Negron Stadium Days

Cashman Likes Double play Duo’s Praise for Gleyber.

When I brought it to Brian Cashman’s attention the praise given to one of his star pupils, Gleyber Torres, from the greatest double play combination in the history of the game, Brian smiled and said,” they would know better than anybody. Between Roberto Alomar and Omar Vizquel you are talking about twenty gold gloves and a tremendous amount of knowledge of the overall game of baseball. That’s really something.” When I gave Gleyber the message from the dynamic duo, he smiled and said that he is truly humbled. By the way, congratulations on your first big league hit Mr. Torres.

Severino, a Jokester

Luis Severino has become a clubhouse leader in more ways than one. As a leader in the game, the Thurman Munson’s, Lou Piniella’s and the Ron Guidry’s knew when to be serious, and when to be funny or crazy with their team mates in order to keep the team loose. The other day when Gleyber Torres got his first major league hit off the Minnesota Twins, the umpire threw the ball to the Yankees dugout as a souvenir for the young rookie. Severino had a ball in his hand and as he was catching the ball from the umpire he acted as if he was throwing it into the stands. If you kept your eyes on Torres you would have seen a shocked look in his face. At that point Severino put up the real baseball and everyone in the dugout began to laugh.
Thurman would have laughed too!

Wells Bobble Head Big Hit With Kids


David Wells bobble head night was a great night for all the kids at the Stadium on Monday. Even though Wells didn’t reach home plate when throwing out the first pitch, the kids had a great time with the always so much fun Wells. When the kids got the figurine they couldn’t believe how the face looked so much like the real man. Even though most of the kids weren’t born when Wells threw his last pitch in the big leagues, they just couldn’t get enough of him up in suite six. I don’t think Wells has ever taken so many pictures. David by the way was wonderful to all of them.

YES Boss Checks In On Men

I got to see the big boss of the Yankees Broadcast team John Filippelli enjoying his broadcasters Michael Kay and Paul O’Neill doing their jobs. In between innings I asked the trio for a picture for their fans. I have to admit that even though I’m an old school guy who loved announcers Phil Rizzuto, Frank Messer and Bill White, these guys are pretty darn good.

My Mommy the Yankee Cop

Vannessa Delossantos has been a police officer for quite a few years in the south Bronx. When not dealing with street thugs in the neighborhood, she gets a little down time protecting VIP suites at Yankee Stadium. On the night that they gave out the Wells Bobble heads her husband surprised her by purchasing two tickets so that her son could see the Yankees play and see mommy at work and get a bobble head.

WADO am Radio Yankees Spanish Station


If you don’t speak English then you’re listening to WADO. The broadcast team is led by radio legend Ricky Ricardo (no not Lucy’s husband) and Francisco Rivera.

The guy that makes it all happen is producer Rene Luna. I consider Rene an unsung hero. He is one of the most creative and tireless producers that I have been around. I have been around a lot of producers at ESPN Deportes and not too many can hang with this man. I learn by watching because a wise man once told me whatever you can learn at any major university you can learn at the University of Steinbrenner. Well Mr. Steinbrenner was pretty much always right about those things. I know he would agree with me that WADO radio and Spanish speaking Yankee fans are lucky to have Rene and his two legendary announcers.

Ray Negron’s Stadium Tales

On Friday night, the greatest second baseman of all time and Hall of Famer, Roberto Alomar visited Yankee Stadium.

Robbie actually saved me a ticket so that we could do what he loves to do more than anything in the world, talk baseball. We talked about his team, the Blue Jays and we talked about analytics in baseball. I’m going to let you in on a secret, since Robbie was a little boy and his father Sandy was the Yankees second baseman, he has been a Yankee fan. Since Robbie lives in Tampa we get to watch the Yankees when they play the Blue Jays during spring training. The one young player that caught his fancy is the young second baseman Gleyber Torres.

Robbie thinks that this kid is the whole package. The footwork, the hand eye coordination and he has power. The fact that Gleyber is a natural shortstop, Robbie feels that Torres is making the transition to second base very well. If anyone would know it’s the greatest of all time. I told Roberto that I had spoken to Omar Vizque l about Torres and Omar just loves the kid. When you can get such a wonderful endorsement from the greatest double play combination in baseball history I guess you’re doing pretty well and this officially starts the Gleyber Torres era.

A BRONX TALE!

Chazz Palminteri also visited the Stadium on Friday and couldn’t have been more excited. Of the Hollywood and Broadway stars that visit the Yankees I would have to say that Chazz has to be the most knowledgeable of the game and I will also add, the biggest fan. The one ritual that I love about this man is that on every visit he loves to go to the highest level of the upper deck and find a father and his child and give them a signed baseball. It’s a reminder of him and his dad.
Chazz let me in on a secret, his play A Bronx Tale, is going to be making a giant adjustment. Just what that is I will not say at this time or else I will have to deal with Sonny. Stay Tuned.

