March 23rd in baseball history: The Winfield-Steinbrenner soap opera heats up

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BRONX, NEW YORK | MARCH 23, 1990 - A messy soap opera involving New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and Dave Winfield, one of his players, hit the headlines again today in 1990 with the arrest of Howard Spira. Spira, a small-time gambler and former sports radio station stringer, was arrested and charged with extortion. He was convicted a year later for trying to extort $110,000 from Steinbrenner.

The mess ended up getting the Yankee owner banned from baseball when it was revealed that he had given Spira $40,000 to find some dirt on Winfield. Steinbrenner insisted the money was to help Howie get back on his feet.

Steinbrenner and Winfield had been feuding for a number of reasons since Winfield signed a 10-year, $23 million contract with the Yankees that Steinbrenner didn't feel he quite lived up to. Winfield was upset with Steinbrenner for, among other things, reneging on a promise to donate $300,000 to Winfield's foundation. That's where Howard Spira came in. Spira once worked as a publicist for the Foundation.

Steinbrenner was reinstated as Yankees owner in 1993. Howard Spira served 26 months in a federal prison for extortion. What's never been clear is why someone with the resources of George Steinbrenner would seek out someone like Howie Spira rather than, say, an ex-FBI agent.

Contributing sources:
New York Magazine, May 29, 1998, by Deborah Mitchell

This baseball history story about George Steinbrenner and Dave Winfield is brought to you by TODAY in BASEBALL.