Negron: This Doc Has a Broken Heart

Like everyone else in the baseball community I was saddened by the terrible news of Yankee pitching great and outstanding pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre’s passing.

I first met Mel in 1973 during my first season as a Yankee batboy. It was my first day in that crazy clubhouse and I couldn’t help but notice that Mel acted more like a young college professor instead of a “Bronx Zoo” Yankee. He was just a very nice guy. The other thing that I noticed was how everyone gravitated to him.

What stood out to me about Mel was how prepared he was before every game. He was one of the coolest customers I have ever seen play in NY. Mel truly personified what a New York Yankee baseball player was at that time along with Bobby Murcer, Thurman Munson and Roy White. Those guys gave us fans hope. They also made the Yankees fun during a tough, non-winning period in Yankee history. When Mel’s baseball career came to a screeching halt because of a rotator cuff injury in 1974, he would become one of baseball’s all time great pitching coaches, first for the Mets and later the Yankees.

While with the Mets he would tutor one of baseball’s great pitching staffs. During his tenure there he would have the opportunity to work with one of baseball’s all time great phenoms, Dwight “Doc” Gooden.

Mel would become a second father to this very impressionable young man. The trust that they would develop for each other probably saved Gooden in more ways then one. Mel would work for other teams including the Houston Astros. When George Steinbrenner signed Gooden in the winter of 1995 he asked Doc if he were to pick his own pitching coach who would that be and Doc said with no hesitation “Mel Stottlemyre.” At that moment, the Boss told Arthur Richman, his head of Public Relations at the time, to call Mel. The rest is history. It’s no coincidence that Gooden was able to rebound as beautifully as he did in that 1996 season, that included a no hitter at Yankee Stadium against Alex Rodriguez and the Seattle Mariners.

Today I called Doc, who was at Mets’ fantasy camp, and when he answered the phone he was crying. He said that there aren’t words to say how he feels. He said the last time he cried like this was when his mom died and before that it was in 2010 when George Steinbrenner died. Speaking through his tears, Gooden noted how good it was that Hal Steinbrenner and the Steinbrenner family honored Mel at Yankee Stadium in 2015. It was probably the last true highlight of Mel’s life.

The Boss and Mel were my baseball fathers. Like your real parents, you just can’t replace these people because of the intense emotions that you go through with them while working in a very intense and demanding business in this extremely crazy world that we live in.

Dwight Gooden is very lucky because, during his worst moments, his baseball fathers showed him more love then anyone in his situation would’ve gotten from anybody else. People like Mel Stottlemyre are not that common in the business of baseball.

Like Doc Gooden there are a lot of former players with broken hearts tonight. Players that, at one time or another, were touched by the kindness and generosity of Mel Stottlemyre. Just ask “Dr. K,” Dwight ‘Doc’ Gooden if you don’t believe me.

Doc Gooden makes a house call to visit BATBOY

As the “BATBOY” producer for its first four productions in 2018, I couldn’t help but notice the excitement and anticipation from the folks that were lined up outside the heralded Brokerage Comedy Club in Bellmore, Long Island. It was Sunday, January 6th, and it was the 2019 debut and fifth show featuring New York Baseball Legend Dwight “Doc” Gooden.

“Doc’s” house call, along with the amazing performances from its actors and musicians at this most recent event, occurred before a sold-out, standing room only crowd where fans had to be turned away at the door, was utterly spectacular. The energy in the crowd was electric as they waited patiently for the doors to open. Unfortunately not everyone was able to experience it. This development created sincere regret for the “BATBOY” himself. “To have people turned away at the door on a wintry Sunday night is highly upsetting to me. I wish they could have been there for the show,” Ray Negron said. Without prompting from this writer, Negron went on to mention, “however, to see all the seats filled with others standing throughout the wings of this historic comedic establishment was an incredible sight to see. This is a venue which has featured comedians such as Eddie Murphy, Andrew “Dice” Clay, Artie Lange and Kevin James, now “BATBOY” and Dwight Gooden…………………….well, it doesn’t get better than that.”

Similar to past shows, this performance featured incredible talent from its own actors/actresses. From musical legend Pepe Cardona from “Alive N’ Kickin” to the sultry sound of “DIVANATION” to the operatic voice of Adam Unger (who played Bobby Murcer), to the candid, intimate conversation between Ray Negron, Larry Davis and Dwight Gooden on center stage immediately following the “BATBOY” performance/showcase offered a wide ranging variety of talented performers.

