from Winfield. During the polygraph, Spira is asked: "Were you involved with Joey Caredi [sic] in any actions that would embarrass the Yankees?" Spira's answer is no, and the polygraph indicates that he is being truthful.
Upon receiving this information, the commissioner's office logically should have 1) warned Winfield that his agent might be ripping off the foundation; 2) found out who "Joey Caredi" was; and 3) told Steinbrenner to let baseball handle the matter from there on.
As best as can be determined, baseball did none of these things. In fact, according to Ueberroth's sworn testimony, Hallinan never told him that Dowling and McNiff had provided baseball with any documents. In testimony last May, Hallinan said he failed to take notes of the meeting and didn't write a memorandum about it until 1989. Ueberroth said that Hallinan informed him in general terms that Steinbrenner's representatives had brought up some charges but that "there was nothing to Mr. Steinbrenner's allegations that he could see. No substance, and so we let the matter drop." Ueberroth did not ask Hallinan to explain why he felt Spira's and Slamka's information wasn't believable. "It is not credible; I don't need to know why it is not credible," said Ueberroth in his testimony.
In his testimony Ueberroth made Steinbrenner sound like the little boy who cried wolf, always coming to baseball with allegations that couldn't be corroborated. As a result, Ueberroth said, he came to assume that any and all allegations raised by Steinbrenner were untrue. "George regularly came to us with a litany of things that were wrong," recalls the former Ueberroth associate. " 'This guy's bad. This owner did this. This umpire's bad.' Frankly, looking back, maybe we did throw water on things that were important."
According to Hallinan's sworn testimony, he did little to check out the allegations brought to him in 1987. He testified that he talked to the New York County District Attorney's office, to which Steinbrenner had provided the same documents he had given baseball, and was told by a detective there that Spira's credibility was shaky. Hallinan also called the FBI to see if it had investigated the Winfield death threat, but received no immediate answer. By the end of '87, according to his testimony, Hallinan considered the case closed. At some point in the next year, he testified, the FBI told him that it had not looked into the death threat.
"Caredi" turned out to be Caridi, a reputed associate of the Colombo crime family, who is now serving five to 15 years in an upstate New York prison for robbery, assault, coercion and criminal usury. According to a law enforcement source with knowledge of organized crime activities, Caridi was in charge of Colombo gambling operations from 1983 to '85.
Caridi told SI in August that Spira was a "degenerate gambler" who hung around a Long Island restaurant Caridi used to run. Two sources familiar with Colombo family operations told SI last week that in the early 1980s Caridi, aware that Spira was close to Winfield and was, in the words of one of the sources, "betting all over the place," decided to start taking wagers from Spira. One of the sources said that Caridi "wanted to get next to the Yankees" and figured that Spira would be able to help him do that. The source said that Spira soon ran up large gambling debts to Caridi. The two sources describe this scene in which Spira and Caridi rode through Manhattan in Caridi's limo:
Spira owes Caridi $57,100, and Caridi is demanding payment. Spira reaches into his pocket and pulls out a baseball signed "To Anthony from Dave Winfield." Anthony is Caridi's son. Spira then pulls out a couple of glossy photos of Winfield signed the same way. Caridi tosses those offerings aside and again demands his money. "I'm a little short," Spira replies. "Well, I think I could borrow the $100. But I can't get you the $57,000." Caridi grabs Spira by the front of the shirt, lifts him up through the limo's sunroof and partially closes the roof, leaving Spira's head sticking outside the car.
One of the sources said that Caridi and Spira later agreed that Spira would gradually pay off the debt and that Caridi would keep Spira's other bookmakers at bay. Why Caridi would offer Spira such a deal is not known. Steinbrenner says, "It astounded me that anybody could owe bookmakers that much money. I was concerned that [Spira] was passing on information to the people that he owed money to. They [organized crime] didn't want to cut off their source into the New York Yankees. If it was one of their own, he would have been in the river." A source with knowledge of organized crime activities said Caridi never succeeded in getting "next to the Yankees."
Spira was deep enough into organized crime that according to two sources familiar with the situation, the FBI offered in 1986 to pay him $100,000 and put him into the federal witness protection program if he would testify against mob figures. Spira turned down the offer, but the fact that the FBI wanted to use him as a witness suggests that federal investigators put more stock in his credibility than baseball did.
While baseball continued to discount what Spira had to say, it was unbothered by the questionable veracity of Winfield. On Jan. 10, 1989, Spira went public with his claim that Winfield had lent him $15,000 in December '81. Spira said he had needed the money to pay off sports gambling debts. "Give me a break," Winfield told the New York Daily News when asked about the allegation. "I never gave him any money." Spira later produced a photocopy of the check, which was reprinted in newspapers. Winfield then acknowledged that he had indeed made the loan, though he said he couldn't remember what the money was for.
