Steinbrenner the Felon

Who dropped the dime on Yankees owner George M. Steinbrenner for making illegal campaign contributions to the Nixon campaign?

According to Steinbrenner it was Nixon. Steinbrenner told baseball writer Roger Kahn for his book October Men that he wasn’t really a Republican at all and had been shaken down by the president’s men.

Steinbrenner was buddies with House Speaker Tip O’Neill and Ted Kennedy. He had raised about $2 million for Democrats running for Congress in the Cleveland area. That didn’t sit well with Nixon aides Bob Haldeman and John Erlichmann. “The Nixon people were very annoyed at my Democratic fund-raising,” Steinbrenner told Kahn.

As the 1972 presidential election approached, Nixon’s henchmen demanded dirt on Kennedy and other Democrats from Steinbrenner. “Rough stuff,” Steinbrenner told Kahn, “not only stories about the politicians but about their wives. Drinking. Sex. Very damn distasteful, if you ask me.”

Nixon’s men threatened an antitrust investigation of American Shipbuilding, Steinbrenner’s company, and punitive IRS audits. Steinbrenner decided to buy his way out with campaign contributions to CREEP, Nixon’s reelection campaign. But when he refused to squeal on his Democratic buddies, the Nixon campaign responded with a 14-count indictment in April 1974.

That’s Steinbrenner’s self-serving version anyway. As a prosecutor’s memo makes clear, Steinbrenner had no trouble squealing on Nixon’s people, Teamsters, Merrill Lynch or anyone else who might get him out of trouble.

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