A SWEET HEART!

Our prayers go out to my wonderful pal and baseball great Cecil Fielder. Cecil is having heart stem surgery this week. If you know Mr. Fielder than you know that he is a real good dude.

THANKS FOR YOUR SERVICE!

A special congratulations to Jordan DeLorenzo. Jordan has been serving our country in the United States Air Force and Friday he graduated from the Suffolk County Police Department. He will be joining his brother, my son Jon-Erik Negron, in the 6th precinct. Jordan’s dad Jerry is a retired NYPD. Naturally they are all big time Yankee fans.

THE PRICE OF FRIENDSHIP!

Carlos Beltran visited the Yankee clubhouse this past weekend. Throughout the years you have always heard about the class of this recently retired major league outfielder. One of Carlos’s best friends and a person that Carlos says is more like a brother to him is Portabella Clothing king, Joe Oks. When Carlos received his World Series ring, he had another made up for his longtime pal, Joe. He had an inscription made which reads SUPER JOE. I have heard Carlos say through the years that you cannot pay for that kind of friendship. A beautiful act.

 

 

Living the Dream

Don’t feel badly for Giancarlo Stanton. He may have been the only Yankee without a hit but on the field he has had good at bats and actually just missed hitting a tremendous homer that just went foul into the upper deck in left field. In the clubhouse, he stood in front of the press and handled some good and not so good questions. One of the questions that impressed me came from a writer from the New York Times. He asked Giancarlo if he felt badly for the Florida Marlon players. Stanton responded by saying, “Hey those guys are playing on a major league team and they are living the dream.” I thought that this was a terrific answer. Too many players forget this. Giancarlo also told reporters that the work ethic of Aaron Judge doesn’t surprise him and he was very positive about his other teammates. In talking to Don Mattingly, he says that Stanton is the type of player that will, at different times of the season, carry a team all by himself.

Another guy that has mentally worked hard to try to get his game going is Dellin Betances. Dellin has worked very hard in the bullpen with Larry Rothchild and he looked very impressive against the Marlins. This is a guy that, as we all know, has top closer stuff.

 

Reggie Jackson is recuperating in Tampa after extensive knee surgery during spring training. The Tampa medical staff has done a wonderful job at getting Reggie back on his feet. You would think that they were getting Mr. October ready for the season as if he was still playing. Reggie has spent his down time talking baseball with Yankee Co-Chairman Hank Steinbrenner.

Today I visited a house at 9 Meadow Lane in New Rochelle, New York. This was the home of the great Lou Gehrig, he had purchased the house in 1927 and kept it until his death in 1941. The house is pretty much the same way as Gehrig had kept it. I met the neighbor next door, who had just moved in from Mexico. He asked me the importance of the house and I explained who Lou Gehrig was and that he had lived there.  He looked over at the house and made the Sign of the Cross.  I could almost feel the spirit of the Yankee Iron Horse.

Finally, a special thank you to Music Icon, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and Yankee fan, Frankie Valli. Frankie was performing at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut this past weekend. In order to help The Cristian Rivera Foundation, he entertained a small group that donated funds to the foundation.  The Foundation has been fighting for a cure for Pontine Giloma, an inoperable brain tumor located in the stem of the brain, ever since losing little Cristian. Frankie Valli and Maynard Strickland, from the Mohegan Sun Casino, should be commended because they understand what the parents of kids suffering from all forms of pediatric cancer must be going through. Frankie delayed an early exit from the arena after his show in order to be with his friends and supporters of this great cause.

Ray can be heard weekends on the #1 show on ESPN Deportes the World of The Big Leagues. His also writes a weekly column for NY Sports Day, Newsmax and Baseball America.

Like Giancarlo, They Booed the Mick and Ted Too

Ray Negron with Giancarlo Stanton

As hard as it is to believe, two of the most beloved players in baseball were Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams and yet at different times in their careers they were both booed by the fans. When they were asked by the press how it felt, they both responded with the same answer, “Today I stunk and I deserved to be booed.”

Giancarlo Stanton Giancarlo Stanton is the reigning National League most valuable player who, after an incredible first game where he hit two home runs, has had a couple of games in which he has struck out five times. Stanton has heard the booing from the Yankee fans yet just like the Mick and Ted Williams, says that he would have booed also. Stanton said after a game, “I hear them booing but understand the situation.” The one thing that we must remember about this young man is that he truly is a professional hitter. For that matter as Mr. October Reggie Jackson recently said to me, “Stanton is the whole package, don’t worry about him. He will figure things out when he has his rough moments.”  The major league scout that has seen Stanton as much as anyone is Atlanta Braves scout Tom Giordano. T-bone, as he is affectionately known, says that the Mets have had as good a pitching staff as anyone throughout the last few years and he feels that Stanton was always able to do some heavy damage against the Mets and there is no question about the damage that he will do in the American League.