The day after the Daily News story, baseball issued a press release: "The Office of the Commissioner has been aware of the charges raised by the New York Yankees about the possible involvement of Dave Winfield with an individual who allegedly has participated in sports betting. To date evidence has not been presented or uncovered which would warrant Commissioner action. We will continue to investigate the matter."
In truth, baseball was conducting no such ~investigation. Hallinan said in sworn testimony given in the Steinbrenner case that baseball's use of the word investigation "may have been a misstatement."
It was only after Spira started pestering the commissioner's staff, claiming that he had damaging information about Winfield, that Hallinan finally interviewed Spira, on Feb. 15, 1989. According to a transcript of that interview, Spira asserted that Winfield had been aware of Spira's gambling on baseball games, including Yankee games, during the early '80s and had regularly discussed the subject with Spira. "I never, never said, nor did anybody ever ask me to ask Dave to throw a game, get a hit, strike out—I'll make that very clear," said Spira in the interview. But then he added that Winfield "always wanted to know which side I was betting" on in baseball games, including Yankee games. Spira said he had bet $1,000 or more at a time, often calling his bookies from the Winfield foundation offices.
Spira also told Hallinan that Tony Dill, a producer for NBC News and a friend of Spira's, had heard Winfield mention Spira's gambling debts while Winfield was preparing for a taping of NBC's Tomorrow show in December '81. Dill told SI that Spira introduced him to Winfield backstage and that Winfield was kidding Spira about the debts. "Dave knew Howard was gambling," Dill said. "Anybody who Howard got to know would know about his gambling."
During Hallinan's questioning of him, Spira also alleged that Whitton had placed bets for Spira on the 1981 Series. "All I'll say about this Al [Whitton] is I know he had heavy ties with a guy named Little Al [Grecco] in the Genovese crime family. And he was making the bets for me," said Spira. Whitton has admitted to SI that he hooked Spira up with at least one bookmaker in the early '80s, but he denied that he had placed World Series bets for Spira. Grecco is currently in jail awaiting trial on federal charges of murder, extortion and gambling. Grecco's indictment identified him as head of the Genovese family's New York and New Jersey sports gambling operations.
Baseball didn't get in touch with Whitton to ask who Little Al was. It did have an investigator talk to Dill, but the interview was summarized in a memo that downplayed Dill's comments as "nothing he could swear to in court." Yet in his interview with SI, Dill did not equivocate about his recollection that Winfield knew of Spira's gambling activities.
SI interviewed six current and former Yankee players and staffers, most of whom remembered Spira as being a clubhouse hanger-on—or a "green fly.... He buzzes around you. He bothers you," as one of them put it. One of the six specifically recalled seeing Spira and Piniella talking in the Yankee clubhouse, but said he had no reason to believe the two were discussing gambling.
In his February '89 questioning by baseball, Spira talked of hanging out at Jimmy Weston's, a Manhattan restaurant frequented by sports figures. George Pappas, the maitre d' there, told SI that he saw Spira and Winfield at the restaurant having dinner together. Pappas said he once saw Eddie Wonder (real name: Edward Wnorowski), a bookmaker reputed to have ties to the Colombo crime family, at the bar of Weston's handing Spira a paper bag full of what Pappas believed to be Spira's gambling winnings. Pappas and former Weston's captain Dino Pavlou both told SI that Spira made no secret of his gambling or his association with Winfield. "I mean, this guy was loud when he used Winfield's name," said Pavlou. According to Pavlou, Wonder and Spira once scuffled in the restaurant over Spira's apparent failure to pay off gambling debts to Wonder. Pavlou said that he heard Wonder, who was found dead of a gunshot wound in a car in '83, tell Spira, "I don't care how you're going to get to Winfield. I don't care whose money you give me. I want the money."
In playing down Winfield's involvement with Spira, baseball contends that unlike Steinbrenner, Winfield eventually told Spira to get lost. As Newsday's source told that paper, "David wanted [Spira] out of there [the foundation]. He didn't want any part of him. He told Al [Frohman] that he didn't trust him [Spira], and what made Al think that if they paid him that he wouldn't do it again, continue gambling?"
In last week's interview, Vincent seemed to be under the impression that Winfield had exercised "good judgment" in dissociating himself from Spira as early as 1981. In fact, the relationship had its ups and downs with the final falling-out occurring in '86 after Winfield refused to give Spira money and a job. In any case, Vincent's argument would also seem to vindicate Steinbrenner, who broke off with Spira too—and did so more quickly than Winfield did.
