When George Steinbrenner and Fay Vincent read their agreement, they don't see the same thing.
The New York Yankees owner, who agreed last summer to give up day-to-day control of his team, twice asked for permission to become involved in negotiations with free agents. Each time, the commissioner's lawyer said no."No one in the Yankees organization has the experience I have with free agents," Steinbrenner said Tuesday in a telephone interview from his office in Tampa, Fla. "This is an extraordinary item. You only come to it once a year. This certainly qualifies."
But Vincent says contract talks are day-to-day operations, an area Steinbrenner is prohibited from involvement.
"It was discussed at the time," Vincent said from Osaka, Japan, where he is attending baseball's goodwill tour. "He asked me at the time the agreement was made and I told him he would not be involved in free agency and he understood it. I turned him down because it's clear under the agreement that he's not entitled to that privilege."
Vincent also denied Steinbrenner's request to oversee the investment of the Yankees' money in banks, saying that, too, was a day-to-day matter. Although Steinbrenner may not run the team, he and his family still control approximately 55 percent of the stock.
The requests to become involved with free agents were first made in a Sept. 5 letter from Steinbrenner to Vincent, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press. It was denied nine days later in a response from Thomas J. Ostertag, baseball's general counsel.
"Your recollection of the discussion of this subject . . . is completely at odds with that of the representatives of this office who were part of those discussions," Ostertag wrote.
Steinbrenner then wrote to Ostertag saying he had always been directly involved in free agent talks and renewed his request. Ostertag turned him down again on Sept. 28, writing: "The very point of the agreement was to prohibit you from doing a whole variety of things that you did from 1973 through Aug. 20, 1990.
"Over half of that money in the team is mine and it's certainly an extraordinary financial and business affiair," Steinbrenner said Tuesday. "They are distorting the agreement. They distorted it from Day One when he (Vincent) said I was banned for life and I can't go to a ballgame without permission. Those were lies. They are reading their own interpretations, according to my attorneys."
Steinbrenner, who accepted the agreement to step back following an investigation of his relationship with gambler Howard Spira, said he was needed for contract talks because managing partner "Robert Nederlander knows nothing about free agents and (chief operating officer) Leonard Kleinman knows nothing."
"Stick and George Bradley are baseball people," Steinbrenner said, referring to general manager Gene Michael and Bradley, the team's chief contract negotiator. "They know some things, but they don't know as much as myself."
Steinbrenner said he had turned the matter over to his lawyers.
"He can't challenge it. The agreement says he has no recourse to the courts," Vincent said. "He hasn't challenged the agreement and I don't think he will."