November 15, 2010
The Yankee Princess
Maybe none of us move fast enough because the past seems to catch up. The past caught up the day the e-mail arrived from Jennie Paul, or, “The Yankee Princess”—the title of the book she wrote about her relationship with her father, Gabe Paul, a lifelong baseball executive who brought George Steinbrenner into baseball and who was the engineer behind the Yankees dynasty in the 1970s.
This gets a bit complicated; there are some personal ties here, having known Jennie when she was a young sports reporter in Dayton, Ohio, as I covered the Reds, and having had some interesting ties to Gabe.
Indeed, my father had served in the infantry during World War II, and when stationed at Camp Blanding, Oregon, his sergeant was Gabe Paul. This started a relationship that carried on through the years, long enough that my father was able to get me and my high school teammate and friend, Richie Scheinblum, a tryout in Jersey City with the Reds’ Triple-A team that had just moved from Havana.
While my abilities allowed me to play no higher than college ball, Scheinblum wound up signing with the Indians. One year, he just missed winning the American League batting title.
When Jennie let me know she had written this book, I told her I would gladly read it and review it, for it covers a period in time when baseball was being reshaped and Steinbrenner’s Yankees were in the middle of it.
If the book is a catharsis for Jennie’s conflicted emotional feelings about her father, it is also an inside snippet of history that covers the free-agent signings of Catfish Hunter and Reggie Jackson, the stormy relationship between Billy Martin, Jackson, and Steinbrenner, and a somewhat bizarre relationship between Jennie and Martin that would go on behind her father’s back.
Gabe’s credentials as a baseball executive are impeccable. He jumped from publicity man to becoming the youngest team president and general manager in baseball history when he took over the Reds in 1951.
He built a team with the likes of Ted Kluszewski, Gus Bell, and Wally Post, a team that hit a major-league record 221 home runs. In 1957, he engineered a write-in campaign that resulted in seven Reds being voted to the National League starting lineup for the All-Star Game. Stan Musial was the lone position player able to withstand the flood of ballots.
Gabe’s influence is still felt in Cincinnati; in 1960, Reds owner Powell Crosley wanted to follow the Dodgers and Giants to the West Coast, but Gabe made a strong case to keep the team in Ohio.
Of course, there were a number of other stops along the way, but he wound up with the Indians as the face of baseball was changing and a young local shipbuilder from Cleveland named George Steinbrenner was trying to get into the game by purchasing the Royals.
Gabe met with Steinbrenner at Table 14 in the Pewter Mug in downtown Cleveland and planted the seed that the Yankees were for sale. Steinbrenner was hooked, although Gabe insisted not only to be a partner in the group, but to also run the baseball aspect of it.
This is what Steinbrenner told him, according to the book:
“Take my offer to your investors, Gabe. Tell them I can be a team player. I can get things done like Michael. I won’t interfere with the operations.”
“In retrospect, George outsmarted everyone. The press announcement indicated that all the owners would be equal partners and that the current management with (GM) Lee MacPhail and (manager) Ralph Houk would remain the same. Neither of these statements would prove to be the reality that the investors had signed on for,” Jennie would write later.
Throughout her father's Yankees years, Jennie would attend college and then become a sports reporter, sportscaster, and become very conflicted about her dealings with her father both on a personal and professional basis.
Steinbrenner was suspended from baseball for two years in 1974 for illegal campaign contributions to President Richard Nixon’s re-election bid, although he remained involved behind the scenes, according to Jennie.
But it was Gabe who jumped in and beat out 22 other teams when Hunter was made a free agent after Athletics owner Charlie Finley failed to pay him a bonus he was due, signing him for $3.75 million.
Martin eventually came on to manage the Yankees as Gabe and his daughter remained at ends, and when Gabe refused to grant her an exclusive interview when it could have helped better her career she reacted in an unexpected manner.
“Dads that don’t show up when their daughters need them raise girls with an ache and a hole in their heart,” she wrote. “As the pangs from the void in our father-daughter relationship got worse, I looked for Dad in all the wrong places. I began to develop an unhealthy appetite for men who were not good for me. They had Dad’s undesirable characteristics and none of his good. They were emotionally unavailable; they were fillers. One of them was Billy Martin. Yes, I was Billy Martin’s girlfriend for a time. If dad ever found out they would have challenged each other on much more than tactics.”
Talk about a strange triangle.
Gabe was the go-between that kept whatever peace there was amongst all the friction between Martin, Steinbrenner, and Jackson.
“Dad was there for both men (Billy and George or George and Reggie). He would let them scrap about it. Then, Dad, serious and kind, would move in and help resolve the issue in a way that was best for the team,” Jennie wrote.
The dysfunctional Yankees and Paul family can be summarized by the day Martin and Jackson squared off in the visiting dugout in Fenway Park. Martin removed Jackson in the middle of an inning for not hustling.
This is a view of one of baseball’s most colorful eras from a woman who had to go through it before she could eventually make peace with her father, long after it was really too late.