Giancarlo Stanton asked Reggie Jackson, during a hitting session in spring training, if there was anything that Reggie saw that he felt he should work on.  Reggie told me that he told him that his work ethic is so strong and his concentration on the little things is so good. “I didn’t want to mess with him, even though Giancarlo is a power hitter like I was.”

It is also nice to see that the Yankees hierarchy has a full understanding and total support for Giancarlo. It makes the adjustment period that much easier for this very talented and good natured young man.  As I used to say when Reggie was “the man” in the 70s. “I’m just going to strap in and enjoy the ride.”

Mickey Rivers, Yankee Honorary Ambassador

Whenever I walk into the suite section at the new Yankee Stadium, I can literally tell you where every picture on the walls are located.

I can tell you that the photo of  Babe Ruth with all the kids and the old lady with no teeth is by suite 68.  A young George Steinbrenner and Reggie Jackson in street clothes on the left side of suite 56. The wonderful Thurman Munson is on the opposite side of suite 44. I can tell you that Billy Martin and Bobby Murcer are down by party suites 1 and 2. This past Sunday,  I walked into suite 33 to say hello to sports promoter Andrew Levy and to pay my respect to a guy who does so much for a lot of retired players and people in general. He was sitting next to Mickey and Cookie Rivers. They had big smiles on their faces. I asked them to share in the joy and tell me what was going on. Cookie asked me, “Don’t you know?” I said, “Know what?”  She told me that Mickey’s picture was put up in the hallway by suite 60. I turned to Mickey and he had a smile on his face that I haven’t seen since he had the winning ticket for the Belmont stakes in 1977. He and Cookie are so proud. Someone in the suite asked, “What took the Yankees so long to do it?” Mickey’s response was, “The  Yankees have always been there for me in more ways than you will ever understand.” At that point, Cookie grabbed his hand and gave Mick the Quick a very loving smile. Andrew Levy told me that Mickey takes it upon himself to act as a Yankees Ambassador and shakes as many hands as possible. Mickey probably takes more pictures than anybody in the Yankee organization. He tells wonderful loving stories about The Boss, Thurman, yes and even Reggie Jackson.

Framed Photo of Mickey RiversThis year marks the 40th anniversary of the 1978 World Champion Yankees. Mickey was such an important part of that team that he and Bucky Dent were honored at the Yankees Welcome Home Dinner this year and threw out the first pitch on opening day. Like all Yankee fans, I see Mickey as a happy go lucky personality that is quick to smile and is always willing to make fans feel great. As a close friend, I see Mickey as someone that has always been willing to give of himself in any way possible. When they say that a person is willing to give you the shirt right off his back, I immediately think of Mickey Rivers because I have literally seen him do it. I sadly say that he is truly one of the most generous people that I have ever known. I know for a fact that Mr. Steinbrenner loved Mickey as much as he loved any player because of how great he was for those Yankee teams of the 70s and because of Mickey’s gigantic heart.

The Boss once said to Billy Martin that Rickey Henderson is the greatest lead off hitter of all time, however he could never do for my teams what Mickey Rivers did for my Championship teams of the 70s. Billy responded by saying, “Rickey Henderson is like a son to me however for those three years I would have to go with Mickey.”

The greatest defensive center fielder that I have ever seen and a teammate of Mickey’s was the marvelous Paul Blair. He once said that Mickey’s fun loving ways in the clubhouse were as important as what he did on the field and that alone made Mickey an  MVP in his eyes. I agree.

Frankie Valli, Our Sinatra. A Yankee at Heart

Frankie Valli

I was recently sitting with Liberty DeVitto, one of the all-time great drummers in music. Liberty is best known for his work with Billy Joel. One of my favorite people in the music business happens to be the young drummer for the Frankie Valli band, Craig Pilo.  Craig has always told me that his two favorite drummers are Ringo Starr and Liberty DeVitto. I mentioned this to Liberty and asked him if he would send Craig a video to say hello. While sending a nice greeting to Craig, Liberty said, “How could I not say hello to someone that works for the Man?” Referring to Frankie Valli. As cool as it was to have Craig receive a greeting from one of his hero’s, it was also nice to hear one of the all-time great musicians talk so glowingly about Frankie Valli. Liberty referred to Frankie as “one of the true all-time greats in the music business.” Earlier this week, Frankie was honored in Brooklyn for his lifetime achievements by some of the biggest stars in the world including Robert De Niro. A few of the greats born in New Jersey include Bruce Springsteen and of course maybe the biggest of them all, Frank Sinatra.  However, when they talk about the “Jersey Boy” you know that they are referring to Mr. Frankie Valli.

