A positive first week in yankeeland

To say that this first week of spring training was very positive would be an understatement. All the questions going into camp were answered during the course of the week. First there was the question about Gary Sanchez and his overall game. Well let me say this, even Stevie Wonder could see that Gary’s defense has improved from last year. Whatever workouts he did during the off season seem to be paying off dividends. His maneuvering of his feet have been picture perfect and the two throws to get runners out at second have been right on. I don’t need to say anything about the two homers in the first two games because at the end of the day we know Gary can do that.

Domingo German threw two scoreless innings versus the Tigers and had three strikeouts. His curve ball and sliders were sharp and he had the hitters very much off balance. Off the field he seems to mentally be in a good place and the players have been very supportive. Domingo knows that what happened 18 months ago was very wrong and he is very sorry for it. This group of Yankee players are a special breed and players like Gio Urshela and others will be there to help German out.

Speaking of Gio Urshela, he got to play his first game and in the first inning was hit a hard ground ball to his left and made a picture perfect throw to first base. After the game he said that the elbow that was operated on during the off season felt great. Bench coach Carlos Mendoza said that when he played catch with Gio two weeks ago, it was as if Gio was in mid season form. As one scout that was attending the game put it , with a guy like Urshela you don’t worry about him because he is as professional as they come.

The other player that has also looked terrific is Gleyber Torres. He has looked very smooth on the field . His range has been very quick to both his left and right , possibly because he has come to camp in such great shape.

He also looked great hitting his first homer to right center field. I was watching this game with the great hall of famer and arguably the greatest second baseman off all time Roberto Alomar. Alomar who is probably the smartest baseball man that I have ever known said that what he saw of Gleyber that day tells him that he will have a great season, No doubt about it.

Today I was saddened at the passing of former Yankee Public relations director Larry Wahl. During the Steinbrenner era of the late 70s Larry was with us for four years and he was truly a very nice person.

I want to thank former Yankee Batboy Shawn Derosa who later became an expert in the field of pacemakers. He gave our New York fans a thorough explanation on how they work and why it was a necessity for Aaron Boone. If you missed Shawn’s explanation you can look up my last column.

A Hall of Famer’s Advice for Gio

Bronxnet’s number one program, “Reachout with Ray and Steve” continues to show why.

Yesterday, one of the stars of the award winning film, “Freedom Writers,” Bronx’s own April Lee Hernandez (Castillo) joined the show to talk about the making of the film. The incredible message it sends and how that message is received today is even more important.

The community segment of the show told us about the continued efforts of the New York Yankees all throughout the Bronx during these pandemic times. We got to show the vaccine program going on at Yankee Stadium along with the continued efforts in giving out masks and “H2One” hand sanitizers thanks to the collaborative efforts of the Yankees’ Gleyber Torres and Gio Urshela. When asked why they continue to help the Bronx and also their native Venezuela and Columbia their response is always… it’s the Yankee way!

The highlight to the show was when Baseball Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar came on to talk to the great Yankees third baseman Gio Urshela. Roberto congratulated Gio for winning the Thurman Munson award for humanitarian service. Roberto explained that, as a little boy when his father Sandy played for the Yankees, he got to know Thurman as a little child could and that he is very happy about that memory of the Yankees Captain. He said that Munson was a very special person and that Gio should never take that award lightly. It was truly one of the most heartfelt moments on Reachout. Roberto and Gio also talked about how someone, who has just achieved the kind of success that Gio has, can go to the next level during this upcoming season.

The show closed with a wonderful surprise. Our musical director and cohost Robby Robinson who’s claim to fame as you all know is that he is the musical director for Frankie Valli and theFfour Seasons had the great one, Frankie Valli and his crew, the whole Four Seasons band virtually sing his famous hit song, “Silence is Golden.”

With a show like today what do I do for an encore!

Thanks Michael Max Knobbe and the people at Bronxnet… My people in the Bronx and all over America that follow the show on YouTube and Facebook.

