Thwarted in his efforts to buy the Indians, a Cleveland-area shipbuilding scion named George Steinbrenner instead bought the New York Yankees in 1973, in a deal brokered in part by Indians general manager Gabe Paul.
Paul would later join Steinbrenner as a limited partner in the Yankees and thanks to him, there were a lot of Cleveland connections to those Yankee teams, from players like Nettles, Lou Piniella, Oscar Gamble and Chris Chambliss, taken from the Indians, to the front office replete with ex-Indians.
Steinbrenner was an Ohio boy through and through. He grew up in Cleveland and went to college at Ohio State University, serving as a graduate assistant for Buckeyes football coach Woody Hayes. And as owner of the Yankees, he was never above hiring those with an Ohio connection – or making those connections himself.
Heisman Trophy winner Howard “Hopalong” Cassady got a job with the Yankees as a scout and fitness instructor, and under Steinbrenner’s ownership, the Yankees’ top farm team became the Columbus Clippers.
Billy Martin, whose tombstone reads, “I might not have been the greatest player to wear a Yankee uniform, but I was the proudest,” was sent into exile after a 1957 fight at the Copacabana. The rambunctious second baseman was regarded as a bad influence on the team’s stars, and was traded to the Kansas City Athletics. One of his stops was in Cleveland briefly.
Martin was hired to manage the Yankees in 1975. Martin had won division titles in Detroit and Minnesota, and turned a Texas Rangers team into a contender. The Yankees hadn’t been to the postseason since losing the 1964 World Series, and Martin turned them around, with players like Piniella, Nettles and Chambliss – who won the Rookie of the Year award for the Indians in 1971 before being dealt to the Bronx. Paul put together the deals for Gamble, Nettles and Chambliss. Paul also had no problems spending Steinbrenner’s money as the free agency era dawned, snapping up future hall of famers like Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage and Catfish Hunter.
The Yankees went to the 1976 World Series, where they were swept by the Big Red Machine – the last time a Yankees team was swept in a best-of-seven postseason series until this year’s loss to the Tigers – but it was the first of three straight World Series appearances.
The Yankees beat the Dodgers in the 1977 World Series behind the slugging of Reggie Jackson, but in 1978, Martin and Steinbrenner parted ways for the first of four times. By then the general manager of the Yankees was former Indians slugger Al Rosen.
After Martin was fired, former Indians pitcher Bob Lemon was hired to manage the Yankees, who came from 10 games back of the Red Sox to win a one-game playoff to take the American League East. The Yankees returned to the World Series and once again beat the Dodgers. Lemon was fired as Yankees manager in 1979 – grieving for a son who was killed in a car accident the previous fall. He served briefly as manager again in 1981, as the Yankees advanced to the World Series in a strike-shortened season – dispatching, among other teams, Martin’s Athletics – but this time lost to the Dodgers.
By then, Gabe Paul was back in Cleveland, taking over as general manager at the behest of new owner Steve O’Neill, who also had been a limited partner with Steinbrenner in the Yankees. Paul retired in 1984, shortly after O’Neill’s death. Two years later, the Indians sale was finalized to the Jacobs brothers. Better days were ahead in Cleveland.
Paul’s baseball career spanned nearly 60 years, and he was called the ultimate survivor by Cleveland sports radio legend Pete Franklin. Paul died in 1998 at the age of 88.
Photo: Gabe Paul, Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner (AP)