Frankie is performing at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center tonight and next week he will be at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut. While at The Mohegan Sun, Frankie and the Hotel are donating tickets to the Cristian Rivera Foundation, which funds research for children with Pontine Glioma, an inoperable brain tumor. This donation helped the foundation raise several thousand dollars for the fight for a cure.

I recently had some alone time with one of my all-time hero’s, who the wonderful singer Jose Feliciano calls “incredible.” Frankie was very candid and honest in our Q&A. I think that you will learn a few things about the man that Steven Van Zandt calls “our Sinatra.”

Negron: Frankie Valli, last month you were in Florida performing during the same time the Yankees had their spring training.  I’ve never seen Ruth Eckerd Hall as crazy as it was that night.

Valli: I know, almost as crazy as going to see a Yankee game.

Negron: Almost.

Valli: Right.

Negron: Frankie, you had two Yankee greats, Willie Randolph and Ron Guidry there at Ruth Eckerd Hall. They were so excited to see you; they were so excited to meet you. How was that?

Valli: It was very exciting for me to meet them too, because I’ve never met them personally and I’ve been a Yankee fan ever since I was a kid. I like the Yankees and in the National League I used to like the Giants and the day of Stan Musial and guys like that.

Negron: Well Frankie, you don’t realize the magnitude of what you mean to a lot of these guys. In the clubhouse we play your music and we have played your music since I was a bat boy there. The aspect of Frankie Valli being all over the place like that, what does it mean to you?

Valli: Well it’s a lot more than I ever expected. I never thought it would have that kind of an impact. I just have a lot of gratitude and I’m very happy for everything that’s gone on in my life.

Negron: Frank Sinatra once asked me “Kid, what are you, a Michael Jackson fan?” And I said, “I’m a Frankie Valli fan.” This was in 1978. And Sinatra started chuckling and he said, “Frankie is a nice boy”. What does that mean to you?

Valli: He was really a great guy. I was so pleased to meet him, become friends with him and spend a lot of private time around him; certainly one of a kind. They threw the mold away when he went.

Negron: After all of these years, I mean so many people, Steve Van Zandt, all these different guys, Reggie Jackson said “Hey, he’s our Sinatra,” talking about you.

Valli: Reggie was a phenomenal baseball player. I think a lot of people had him a little wrong with attitude and all that. I don’t think he was mean like everybody made him out to be. He took a lot of heat and that was his way of giving a little heat back.

Negron: Did you ever have a relationship with Billy Martin?

Valli: Not really a personal relationship, but he was really a very strong personality. He would take anybody on; he was that kind of guy. It wouldn’t matter if it was the president of the United States or one of his competitors.

Negron: I was very close to Billy Martin and when I talk to a lot of players from that time and then I talk to the people that work for you that call you boss, you remind me the most of Billy, just from the standpoint of the heart. Billy was someone that I really loved and at the same time could be intimidating to me.  Sometimes you intimidate me, Frankie, because you are strong and I see the strength that your guys see in you and how you lead them.

Valli: Sometimes they need a little intimidation. It’s all a part of what it’s all about. I love everybody that works for me, but there are certain things that I expect and I want them exactly that way. I don’t expect any more from any of them that I expect of myself so it’s not like I’m beating them up. I beat myself up with things I’m not doing and things that are not right.

Negron: Do you ever feel like with Billy Martin, he was like the type of guy that wasn’t afraid of anybody and if someone overstepped, you knew about it?

Valli: Oh there’s no doubt about it. Something I’ve learned as a kid is that you have to stand your ground; it was really very important, especially if you felt like you were right. And it was okay to be humble too, but when you are right on something it is important to stand your ground or someone was challenging you in a way that they really had no right to challenge you, because they weren’t really the one in charge. When it’s your store, you run it the way you run it. When you work for somebody you work and you do it the way they want it, that’s how it is. If you don’t like what’s happening in the store, you go and get another job in a different store. It’s really simple.

Negron: Frankie besides your talent, what do you think that’s what’s made you such a great business man?

Valli: I don’t know. I was very demanding on myself. I just didn’t expect any less from anyone that worked for me. No more, but not any less. And I am also the kind of an individual who understands that perfection is something that we all strive for and sometimes we hit it exactly and sometimes we’re off, and I accept that. As long as I know that person is giving 100 percent, that’s the key.

Negron: The last thing Frankie, me coming from New York I lived in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens. I know the white boys love you but I also know the brothers and the Latinos think the world of you.

