George Steinbrenner had a plaque in his office that read: “Lead, follow or get the hell out of the way.”
The motto, attributed to founding father Thomas Paine and popularized by U.S. Army General George Patton, provided an example of the bravado of the longtime New York Yankees owner and a business lesson for one of his limited partners in the baseball team, Marvin Goldklang.
Goldklang, 68, invested in the Yankees in 1979 while a partner at the Wall Street law firm Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP. He stepped down in 1983 after turning 40 and has since built his own career as a baseball owner. The Goldklang Group -- whose partners include actor Bill Murray and baseball promoter Mike Veeck -- owns four minor-league franchises: the St. Paul Saints in Minnesota, Charleston RiverDogs in South Carolina, Hudson Valley Renegades in New York and Fort Myers Miracle in Florida.
“I woke up one morning and just decided there were other things I wanted to do in life,” Goldklang said. “Being a partner of a major Wall Street firm didn’t afford me the flexibility I needed, so I left.”
His involvement in minor-league baseball ownership began while at the law firm, when he was asked by a club owner in Utica, New York, to help find financing for the team’s ballpark. His response was that his lawyer fees would be more than the client was looking to borrow -- so Goldklang offered to put up the money himself for an ownership stake, with the condition that he also be signed to a contract to pitch one game.
Pitched at Penn
“I had a monumentally unimpressive pitching career at Penn,” the right-hander said in an interview from his office in Florham Park, New Jersey.
Goldklang is a 1963 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School in Philadelphia, setting what he believes to be a school record by hitting four batters in an inning. He also earned a degree from Penn Law and a Masters of Laws from New York University. Goldklang missed pitching that game in Utica because of business travel.
The life-long Yankees fan from Bayonne, New Jersey, already had a piece of the Major League Baseball team that he and a friend bought from John McMullen, who sold his shares after becoming the Houston Astros’ owner. Goldklang said his initial investment was several hundred thousand dollars. He declined to reveal how much of the Yankees he owns today, saying it is “neither the smallest nor the largest piece.”
Other limited partners in the team, which was purchased from CBS Corp. in 1973 for about $10 million, include billionaire Lester Crown and tax lawyer Daniel McCarthy. A separate class of ownership has a stake in the team and the Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network tied to the YankeeNets venture that dissolved in 2004.
It was McMullen who said there’s nothing as limited as being a limited partner of Steinbrenner’s.
“There was a fair amount of validity to that quote up until a certain point in the 1990s when George became more open and inclusive,” Goldklang said. “Partnership meetings became a little more of a democratic process but only slightly so.”
Steinbrenner, whom Goldklang says was a friend, died July 13 at the age of 80. Goldklang said Steinbrenner’s detail-obsessed management style, from which free agents to sign to the tidiness of stadium restrooms, was an inspiration.
Steinbrenner surprised Goldklang with championship rings from the 1977 and 1978 seasons after he bought into the team in 1979. He still wears the 1977 version.
“This is the only ring my wife will let me wear because it’s the least gaudy,” he joked.
Steinbrenner’s son Hal, 40, now holds the title of Yankees managing general partner with the full support of the entire partnership, Goldklang said. Hal’s older brother, 53-year-old Hank, is in charge of baseball operations for the Yankees.
Yankees spokeswoman Alice McGillion said in an e-mail that the succession was going as planned when it was implemented two years ago.
While the Yankees are baseball’s most valuable franchise at $1.6 billion, according to Forbes, Goldklang made a financial sacrifice in changing careers, said Veeck, whose father, Bill Veeck, was a major-league owner and one of baseball’s great promoters.
“He walked away from a huge career,” Veeck said in a telephone interview in which he highlighted Goldklang’s humility. “Nobody was more surprised that we made a couple of bucks with a club here or there, but it was never the driving force.”
Hall of Fame
In 2004, Goldklang was inducted into the Hall of Fame for the South Atlantic League, home of the RiverDogs, a Class-A affiliate of the Yankees. He’ll join the Florida State League Hall in November.
“He’s an incredibly well-respected person not only in our league but throughout the industry,” Eric Krupa, president of the South Atlantic League, said in a telephone interview. “There are people in our industry who have taken the time to figure out what works and apply it in multiple sites, and that’s exactly what he’s done.”
Goldklang was part of a group that created the Israel Baseball League, which ended operations after playing just the 2007 season. He holds the exclusive option through 2011 to start another league in Israel and is determining what it would take for a professional league there to be economically viable.
“Part of the short answer is that it would require two or perhaps three baseball facilities that currently do not exist in Israel right now, so it’s still a work in progress,” he said.
In the Family
Goldklang said he’ll likely pass on his Yankees ownership stake to his family, though he hasn’t given it much thought. He’s been married for 42 years, has four children ranging from 31 to 38 years old and seven grandchildren. While the investment is more than 30 years old itself, that’s less than half as long as he’s rooted for the team.
The lawyer remembers breaking his nose in a school recess collision as a 7-year-old third-grader. While lying on a doctor’s office table to have the nose reset, he listened on the radio as the normally pull-hitting right-hander Joe DiMaggio, a Yankees Hall of Famer and Goldklang’s first baseball hero, pushed a home run to right field.
“I remember thinking he did it for me,” Goldklang said.