Steinbrenner's main target has now shifted from Winfield to Dowd. While Vincent dismisses the transcript-changing issue as sensationalism—"It's like someone said about Wagner's music: It sounds better than it really is," he says—Steinbrenner's side has counted up 268 changes that it says Dowd made in testimony given by Steinbrenner, Leonard Kleinman, the Yankees' chief operating officer, Dowling and McNiff.
As Dowd said in a written statement last week, the changes did not involve "the substance of the answers of any witness." What the changes mainly accomplish is to make Dowd sound slightly more eloquent and evenhanded. Dowd corrected a couple of his factual misstatements, eliminated his use of vulgarity, cut out some repetitious ramblings and removed remarks that he might have felt would embarrass him if made public. When asked about Dowd's transcript altering, Yale law professor Geoffrey Hazard, an authority on legal ethics, said that while it is standard practice for witnesses to make corrections in their testimony, those corrections are usually put in as addenda and made known to both sides in a case. Hazard says that having the wording of sworn testimony changed, even slightly, without knowledge of the other side in the case "is not common practice." Referring to Dowd's many alterations, Hazard asked, "Does Fay know?"
Steinbrenner's forces have cited several other instances of what they portray as bias on Dowd's part. In a sworn affidavit Robert O'Neill, a private investigator who worked for Steinbrenner, said that when Dowd was interviewing him in May—more than two months before Vincent handed down his decision—Dowd told him that Steinbrenner, like Pete Rose, did not belong in baseball. Dowd denies making the comment or "anything akin to it." Three witnesses complained that Dowd or members of his investigative team inaccurately summarized their statements in interviews. One of the witnesses, Jim Murphy, another private investigator who has worked for Steinbrenner, wrote to Vincent to complain that "it appears as if much of what had been discussed during my interviews was either misunderstood or misrepresented." He attached a 15-page response listing more than two dozen alleged inaccuracies in the summaries. Another witness, O'Neill, sent Vincent a six-page affidavit correcting 15 alleged misstatements in the summary of his interview. A third witness, James Kindler, executive assistant district attorney for New York County, wrote to Vincent to say that, contrary to Dowd's summary of his interview with him, Kindler had not told Dowd that he "thought Spira was a liar," nor had he commented on what Dowd described as "the larger effort by Steinbrenner to discredit Winfield." Dowd says he and his associates stand by the accuracy of their memos in all three cases.
Now that Dowd's investigation of Steinbrenner's relationship with Spira has ended, his own dealings with Spira have been called into question. In August, two Yankee limited partners unsuccessfully sought a temporary restraining order in U.S. district court in Cleveland against baseball's removal of Steinbrenner. The partners alleged that Dowd and Spira made a deal in which Dowd received from Spira tapes of phone conversations germane to baseball's investigation of Steinbrenner. In return Dowd allegedly hooked Spira up with a lawyer to represent Spira in Florida following his March 23 indictment in Tampa on charges of trying to extort money from Steinbrenner and threatening Steinbrenner and Winfield. Dowd told SI that he had received about 10 tapes from Spira but denied that they were part of a deal. He said he gave Spira's New York lawyer the name of a law firm with a Florida office as "a professional courtesy."
Steinbrenner's lawyers told SI that Dowd implied to them that Steinbrenner would receive more favorable treatment from baseball if he got the Spira extortion case delayed or dropped. Dowd called this "a phony-baloney charge." He said that it was actually two of Steinbrenner's lawyers who had sought a way to get the Spira extortion case dropped, lest Steinbrenner be embarrassed by a trial.
Might baseball have made a deal with a man it considers anathema? Might it have something to fear if Spira goes to trial? Certainly if Spira takes the stand in his defense, it is likely that a lot of what baseball failed to investigate will come to light. And that, at last, baseball—including Vincent, the man who's supposed to know what's going on—will be listening to Spira attentively.
In denying charges of sloppiness, Vincent characterized baseball's Steinbrenner investigation as "very careful, very scrupulous."
After Winfield joined the Yankees in '80, he and Frohman (left) became the Boss's foes.
Baseball assailed Spira's credibility even as it accepted some particulars of his account.
The ties of Grecco (left) and Caridi to Yankee hanger-on Spira should have set off alarms.
[See caption above.]
Ueberroth complained that Steinbrenner was vague in his charges and tended to cry wolf.
RONALD C. MODRA
Piniella was cleared by baseball in an investigation that, it turns out, never took place.
The alterations that Dowd has acknowledged making were not shown to the other side.