On a personal note, Thanks to the Steinbrenner family, Randy Levine, the community relations department at Yankee Stadium and of course, The New York Yankees.

Honoring Mr. October During Black History Month

Today, I honor the man that Yankees’ Captain Thurman Munson would give, arguably, the most famous sports nickname to, Mr. October, Reggie Jackson.

Let me just put it this way. During the Steinbrenner era, the most exciting player to put on a Yankee uniform is without a doubt Reggie Jackson.

When the team felt they needed to acquire a star outfielder, everyone told Mr. Steinbrenner to get Joe Rudi. Rudi was an all star outfielder who did everything right. However when the Boss asked his captain Thurman Munson, who he liked, Thurman said I like the “big guy,” meaning Reggie. Munson explained why and that’s all the Boss needed to hear. This is exactly how it happened. You can forget all the other garbage.

Yes, Reggie and Thurman had their issues that bore me because I’m tired of reading about it. The truth of the matter is that, at one point in 1977 they had their own “pow-wow” and worked out all their problems. I know this is the truth because I was there. After that, they quietly became very good friends. They actually did things to help each other out.

Many times when Thurman was flying home to see his family, Reggie would have me park Munson’s car at Reggie’s 5th Ave apartment and never tell Thurman that he was paying for the spot. I will never forget one time we were on the road and the three of us went to a sports bar and there was only one stool at the bar and these two big guys actually shared a stool and a burger.

Reggie actually gave me a job. When we weren’t at the stadium, I would go to his apartment and do odd jobs like gas up his cars, clean up around the apartment and answer his fan mail. If he was doing a commercial, I would be responsible for getting whatever sports equipment needed. Like the Boss and Thurman, Reggie liked to help different charitable causes like the Lou Gehrig ALS foundation or sometimes he would stop off at hospitals and give out baseballs and Reggie bars.

One time, we went to visit a little boy who had been burned over 80 percent of his body and Reggie did everything that he could to help that little boy. After Reggie hit those three homeruns in game six of the 1977 World Series and Thurman Munson proclaimed Reggie as Mr. October, all of a sudden Reggie was the king of New York. He was probably the most famous athlete of that era. So much so, that one morning while jogging through Central Park, John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono would get excited about running into Reggie.

At that time, Reggie was truly like a big brother to me. He taught me a lot about life in general. He taught me about the importance of cleanliness and neatness. One time I had parked my car in the front of his building and we were going someplace. Reggie saw my car and said let’s jump in your car. When he got in he saw that the car was sloppy. Reggie looked me dead in the eyes and said .. “Ray you got to keep your car clean, it’s important. People will think that you’re dirty.” He was right. He used to like to clean his cars himself. He still does to this day.

One time I got to his apartment early one morning and he was ready to go out. I said where are we going and he said shopping. So we went to this fancy men’s clothing store. The manager knew Reggie, all of a sudden the guy said, “Is this the gentleman we’re talking about?” I turned around to see if there was someone behind me. There wasn’t. They were talking about me. Reggie told him to fix me up with pants and shirts and a couple of jackets. Reggie said you need better clothes when you’re traveling around the country with the Yankees. I thought this was unbelievable.

There were a lot of perks in hanging with Mr. October and being his “aide decamp”….that’s a fancy way of saying his gofer. However Reggie didn’t like for anyone to call me that.

One day when I got to the ball park The Boss wanted to see me in his office. He was with Billy Martin. The Boss said that he heard that I was spending a lot of time with Reggie. I nervously responded by asking do you want me to stop? Billy actually screamed out, “No.” He said that if this was something that was good for Reggie then it would also be good for the team. Mr Steinbrenner said, “I agree!” That was that. I actually walked down to the clubhouse with Billy. You have to understand that Billy was like a father to me. He always looked out for me as did Mr. Steinbrenner. Billy made no qualms to the fact that he wasn’t a fan of Reggie’s but he always told me that you must always treat a person the way they treat you. Billy knew how much I loved him but would always say to me that if I ever did Reggie wrong because of what him and Reggie may be going through that he would not be happy with me because he saw how good Reggie was to me. It actually made it easier in working with Reggie.

