In a long fir­ing line, this guy was 1st man canned

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTSBRIEFING - By Tom Withers

WEST­LAKE, Ohio — Some­one had to feel Ge­orge Stein­bren­ner’s wrath first.

Mike Cleary was em­ployee vic­tim No. 1 of “the Boss.”

“I was the first per­son he ever fired,” said Cleary, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Col­le­giate Di­rec­tors of Ath­let­ics. “I was a 24-year-old gen­eral man­ager and Ge­orge was a 29-year-old owner.”

And al­ready show­ing signs of be­ing a de­mand­ing, dic­ta­to­rial leader.

In 1960, Cleary was GM of the Cleve­land Pipers of the Amer­i­can Bas­ket­ball League, work­ing for a young Stein­bren­ner, a Cleve­land-area na­tive whose fam­ily’s ship­ping busi­ness gave him the rev­enue to en­ter sports own­er­ship. The team was hop­ing to get some pub­lic­ity for sign­ing guard Dick Bar­nett, who would later play for the New York Knicks, and had worked out an agree­ment to break the story in the Cleve­land Press.

But the story leaked and Stein­bren­ner was irate. He took it out on Cleary.

“He came in and said, ‘You’re fired’,” Cleary re­called. “I said, ‘I quit.’ Later we be­came good friends.”

Al­though he was dis­missed — for the one and only time in his life — Cleary, who has been NACDA’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor for 45 years, did get some re­venge on Stein­bren­ner. Cleary didn’t get a fi­nal pay­check from Stein­bren­ner so he took the money for two weeks’ pay out of the gate re­ceipts from one of the team’s games. He didn’t stop there. “I wrote him a note that said, ‘Dear Ge­orge,’” Cleary said. “’You for­got to pay me when you fired me so I took two weeks’ salary, and just be­cause I know how mag­nan­i­mous you are, I took two more weeks be­cause I know you would have wanted to give me two weeks severance pay, too.’ ”

Cleary said Stein­bren­ner even­tu­ally for­gave him, telling him “You were al­ways loyal.”

Stein­bren­ner bought the Yan­kees in 1973, af­ter an ear­lier failed at­tempt to buy the In­di­ans.

“Imag­ine if he had bought the In­di­ans and not the Yan­kees,’’ Cleary said. “I can prom­ise you we wouldn’t be sit­ting here be­moan­ing the fact that we haven’t won a world cham­pi­onship since 1948.”

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