Valli: Oh I know; I’ve been very, very lucky with that. In 1963, I could remember after just having a couple of hits, I played at the Apollo Theater, probably one of the first white acts they had ever done.  I’ve played it with Jerry Butler, Tina Turner, Godfrey Cambridge. I never had any problems with that, but you have to remember that I grew up in Newark, New Jersey, in a mixed neighborhood. Race was never an issue. Some of the people that I admire guys like Little Jimmy Scott and Jack McDuff, who was one of the great oracle players, and Shirley Scott. I went to all the black clubs, it was always a comfort zone for me, and I’ve never had a problem with that. In high school I hung out with blacks and whites and we sung in locker rooms in the high school I went to. I lived in a housing project, a government run housing project.

Negron: Isaac Hayes was a friend of mine. He helped me actually with the addiction problem with Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry. Again, we talked music. Isaac said one thing about you Frankie, “The man’s got soul.” What does that mean to you?

Valli: Well, it means a lot to me because I think it’s the true part of what music is all about or artistry is all about. It’s not how great your instrument is, it’s where it’s coming from. It’s the player of the instrument-that’s what it’s really all about at the end of the day, because anybody can have an instrument, but not everybody can play it.

Negron: And not everybody can appreciate the aspect of what you bring to the party.

Valli: Well I love doing what I do; this is my whole life. I’m not a tennis player or a golfer or any of that.

Negron: But the difference between you and a Mickey Mantle or you and a Joe DiMaggio is that you go on forever.

Valli: The one thing that is, I never loss strive with my street sense. Deep down inside me I’ll always be a street kid. That’s what I am, that’s what I know. You learn to almost be able to have eyes behind your head. You can feel what’s happening around you and you immediately gravitate to it.

Negron: It’s just like when you’re rehearsing and I go backstage to watch you, because I just adore watching the aspect of your talent. But I’m always watching, like I used to do with Steinbrenner, I’m always watching like “okay he’s the boss here, don’t overstep,” you know what I’m saying Frankie?

Valli: I call things when they’re happening. One thing that I’ve learned in life that is really, very important, never collect problems and carry them. You must take it on right when it happens, this way you never really carrying a load where it’s a buildup of years of this and that. If it’s not right you have to fix it right then. You can’t say well I’ll get it right next time or the time after that. You’re going to wait three or four or five or six or ten or hundred times before you fix it? If it’s not right you stop it and fix it; “Hold up this is not right,” you’ll see me do that. I don’t do that to embarrass anybody; I do it to remind them if it’s not right we fix it. It’s not like I’m reprimanding.

Negron: If you have one message to give to the people with the dream that you had in 1950 Frankie, what would that be?

Valli: That would be it is very important in order for you to be true to anything, you must be true to yourself. There is nothing more important. You can get away from anything and anybody, but wherever you are that’s where you’ll be. You look in the mirror and there you are, so there’s no escape. So it’s better to take it on and fix it.

Negron: Frankie Valli, I love you and I thank you so much for always being so generous to me.

Valli: You deserve to be generous to, you’re a great guy. We’ve become friends because you’re a great guy and I’m not too quick to take on friends. Friend is probably one of the loosest terminologies that there is and in most cases it’s acquaintance. Friend is different.

Negron: I’m thrilled to hear that from you, I’m honored Frankie. Thank you so much brother, I love you.

Valli: Thank you Ray.

 

The Reggie Bar 40 Years Later

Reggie Jackson and Rey Negron

In 1976 Reggie Jackson played for the Baltimore Orioles. After that season he became a free agent. He also covered the World Series as a color commentator along with Keith Jackson and Howard Cosell. During one of the broadcasts, Howard Cosell asked Reggie what would happen if he signed with the Yankees. Reggie responded only the way Reggie could, he said they would name a candy bar after him.

Well Reggie did sign with the Yankees. He had a crazy, turbulent, controversial, great season and the Yankees became World Champions for the first time in fifteen years. Reggie would hit five home runs in that series, three in game six and four on four consecutive pitches. It gave George Steinbrenner his first of seven world titles.  Billy Martin his first title as a manager and Thurman Munson would give Reggie the nickname known around the world – “Mr October.”

After the season the food manufacturer Standard Brands created a candy bar that would come to be known as

“The Reggie Bar.” During that off season I would officially go to work for Mr October as his “aide de camp” or right hand man. The biggest responsibility that I had that winter was to work hand in hand with the advertising agency, Grey Advertising. I had to make sure that they had anything and everything that would be needed to film all the commercials and all of the print adds. That included all the uniforms and baseball equipment that Reggie would use. Pete Sheehy, the great equipment manager for the Yankees, was so helpful because he had done the same for Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig and Mickey Mantle. Pete gave me everything and more so that there would be no mess ups during the shoots. Pete really made me look good in Reggie’s eyes.  I was always so grateful to Pete and he would always give me his famous wink of an eye. I am thankful to Reggie’s Marketing Agent, Matt Merolla, for always believing in me, and at 84 is still going strong.  Throughout  Reggie’s five years with the Yankees, there were quite a few commercials including Panasonic, Volkswagen and Getty Gas and I coordinated all of them. Thanks to Reggie I developed a pretty good reputation in the coordination of baseball themed commercials and movies.