It was a glorious time in Yankee history. There were different sides to Reggie. The side that like, Thurman Munson, went to the Stadium every night with the soul and heart of a winner. There was no fear. Even with 50 thousand fans cheering or jeering at him. He taught me how to believe in me.

Could he be difficult at times? Well can’t we all? Most people didn’t really know Reggie. I did and I will always love him just like I loved Billy Thurman and the Boss. The one thing that they had in common was that they had very big hearts.

After game six of the ’77 World Series and everything had finally calmed down, I was by Reggie’s locker helping him pack up. Thurman was leaving and as he passed by Reggie he said, “You sure put on a show tonight Mr. October.” Reggie smiled and that was the birth of the name. Mr. October. That next day I was standing next to Reggie at the Championship parade at the canyon of heroes.

Pedro Gomez Made An Impact

Today, I would speak to Sandy Gomez, the wife of Pedro. Even though her husband had just died, she would console me because I was crying. I guess they were a perfect match because that is exactly what Pedro would have done. That is exactly what came to my mind.

During the 2017 Major League Baseball draft, both he and I were nervously waiting for our sons, Ricky Negron and Rio Gomez’ names to hopefully be called. Ironically our sons were called in back to back rounds. My phone would ring and not surprisingly it was Pedro screaming with excitement. To say that we shared tears would be an understatement. Like me, to Pedro, our children’s dreams become bigger and more important than ours.

Pedro loved our Cuban heritage and taught me that Cubanos have also made a contribution in this world. This was at a time when if someone asked me what my heritage was, I would say that I was Puerto Rican after my mom and never mentioned that I was also Cuban (my biological father was Cuban). He loved the film, “The Mambo Kings,” about two Cubans in America with a dream. That film’s star was Armand Assante, who Pedro thought did a wonderful job in delivering the message of Cuban pride.

Pedro was so humble that he didn’t realize what he had done for Latin people in general. He gave us hope to believe that if he made it in a very difficult industry, then maybe we could also. When I was doing my show (IMPACT) on ESPN Deportes, Pedro gave me lots of advice because I had never done radio before and he was actually the first guest that I would ever interview on my show. Pedro knocked the jitters out of me.

Pedro loved baseball with a true passion and respected the game the way it’s supposed to be respected. He gave to the game as much as the game gave to him.

I used to tell him that most people that work in the game today only take. Pedro used to always tell me that my life with the Yankees and friendship with George Steinbrenner was one of baseball’s greatest stories and it should be made into a film. I told him that his story was a better movie because I had Steinbrenner and the Yankees to help me, while he had to do it all by himself and look how far up he got. I’m still climbing.

Pedro Gomez was a friend that you didn’t have to see everyday but when you did it was like he was always there.
Today I sincerely send my condolences to Pedro’s wonderful family.

I’m so lucky because I got to call Pedro Gomez my friend!!!

Bill White, A Man Who Earned Our Respect

During black history month, I want to acknowledge all star first baseman Bill While.

During the 1960s he was one of the best players in the game. Terrific hitter with power who also won 4 gold gloves for an excellent St. Louis Cardinals team. It didn’t hurt that some of his teammates were Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, and the best centerfielder in the National League, Curt Flood. Flood, who was the man who revolutionized baseball by challenging the reserve clause to give players the legal right to choose their employers, was also Bill’s teammate on those great Cardinal teams.

After his playing days Bill would become the first African-American broadcaster for the New York Yankees. He, along with Frank Messer and the legendary Phil Rizzuto, would become part of the best announcing team the Yankees ever had.

From there Bill was well respected by so many in baseball that the heads of baseball, including George Steinbrenner pushed for Bill to become National League President. I will never forget Mr. Steinbrenner talking to the Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, at that time, telling him why he thought Bill was the right man for the job.

