It's hard to tell who's on trial: George Steinbrenner or Howard Spira?
Steinbrenner spent three hours on the witness stand Wednesday in U.S. District Court and was grilled on his behavior as New York Yankee owner.The Boss was combative. He was funny. And like always, he tried to avoid tough questions.
"You want to get a legitimate, calm answer from me, that's not the way to do it," he lectured defense lawyer David S. Greenfield after an extremely sarcastic question.
Spira is on trial, charged with attempting to extort $110,000 more from Steinbrenner last year after the Yankees' owner gave him two checks totaling $40,000. But Steinbrenner, testifying as a prosecution witness, is the star.
When he returned Wednesday for his second day on the stand, he wore a blue blazer with tan trousers and a yellow shirt. A World Series ring shined from his left hand, but the questioning dealt with less happy times. Greenfield spent the day pulling documents from his bag marked "Boss Cross."
Steinbrenner was forced to talk about how he ordered former stadium manager Patrick Kelly to search equipment in the visiting team's clubhouse late at night in hopes of finding doctored bats. He was forced to tell the jury how he "resigned" Kelly and chief financial officer M. David Weidler after he accused them of theft but then didn't tell the police or the commissioner's office about it.
A lot of the time, The Boss claimed to be a hands-off executive and said he was unaware of many goings on. When he ran the Yankees, he blamed mistakes on "my baseball people." Now he was blaming them on "my lawyers" or "my investigative people."
The funniest moment came when Greenfield asked about Spira's reference to Lou Piniella in a 1988 letter. "Was he your manager at the time?" Greenfield asked, knowing that there were 18 changes in 17 years.
"Might have been," Steinbrenner said, breaking into a smile and playing into the lawyer's game. The entire courtroom - judge and jury included - broke up at that one. The laughter went on for about 10 seconds before Greenfield pressed on.
"Could be before, during or after?" he asked sarcastically.
"Might be in the future. Can't tell with me," The Boss answered, laughing at himself.
Steinbrenner again was asked if he disliked Dave Winfield, the outfielder whose relationship with Spira started this saga a decade ago. "There were times, such as in 1988 when Dave Winfield wrote a book about the team," Steinbrenner said. "Teammates disliked it." As if on cue, a thunderclap exploded so loud that it cut Steinbrenner off. The courtroom errupted in laughter, again.
"Willie Randolph came to me," Steinbrenner said, picking up before Judge Louis L. Stanton cut him off. The judge probably didn't know Randolph denied ever going to Steinbrenner about Winfield.
On Tuesday, Steinbrenner choked up twice, once when he read a list of names and phone numbers Spira had compiled of his family and friends. A day later, Steinbrenner tried to explain what happened.
"If it's extortion, coercion or blackmail, I don't know the difference of these terms," The Boss said. "I probably never will. I can only tell you how it felt. I was deeply concerned, apprehensive about what this guy was going to do to me and my family.
"I got emotional yesterday," he said, turing to the jury. "You're not much of a person if you don't get emotional about your kids, your mother, your 87-year-old mother."