Steinbrenner sued over the YES Network; Plaintiff has no chance

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Bob Gutkowski, who used to be the president of the MSG Network is suing George Steibrenner, claiming that Big Stein stole his idea for the YES Network and reneged on promises that Gutkowski would be given a job and all of the kind of stuff that goes along with those kinds of claims.  YES is now supposed to be worth $3 billion, so it’s a pretty significant claim.

So too was a lawsuit I once defended when I was in private practice.  The claim — and I am not making this up — was filed by an inmate in a prison in southern Ohio who claimed that he invented the idea of the Happy Meal and the Value Meal when he worked at McDonalds when he was a teenager.  The complaint, which was written in pencil, sought $100 billion.  My client, McDonalds, paid my firm to defend the claim, but it’s not like they were too worried about it.  And yes, I won.

I suppose Mr. Gutkowski’s claims have a bit more factual basis than the inmate’s, but I question whether he’ll have any more success.

For one thing, he seems like he’d have a statute of limitations problem. The YES Network debuted in 2002.  I’m guessing Mr. Gutkowski knew well before then that he wasn’t getting a piece of it or a job with it.  But even if he didn’t, the statute of limitations for contract and fraud claims in New York is six years. Most other torts are three years.  All of those dates have run, even if we started the running from the network’s March 19, 2002 debut.  I’m assuming he has some novel theory as to why he didn’t have to file his lawsuit before now, but those kinds of theories tend not to work too well when they’re asserted by wealthy, grown-up businessmen who should know better.

There’s also a tactical problem.  I haven’t seen the complaint, but the allegations seem to hinge on conversations Gutkowski had with George Steinbrenner.  The same George Steinbrenner who is basically a recluse these days, most likely because he is suffering from dementia of some sort.  Maybe Gutkowski was banking on winning because Steinbrenner couldn’t really defend himself. Maybe he’s thinking the Yankees might buy him off so they don’t have to file papers in a lawsuit explaining Steinbrenner’s incompetence to testify.

The problem, though, is that (a) courts tend to protect the incompetent, not punish them; and (b) the Yankees are a business, not some 18th century monarchy, so they’re not going to pay off this guy simply to avoid revealing to the masses that the king isn’t well.  If this turns into a P.R. war over George’s health, the Yankees are going to win it.

So I guess I’ll give this guy an E for effort and a T for nice try, but this lawsuit smells like a loser.

Seattle Mariners to make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani

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Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a team-sponsored podcast the other day that the M’s will make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani. To that end, Dipoto said that the M’s would be willing to let the two-way star to pitch and to hit, which is something Ohtani is interested in doing in the United States. Not all clubs are likely to let him do this, with most likely seeing him as a starting pitcher only.

Ohtani, who is expected to be posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, possibly as early as today, can sign with anyone he wants. He is, however, subject to the international bonus pool caps, so the bids on him will be somewhat limited. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees have the most money available: $3.535 million for the Rangers and $3.5 million for the Yankees. The Twins ($3.245 million), Pirates ($2.266 million), Marlins ($1.74 million) and Mariners ($1.57 million) are the only other teams with more than $1 million left. Twelve teams — including the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Astros — are limited to a maximum of $300,000, having met or exceeded their caps for this signing period already.

Ohtani, however, is said to be less motivated by money than he is by finding the right situation. While a lot of guys say that, the fact that Ohtani is coming over to the U.S. now, when his financial prospects are limited, as opposed to waiting for two years when he is not subject to the bonus caps and could sign for nine figures, suggests that he is telling the truth. As such, a team like the Mariners that is willing to allow him to hit and pitch could make up for the couple of million less they have in bonus money to spend.

As for how that might work logistically, Dipoto said that the team would be willing to play DH Nelson Cruz a few days in the outfield to accommodate Ohtani, allowing him to DH on the days he’s not pitching. That might be . . . interesting to see, but given how badly the Mariners could use a good starting pitcher, they have an incentive to be creative.

Ohtani, 23, suffered some injuries in 2017, limiting him to just five starts and 65 games as a hitter. In 2016, however, he hit .289/.356/.547 with 22 homers in 342 at-bats and went 11-3 with a 3.24 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of 146/51 in 133.1 innings as a starter.

Five clubs have more money to spend on Ohtani than the Mariners do. None of those teams are on the west coast, which some Asian players have said in the past they preferred due to faster travel back home. The Mariners, owned for a long time by a Japanese company which still retains a minority interest in the club, and long the home for high-profile Japanese players such as Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma, likely have a better media and marketing reach in Japan than most other teams as well, which might be a factor in his decision making process. Is all that enough to sway Ohtani?

We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.