The thing I loved about Bill was that he “told it like it is.” He feared nothing or no one. I also loved that he treated everyone the same. The friendship between him and Phil Rizzuto was beautiful. Their back and forth banter on the air was beautiful. During Rizzuto’s last days of life, it was heartwarming the way Bill White would sit and watch over his broadcast partner at the nursing home.

I will always be proud of the fact that in 1974 I was throwing batting practice to some of the Yankees. Dick Howser our third base coach and the person responsible for the running of batting practice, told me to throw a few to Bill. I tried to throw a fastball in on him and he extended his hands and hit a line drive into the bullpen.

As a teenager with the Yankees Bill always pushed for me and always gave me advice on life and the do’s and don’ts.

As a batboy, when it was my turn to work the right field foul line retrieving foul balls and I would make a good play, Bill would actually have the television crew replay it. It was great when, after the game, all my friends would tell me that they saw me make a nice play. That was because of Bill White and the kind of person that he was.

I will never forget that after I got released by the Pittsburgh Pirates and came back to the Yankees, Bill saw me picking up dirty underwear in the locker room. He called me over and said that I should go back to school and concentrate on being a doctor or a lawyer. He said that baseball has a way of breaking people’s hearts and he didn’t want to see the game do that to me. Naturally I didn’t listen but I always knew Bill was right.

Yesterday I spent quite a while on the phone with Bill. He is 87 years old now and still one of the smartest men that I have ever known in this great game known as baseball. He still says it like it is. He has no regrets. He asked me how many years do you have in the game and I said 47. He said that he can’t believe how the years have passed. I can only say that I am lucky because I have been able to thank Bill White for his friendship and guidance throughout the years.

Other than George Steinbrenner, I don’t know that I have ever known a person that I respected more than Bill White.

Diana Munson Is So Proud of Gio

The Thurman Munson AHRC New York charity conducted its annual event last night. This event is done in honor of the great Yankee, Thurman Munson, who was lost in a tragic airplane accident in 1979. Donations from this event helps children and families that are dealing with difficult health issues, including autism, etc.

Several great athletes were honored including Harry Carson, a former captain of the New York Football Giants, Mets outfielder Michael Conforto and American League home run champ Luke Voight of the Yankees.

The athlete that I was very happy about receiving this award was Yankee third baseman Gio Urshela.

This guy has never said no when it came to helping people in need. He, along with Gleyber Torres (who won the Munson award last year) have been an absolute pleasure to work with. As the Yankees community consultant, I have to say that Gio has made my job easier because of how he loves children, especially those in the Bronx.

I also have to add that when Gio went home to Columbia after the season, he contracted the Coronavirus. He realized how serious it was, not just for him but for all people. He contacted Alfred Zaccagnino, the co chairman of H2One hand sanitizers and pushed him to ship thousands of bottles of the sanitizer to people in Venezuela and the Bronx. Gleyber who happens to be very close friends with Gio, also got to know Alfred and had thousands of H2One sent to Venezuela.

I love to be able to report to Diana Munson, how many of these Yankees love to give back to the community and how the Yankees organization as a whole continues to do all the right things to make life better for those in need.

It was beautiful to see Diana hug and thank Gleyber Torres last year after he won this award. It really saddened her not to be able to share the love with Gio because of the pandemic but promises him that, when it’s safe, they will definitely get together.

One thing I must add is the tireless work of PR Guru John Cirillo. Thanks to him and all the people at AHRC New York for all the great work which helps so many people and keeps our Captain, Thurman Munson’s name alive, and of course, the wonderful and beautiful Diana Munson. You know what you do… I can only say that we love you.

Al Downing and his showdown with Hank Aaron

Al Downing played with and against some of the greatest baseball players of all time.

While with the Yankees in the 60s he played with Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra and the 1964 most valuable player Elston Howard. In 1969 he played with a chubby catcher who would go on to have a hall of fame type career. His name was Thurman Munson. Downing said that Munson was like no other Yankee that he had played with because even though he was a rookie, you would of thought that he had been there for ten years.

