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Gabe Paul dies; was MLB exec

Gabe Paul, who helped rebuild the New York Yankees into world champions and directed the fortunes of three other major-league baseball teams, died Sunday (April 26, 1998). He was 88.

In a lifetime on the business side of baseball, he was a president of the Yankees and the Cleveland Indians and a top executive of the Cincinnati Reds and Houston Astros.

Barely three months after joining the Yankees in 1973, he swung a deal with his old club, the Indians, in which New Yorkacquired first baseman Chris Chambliss, the '76 pennant hero, and pitcher Dick Tidrow in exchange for four pitchers, three of whom did not last long in the majors.

He also helped acquire centerfielder Mickey Rivers from California, second baseman Willie Randolph from Pittsburgh and shortstop Bucky Dent from the Chicago White Sox. He played a major role in signing free agents Reggie Jackson, Don Gullett and Rich Gossage.

When he left in 1977 to rejoin the Indians, he was credited with putting together the Yankees teams that were American League champions in 1976 and World Series winners in 1977 and '78.

Mr. Paul even played a behind-the-scenes role in the formation of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1990-91. "He gave me some tremendous advice when we were going to get the franchise because he had been there," Lightning general manager Phil Esposito said. "He was always very level-headed, right to the end."

Mr. Paul's son Henry, general counsel for the Lightning and an early partner with the team, agreed. "I admired him for who he was and what he did, especially the last few years because of all he had to go through," he said, referring to his father's health. "But he was a fighter and a great man. He had a great life, he loved baseball and he loved his kids."

He said his father had suffered a series of strokes, broke his hip a couple of months ago and developed pneumonia three weeks ago from which he did not fully recover. He said doctors had not determined the exact cause of death, which happened at 11:30 a.m. Sunday at Memorial Hospital in Tampa.

"Gabe Paul was a baseball man all his life," Yankee Stadium announcer Bob Sheppard said in a public tribute before New York's game against Toronto on Monday night. "Let us now remember him with affection, admiration and respect."

Born and reared in Rochester, N.Y., Mr. Paul went to work for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle as a teenager. After two years as a reporter, he found his calling: baseball. Before he turned 20, the former batboy caught on as publicity manager and ticket manager with the minor-league Rochester Red Wings. In 1934 he became publicity director for the Reds, rising to traveling secretary in 1938 and assistant to the club president in 1948. While with Cincinnati as a vice president and general manager he added to his reputation with a scheme he hatched to put seven Reds in the lineup for the 1957 All-Star Game.

"Everything we did, step by step, was cleared with the commissioner (Ford Frick)," Mr. Paul said in 1988. "We asked if there was any limit to the number of times anyone could vote and we were assured people could vote as often as they wanted."

At Mr. Paul's suggestion, the now-defunct Cincinnati Times Star agreed to list the ballots with the names already printed: 2B Johnny Temple; SS Roy McMillan; 3B Don Hoak; C Ed Bailey; OFs Frank Robinson, Gus Bell and Wally Post. A concession was made at first base, where _ because the game was being played in St. Louis _ the Cardinals' Stan Musial was listed instead of the Reds' George Crowe.

"I thought that was very liberal of us," Mr. Paul said, laughing.

Waite Hoyt, a Reds broadcaster, promoted the ballots at every opportunity. Burger Beer, the Reds' sponsor, printed millions of the ballots, distributed them and sometimes mailed them in bulk to the National League, Mr. Paul said.

"When Frick found out what we'd done, he took Bell and Post out of the starting lineup and put in (Hank) Aaron and (Willie) Mays," Mr. Paul said. The next year, 1958, baseball took the vote away from the fans and gave it to the teams. The fans didn't get it back until 1970.

Mr. Paul quit the Reds in 1960 to take a similar job with Houston, which was to get an NL team in 1962. But in a surprise decision, he jumped the next spring to a similar post with the Indians of the rival AL. In 1962, Mr. Paul became part of a syndicate of Cleveland business leaders who bought the Indians. As the largest single stockholder, he added the duties of president and treasurer to those of general manager.

Seen by baseball writers as one of the game's most astute operators, he remained in Cleveland until 1973, when he left to become an owner of the Yankees. He became what Yankees president Mike Burke termed "an added starter" in a 12-man group, headed by Burke and shipping magnate George M. Steinbrenner III, that originally paid CBS $10-million for the Yankees. "Gabe Paul was a dear friend and the most knowledgeable baseball man I ever met in my 25 years in the game," Steinbrenner said. "He was responsible for our group being able to purchase the Yankees from CBS. He was a wonderful man and he will be deeply missed."

Within a year Mr. Paul was the club's president, taking over the operation when Steinbrenner was suspended by former commissioner Bowie Kuhn in 1974 for making illegal campaign contributions. Mr. Paul held the post until 1977, when he returned to the Indians as president and CEO.

Twice named Major League Executive of the Year, he retired in 1984.

After all those years as one of baseball's major figures, Mr. Paul kept busy. He went as far as to rent an office where he spent four or five hours a day.

"I don't know what I do, but I keep busy," he said in 1987. Among other things, he was a volunteer for Executive Service Corps of Tampa, which matches retirees with businesses or agencies that can use their expertise. Meanwhile, Mr. Paul said he kept in touch with his friends in baseball by attending spring-training games and 15 to 20 regular-season games each year. He followed player trades, deciding what he would have done if he were still with the Indians. But he kept his conclusions to himself.

He was among a Tampa Bay ownership group that Stephen Porter led on a quest for an MLB team. In 1991 he was a member of the Suncoast Major League Baseball Advisory Committee, formed to push for Major League Baseball in the Florida Suncoast Dome in St. Petersburg.

Mr. Paul served in the Army in 1943-45.

He belonged to Palma Ceia Country Club and the Centre Club, both of Tampa.

He is survived by his wife, Mary Frances; four sons, Gabriel Jr., Warren, Michael and Henry; a daughter, Jennie; a brother; three sisters; and nine grandchildren.

Private services will be held Wednesday. The family asked that instead of flowers, contributions be made to the National Jewish Medical and Research Center, 1400 Jackson St., Denver.

_ Times staff writers Richard Danielson and Tom Jones contributed to this report. Some information came from the Associated Press and from stories by Helen Huntley and Bruce Lowitt in the St. Petersburg Times.