Negron was proud to be a part of this memorable evening. “This was a showcase for our extremely talented cast and performers,” Negron said. “We wanted them to demonstrate their God-given gifts to the folks that were in the audience such as Ken Decamillo (William Morris Agency), Joey Dedio (Film Producer) and Gene Gagliardi (Music Producer).” “This showcase was a chance to begin working out some of its kinks before our production embarks on its 2019 tour highlighted by the return to the Tilles Center on May 22nd.”

Making his Musical “BATBOY” debut was singer/songwriter Alex Martin whose rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” brought the crowd to its feet as well as Cardona’s original ode to Thurman Munson called “Won’t Be the Same Without You.”

Cardona shared his thoughts about the reception of the audience after he and his son, Timothy Cardona, performed this emotionally charged song which reminds us all that it will be 40 years since the Yankee Captain passed away in a fiery plane crash on August 2, 1979. “Seeing the crowd’s reaction standing and applauding with tears in their eyes brought tears to my eyes. That’s what the song is all about….remembering Thurman. Thurman brought people together on and off the field. This show highlights his love affair with his wife Diana Munson (played by GiGi Cormio).” Cardona added,” Frankly I was floored and very touched by the reaction. I had their full attention and they were able to hear the words and appreciate them. I can see us doing that at the stadium you know?”

Other “BATBOY” mainstays Martin Knapp (Billy Martin), Terrell Carpenter (Reggie Jackson), Luis Castillo (Edwin), Carmine Elvezio (Little Ray), Charlie Santora (Yogi Berra), Shane Springer (Roy White), Theresa Farrell (Olga), Aris Sakellaridis (Sparky Lyle), Steve Vaccaro (Marshmallow Salesman), Lisa Coppola (Salesman’s Girlfriend) were spot on.

Newcomer and established actor Bryan Dromerhauser, who played a sinister gang member, gave the crowd a dramatic performance recreating a gang scene that Negron horrifically experienced when he was 17 years old. . However, it was Dwight Gooden’s appearance that brought “heat” to the raucous atmosphere just like one of his powerful fastballs. As highlights of his May 14, 1996 No-Hitter at Yankee Stadium were being played on the big screen for all to see, Ray Negron introduced Dr. K. to join him up on the stage. As he approached the stage, the entire sold out crowd stood up and cheered for their hero. It was reminiscent of sitting in the left field “K” corner at Shea Stadium standing up applauding after every strikeout and posting a”K” on the railing.

“WOW, what a great feeling,” Doc said. You guys are great (referring to the audience). It is always nice to return home,” Gooden announced. He then began rhythmically clapping to the crowd cheering, “Dwight, Dwight, Dwight.” The relationship that Doc has with New York is amazing. After 16 years of playing major league baseball and being inducted into the Mets’ Hall of Fame in 2010, his relationship with New Yorkers will remain lovingly secured forever.
Receiving the 1984 rookie of the year award and 1985 Cy Young award were not even discussed on this special night. Both Ray Negron and Larry Davis asked some very personal, fun-loving questions that Doc answered candidly as they reflected on some funny times. This empowered the audience to ask their own questions as well.

There was a moment during the Q & A that Gooden talked about “battling addiction demons.” He then leaned over, as he was sitting on a stool center stage, to make eye contact with Negron, who was to his left. Gooden emphatically and gracefully stated, “I want you all in the audience to know that Ray Negron saved my life. He was always there for me. Protecting me and always looking out for me. I will never forget those times until the day I die.” There was not a dry eye in the house, including Negron. Both men got up and hugged each other in loving support. The crowd began to humbly applaud with sincere, heartfelt emotion. Gooden then faced the crowd and revealed his love, gratitude and appreciation for the late, great George Steinbrenner. The audience stood in silence feeling the seemingly pure affection Gooden had with the Boss.

Yes, the Doc made a house call on this cold night in Long Island to share his love, gratitude and lifelong appreciation to the “BATBOY.” Maybe, just maybe, Doc may appear at other “BATBOY” performances in New York or in the Tampa area. However, for now, Gooden is off to Mets’ Fantasy camp in Florida and the “BATBOY” will be doing the same at Yankee Fantasy Camp. Pitchers and catchers report in only 25 days…….. PLAY BALL!!!!!