- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 2, 2007

Gabe Paul Jr. is a more interested viewer in ESPN’s series, “The Bronx is Burning,” than most.

After all, his father, Gabe Paul Sr., is one of the characters who is front and center in the series portraying the 1977 New York Yankees and a city under the siege of serial killer Son of Sam.

“I’ve enjoyed it so far, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series,” said Paul, the former executive director of the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority who worked for baseball commissioner Cadillac Bud Selig with the Milwaukee Brewers for nearly 30 years. “I thought my dad has been portrayed well so far. I thought my dad was portrayed well. He had a lot more to do with the operation than it gave him credit for in the series, but then the series is really about George.”

His father is one of the front-office legends of the game but was mostly a forgotten part of the drama that unfolded under George Steinbrenner’s ownership. The remarkable 1977 season ended with Reggie Jackson hitting three home runs in Game 6 of the World Series in a win against the Dodgers.

Still, Gabe Sr. — played by great character actor Kevin Conway — has been a prominent figure in the series and comes across as a sane man in an insane asylum. He is shown standing up to Steinbrenner, trying to save the volatile owner from himself. In one scene Gabe Sr. is in a meeting with manager Billy Martin and Jackson, seeking to settle the feud between the two. In another he talks to Dick Howser, explaining that they were about to fire Martin and have Howser take over. Martin, nearby hitting batting practice ground balls, shoots one in the dugout at Howser and Gabe Sr.

Paul, now a sports consultant, said his father and Martin were friends.

“They had that scene with Billy saying, ‘Well, you offered me a contract with all of these restrictions in there about character and all that,’ ” Paul said. “My dad was the one who did that. Billy was a little crazy, but they were friends.”

Paul’s father helped set up the deal that led to Steinbrenner owning the Yankees. He was the president and a part owner of the Cleveland Indians but put together a group that included Steinbrenner to buy the Yankees from CBS in 1973 for $8.7 million. Mike Burke was president of the team under CBS and thought he would continue under Steinbrenner’s ownership. But that wasn’t the case.

“It was a real strange situation,” Paul said. “In that first year, Burke thought he was going to become the president of the Yankees under the new group. He was really mad when it didn’t happen.”

Gabe Sr. became president and helped Steinbrenner rebuild the franchise, leading up to the 1977 World Series. But he too was gone after the season ended because no one lasted long with Steinbrenner, especially someone so close that he would often have to tell the owner what he didn’t want to hear.

George and my dad argued quite a bit,” Paul said. “He wasn’t afraid of George.”

Fifteen years later, Paul almost went to work for Steinbrenner.

“When George was under suspension, he offered me a job running Yankee Stadium, but he couldn’t offer it to me himself because he was under suspension,” Paul said. “He asked my dad to ask me, and my dad said, ‘No, you call him and ask him yourself.’ So he had Tal Smith call me up. I said, ‘Thank you, but no thank you.’ My dad had called me up and warned me what was going to happen.”

Though the series is about Steinbrenner, Martin and Jackson, Gabe Sr.’s baseball life ranks right up there. He started at the age of 16 working for the Rochester Red Wings as a publicity man and ticket manager and went on to become general manager of the great Cincinnati Reds teams of the late 1950s. He was the GM of the early Houston Colt .45s and then president and general manager of the Indians in two stints in Cleveland. He had an impact on today’s game by, among other things, helping to set up the player draft and supporting a switch into two divisions in each league. He spent more than 60 years in baseball and died in 1998.

And now he is being immortalized as the head zookeeper at the Bronx Zoo.



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