Before the 1978 season started,  it was planned with the Yankees publicity and Marketing department that on opening day they would give “Reggie Bars” to every fan that walked into the Stadium.

The electricity was really in the air.  It really got exciting when Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris put up the World Championship flag. Now it was show time.

During games I would sit directly behind home plate with portable video equipment filming what would be used to show the players their at bats after the game. I will never forget how nuts the fans got when Reggie came to bat his first time up. The pitcher for the White Sox was the knuckle ball pitcher, Wilbur Wood. If you are any kind of a baseball fan then you would know that the last pitcher that Reggie faced in the 1977 series was Charlie Hough, another knuckle baller. You know what Mr October did to him.

With three balls and no strikes, Reggie hit Wilber Wood’s first pitch over the plate well over the center field fence. At that moment, the fans got delirious, they just went nuts and started to throw their Reggie Bars all over the field. It was literally raining Reggie bars! The fans were screaming, “Reggie, Reggie, Reggie” louder than during the World Series, if that’s even possible. I’m sorry that the fans didn’t get to taste the great tasting chocolate caramel flavored candy bar but at the same time the candy manufacturer could not have dreamed of such an incredible marketing scenario.

However, as Thurman Munson would say after the game, “When it comes to Mr October, nothing will ever surprise me!”

Mission Impossible- Your Assignment is Mickey and Bucky!

If life were a television show then I would be on Mission Impossible. The voice in the tape recorder would be that of George Steinbrenner and I would be Mr. Phelps. The Voice would say, “Your assignment, if you decide to take it, (however in the world of George Steinbrenner there is no such thing as “IF”- It would be “Your assignment IS”

Every spring training, in the seventies,  I wouldn’t  report to camp until I would get a call from the traveling secretary, Bill Kane. Bill would tell me to pick up my airline ticket at LaGuardia airport and when I arrived in Fort Lauderdale I was to report to Mr Steinbrenner. When I did report to the Boss he would immediately give me my assignment. Usually it would be that his kids, Jennifer, Jessica and Hal, would be coming in on “so and so” dates and I was to pick them up at the airport (at that time of year Hank was away at school) Once they got settled in, I would have his youngest son, Hal, accompany me to the ball park. Back then it was known as Fort Lauderdale Stadium.  Hal always enjoyed being with the players, shagging fly balls and just being in the clubhouse.

In the spring of 1978, the Boss gave me my orders but there was an additional assignment. He told me that I was going to be rooming with Mickey Rivers, our great and beloved center fielder. Mickey could be, let me say a little flamboyant. To me he was just one wild and crazy guy. He was also very very funny. Mickey could have charged the players an entertainment fee for the best seats on the team bus. Like Oscar Gamble, Mickey knew how to put on a show and he was not afraid to “get on anybody.” Thurman Munson,  Lou Piniella even Reggie was a target. If you were breathing you were fair game to Mickey. That spring, my orders were to stay with Mickey and make sure that he didn’t get into any trouble. The Boss even gave me extra meal money because he said that I would need it for when Mickey lost money at the horse track. Boy was he ever right. One night,  I had to get money from Thurman, who happened to be at the track with Piniella, just so we could get back to the hotel. However, other than little things like that we had a very uneventful spring. I think Mickey was better at looking out for me than I was for him- he always had MY best interest at heart.  To this day, we still look out for each other.

The following spring, once again, I would meet with the boss and this time he wanted me to room with Bucky Dent. That past October, Bucky had hit maybe the most famous home run in Yankee history and went on to become the most valuable player in the 1978 World Series. That past winter he did a lot of commercials and was in a movie called “Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.” I rehearsed lines with Bucky and he was actually a pretty good actor. I teased him that whole next season about his big line in the film “But baby you know that I love you.”  I would stand up in the back of the team bus and in front of everybody I would yell out that line and everyone would scream with laughter.

On my first day at camp I walked into his hotel room and Bucky said, “What the hec are you doing here?”  I told him that I was his roomie and he said, “Did Steinbrenner send you here?” I didn’t say anything. He stared at me and I just stared back at him and then we started to laugh. He said, “What does he expect you to find?”  I told Bucky that I hope that what the Boss expects to happen actually does happen and I just won’t say anything. We laughed like crazy because Bucky knew that I would never betray a player and I think the Boss knew that too. The Boss never really asked me about what we did. One time Mr. Steinbrenner ran into Bucky and I at a fancy restaurant with some of Bucky’s friends. The next day the Boss said that I looked like I was having too much fun.  The Boss didn’t realize that one of the people with us was Bucky’s priest, Father Joe. Even though he had become such a big star, Bucky was a wonderful roommate- even to the so called Batboy, me!

