For me, July 4th will always represent the birthday of George Steinbrenner. Since his death, I celebrate the life of a man that gave so much to the sports world. When I first started with the Yankees in 1973, you could count on one hand how many people worked for the team.
When the Boss took control of the team there was nothing that he wouldn’t do to make the organization better. It was important that the Bronx bombers were the best in every way. The first thing that he did was go from one athletic trainer to two, so that the players could be attended to quicker and be better prepared for the games. He brought a video machine in the clubhouse for the players to analyze their pitching and hitting mechanics. He took a storage room and made it into a gym with all the latest exercise machines and weights. He would eventually hire a fitness coach to oversee the players in the gym.
The Boss brought massage therapy to the sport. Many people in baseball laughed at these innovations. I remember some saying, “who is this mad man.” He wouldn’t stop there. He was the first to have a bench coach, a bullpen coach and a coach that would sit in the press box and let the manager know the best place to position the defense. A lot of these things the Boss learned from his days as a football coach.
He created so many jobs in the front office that St. John’s University and many other schools around the country created a major called “sports management.” Today it is probably one of the biggest majors in college across America.
He has done a lot for sports, but he has done a lot more for the young people who have always had the dream of being involved in professional sports but athletically were not good enough. In those days, most general managers were former players. If it weren’t for the Boss, we would not have the “Brian Cashman’s” and the “Theo Epstein’s” — guys that love the sport but professionally were not good enough to play it, however they are brilliant enough to run it.
George Steinbrenner was the toughest strongest most powerful person I’ve ever known in baseball. However when he came to kids he was truly the sweetest.
I remember sneaking some kids from the neighborhood into Yankee Stadium because they couldn’t afford to pay. One time, I was caught by a security supervisor who ran right to the Boss to try to score brownie points with him. He said to the Boss, “Negron is sneaking a bunch of Spanish kids into the park.” The Boss said, “Leave me alone with Ray and I will straighten him out.” The security person gave the Boss a wink as if he did something great. The Boss gave him a thumbs up. As the guy walked out, I heard the Boss whisper “asshole.” Mr. Steinbrenner turned to me and asked me how many kids. When I said 13, he pulled out a $100 bill and told me to buy them hotdogs, peanuts and cokes. He would later go up to the grandstands where I had them seated to say hello. By the way, he had the same security guard that complained about me escort him to see the kids.
I remember a time in Florida during spring training when the Boss got so mad at me because he needed me to do an errand for him, but I was doing something for Billy Martin. When he finally found me he asked me, “Who signs your check Billy Martin or me?” I said, “You do.” He said, “Your fired-get back to New York.” When I got to the airport I was paged on the white courtesy phone. I answered the phone and his voice was on the other end. He told me to get my ass back to the ball park, report to him– not Billy Martin–HIM. When I got back he said, “Welcome back.” I told him that I thought I was fired and he told me that he couldn’t fire me today, his little guy (son) Harold was coming to the game and he needed me to help him to take care of him. We both laughed!
That’s the man that I know as “The Boss.” As much as he loved the Yankees, nothing was more important than his kids and later his grandchildren.
Happy birthday Boss! You are missed every day.
Ray Negron is a Yankees executive and has worked for the team for over 40 years. His first job came from a chance encounter with George Steinbrenner as a youth. He has become an American film producer, a best-selling author, and a philanthropist. His memoir is entitled, “Yankee Miracles: Life with the Boss and the Bronx Bombers.”