Bucky used to keep his money in an attaché case under the bed. Before we went out he would pull out the money that he needed and he would always ask me. “Do you need any money?” I always said, “No.”  But I loved the fact that he asked me.

Mickey and Bucky were great roomies in an era when every team had assigned roommates. This doesn’t happen any more because the salaries are too big and most players get their own apartments in the spring. I think this is a big reason why the teams were much “closer” back then than they are now.

I find it ironic that on opening day today, at Yankee Stadium, my roommates, Bucky Dent and Mickey Rivers, are throwing out the first pitch and being honored at the Welcome Home Dinner. It is a wonderful and well deserved honor for both of these two great individuals. I have been so blessed to be associated with people like these men from the 77 & 78  World Champions. It’s wonderful that the Yankee Organization does not forget the great men that won those championships for New York.

To this day, Bucky, Mickey and I still refer to each other as “roomie” and I am proud of that.

…..This tape will self destruct in 5 seconds…..

Yankees Opening Day with Hank and Mr. October

Ray Negron with Hank Steinbrenner and Reggie Jackson

I spent the afternoon watching the Yankees season opener with Hank Steinbrenner and Reggie Jackson.

The team had flown to Toronto earlier in the week after a very successful spring training. A lot of new players to mix in with a lot of young ones. A new manager, who hasn’t managed before but has great baseball pedigree. On the last day of spring training I asked Aaron Boone if he had asked his dad for advice, considering that Bob Boone had been a good big league manager, a terrific player and a clubhouse leader. Boone smiled and said. “A little.” This is one spring that I really got to see the dynamics of what goes into the full preparation of a major league team today. It’s not harder than when I first started 45 years ago, it’s just so very different. It takes an army of people in order to make this great machine run and they all have a great responsibility. If one of the hands falter, it could be devastating to the progress of the overall show. To see Brian Cashman and Randy Levine and their army of people prepare this impressive program is a show within itself. To see the look on Hal Steinbrenner’s face with each passing day of spring training and getting closer to show time tells me that winning for the city of New York is what the Steinbrenner family is all about. Since the Yankees are starting the season in Toronto, I am still in Tampa. I was invited to Hank Steinbrenner’s residence along with Reggie and my friend Aris to watch the game. When we got there we were met at the door by Hank’s assistant and friend Max Solon. He led us to the living room and like a movie we waited for Hank and Reggie to make their entrances.

Hank came in first with a nervous look on his face and right away he started to talk about the team and the reasons that they should win. Almost as if he was trying to convince himself that the Yankees are that good. In the first inning Giancarlo Stanton hit a monster two run homer and that took away Mr. Steinbrenner’s anxiety.

Like clockwork, at that moment Mr. October walked in. The reason he was late was because he had stopped at the super market to get lots of food. Hank had food for us there already but Reggie wanted to make it a party. The best part of the afternoon seeing the brotherly affection that Reggie has for Hank. Let’s not forget that Reggie, Hal and Hank go back forty five years. The great thing about the relationship is the way they talk about the team and baseball in general.  Reggie was very positive about the desire of all those young men in the clubhouse.

The day before I had written a story about our starting pitcher, Luis Severino.  So he made me look good because he pitched six very strong innings. Reggie and Hank have a very good relationship with Aris and they joke around like crazy. (I can’t get into some of the stories because too many kids read my column.)  Stanton hits a second monster homer to dead centerfield and about four decks up. With the exception of Dellin Betancis giving up a home run, the pitching was very good. By the time the game ended Hank and Mr. October were in great spirits, both were feeling very good about the chance of this team having a super year. At that point, we started talking about the championship teams of Yankees past. Reggie and Hank both felt that the 1977 Yankees were the best however, the 1998 team would give them a run for their money. If you ask me, I think it’s the 77 team also, but I will be honest with you, that was the Boss’s first World Championship team so I’m a little partial to them. That was, after all, the most glorious time of my life.

After we cleaned up we went outside to enjoy the beautiful eighty degree weather. Aris told a few more crazy stories and mimicked a few people that we know. At that point with all the crazy laughs, Reggie had enough. Years ago when Reggie first met Aris, who is known to wear some crazy outfits, he asked me, “Ray, who is this hip hop lollipop guy?”  Today, Hank and Reggie love him because he is a good person with a good heart.

The best part of the afternoon was watching the New York Yankees with one of the Steinbrenner’s and to see that they really have a wonderful passion for the team. I followed the Yankees before they were owned by the Steinbrenner Family and believe me, as an employee or a fan you don’t ever want to go there again.

Opening Day Painful for Gene Michael Pal

On opening day I find myself having breakfast with Ken Fagan. Ken, a retired and celebrated Air Force veteran, was probably Gene Michael’s best friend during the last ten years of Gene’s life.

They used to have breakfast or lunch daily at the same restaurant in Springhill, Florida. When possible, I used to join them.  It was quite entertaining to watch Gene “get all over” Ken about his lack of knowledge about professional baseball however, “the Stick”, as Gene was affectionately known, took pride in the fact that Ken had learned so much about the game. Gene used to say, “I guess I’m still a pretty good teacher” when Ken would have intelligent theories about the game. The two of them reminded me of Jack Lemon and Walter Mathou in the odd couple. They were a riot together and the trust that they had for each other was beautiful. Today we sat at the same table that these two old timers used to share and we even left a placemat where the Stick would have been sitting.

I decided to do a little Q&A  with Ken so that he could talk about his pal that we all miss so much. I know that without Gene Michael,  I would not have been signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates because of how much Gene taught me about playing shortstop. Even though I never made it to the big leagues, I can always say that I was a professional baseball player. I owe that to one of my child hood hero’s, Gene “The Stick” Michael.

Here is my interview with Ken Fagan-

Negron: Kenny this is the restaurant that you used to eat at everyday with Gene Michael. What’s the thing you miss the most?

Kenny: Probably the brilliance of listening to him talk about baseball. Even at my age, I have learned so much from him over the last few years. Particularly how he looked at on-base percentage, he thought that was one of the most important things when looking at baseball players.

Negron: Now Gene Michael was dealing with analytics before it was even called analytics. What’s your opinion on that?

Kenny: Well that’s one of the reasons why there are a lot of people that think that he was the architect of the dynasty, and he just had foresight. He’s looked at baseball and he looked at it as what can you do and who can you trust, and he was very analytical about that. Trusting a ball player to perform was one of the things that he thought was important when you select a ball player to play that next hundred plus games.

Negron: Why was it that you had such a relationship with Gene Michael? I mean, people had no idea how close the two of you were. Why was that Kenny?

Kenny: God’s Will, because who am I? We met about ten years ago when I was working at the Yankees and he forgot his credentials and they wouldn’t let him in. I went over there because I recognized him, and I escorted him up to the suite and we made friends and he says, “can we have lunch sometime?” I said, “yes!” It just became a relationship that only one person can treasure.

Negron: Kenny how does one get over that? I mean you guys had scheduled to have lunch the very next day when he had the heart attack. How do you get over that?

Kenny: You don’t. We were supposed to meet the next day, and earlier in the morning I got the call from New York; he died and I just couldn’t believe it. I was only 6 months older than him.

Negron: Unbelievable. Kenny, he was so involved with the Yankees for so long, how do they go on without him?

Kenny: I lost my wife the year before, and it’s the same thing; it’s a void there. You don’t live this long and not have relationships that you just never get over. But the importance of it is that when you do think about people every day, that just tells you what kind of a relationship you had; that’s going to be difficult.

Negron: Do baseball and the Yankees truly understand the significance of what Gene Michael really was?

Kenny: I’m not sure. I think the ones that had been around during the building of his dynasty, they understand. He thought that any year would be his last year, but he just kept going. When the time came, I asked him when he was going to retire and he said “Eh maybe next year”, that was like four years ago.

Negron: Does a Brian Cashman understand the aspect that his mentor is no longer there and how does he continue?

Kenny: Funny you should ask, because just a few weeks before Gene passed, he said that the best move that he ever made was hiring Cashman, because it worked. Gene gave a lot of credit to Cashman over the years for making the right decisions. Gene respected all the difficult things that Cashman had to deal with and he came through with flying colors.

Negron: Well listen I want to thank you, because I wanted to talk to you since you were one of the guys that really knew him best. You got very intimate with him and you really knew him better than most people in all of baseball.  I’m grateful that you’ve shared this time.

Kenny: I’m just proud of the fact that he thought he could tell me things that would never be repeated.

Negron: Will you ever write a book about Gene Michael?

Kenny: First of all, I don’t think I’m capable of writing the book. But if I wrote the book it would be about all of the wonderful times that I had with Gene and the stories that he told me about how much he loved Mr. Steinbrenner and the entire Yankee organization.

Negron: Thank you so much for sharing a few things about Gene Michael. I know that you still feel the pain of loosing Gene, however I am happy that you had ten exceptional years with a good friend.  Most people don’t get that.

Kenny:  You’ve got that right, thank you so much