Al would then move on to the National League and play for the Dodgers. Al would go on to all star status after winning 20 games in 1972. In the National League Al played against players the likes of Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays , Willie Stargell and of course Hank Aaron.

In 1974 Aaron was chasing Babe Ruth’s Homerun record. Dodgers manager Walter Alston went up to Downing on a Friday night and told him that he needed him to pitch against the Braves that Monday because as a seasoned pro Al would be able to handle pitching to Aaron during a game of that magnitude rather than one of his younger pitchers.
Al told Alston that it would not be a problem.

It seemed as if the whole world was watching and naturally the Atlanta Fulton County Stadium was packed.
Someone told Al that Hank Aaron had said that he intended on passing Babe Ruth that night with his 715th Homer because he just wanted to get it over with. Al was asked how was he going to go after Aaron and Al said Mano a Mano. I’m going to go after him with my best and knowing Henry, he is going to come after me with his best.

The game started and Downing walked Aaron the first time up. The second time up Downing threw a fastball away for a ball then Al came back with another fastball and Henry Aaron with those incredible wrist of his jumped all over it, sending it to the Braves bullpen in left center field and into the glove of relief pitcher Tom House who when the celebration started would deliver the baseball to the new Homerun king Hank Aaron.

The next day Aaron and Downing got together and talked about the historic night. Al told Aaron that he gave it everything he had. They would tell each other that they were proud of the others accomplishments in the wonderful game of baseball.
This week we lost Henry Louis Hank Aaron and I want to say that the times that I was around this fine gentleman, he showed nothing but class. At the same time I must add that Al Downing has truly been one of the finest gentlemen ever to wear a Yankee uniform or for that matter, any major league uniform.

Thank God for baseball because this great game opened the door for the world to get to know the likes of Babe Ruth Jackie Robinson Roberto Clemente Willie Mays and of course Al Downing and the  incomparable Hank Aaron!

Thurman Would’ve Loved Gio

Today I got to talk with sportscaster and radio disc jockey legend Ricky Ricardo about his interview with Gio Urshela, who has been chosen to receive a humanitarian award during the Thurman Munson award ceremony.

Ricky was given the assignment of doing the virtual thing that all these award ceremonies are doing. It also gave me a chance to talk to him about growing up a true Yankee fan. “Naturally, my favorite player was Thurman Munson,” Ricky said “so getting this assignment is a thrill. To this day I remember sitting at my aunt’s house in New Jersey when the news came in that the Yankee captain had been killed in an airplane crash. To this day I still have not forgotten my emotions and just how much it hurt. My feelings were such that my uncle actually took me to Teterboro airport, which is the airport that Thurman used to fly out of, and tried to explain what happened.” I felt Ricky’s sadness as he tried to take me back to one of the Yankees darkest moments. I felt my eyes tear up and decided to talk about Gio.

Ricky at that moment lit up and said that after talking to Gio, that he truly understood why he was chosen to receive this award. Gio explained the importance of giving back. He also said that he truly enjoys sharing moments with young people so that he can try to steer them in the right direction. Gio has visited schools and hospitals and is currently involved in a program with a company called H2One, which is a hand sanitizer company. Through this company Gio has delivered thousands of bottles to schools and youth organizations in the Bronx and with his teammate, Gleyber Torres, has delivered a large number of H2One sanitizers to Venezuela and Columbia which is where Gio is from.

Gio suffered from Covid after the season, so he knows first hand the true dangers of this virus and he wants to do all he can. It’s no surprise that Gleyber has done this also. Last year Gleyber was a Thurman Munson award recipient , I guess it’s the Yankee way.

Ricky Ricardo said that after you speak to Gio Urshela, you know right away that Thurman Munson would’ve really loved this kid. Just like Munson, Urshela likes to do things in a very quiet and dignified way. Gio knows that he is blessed and and he loves to pass that blessing to thy fellow man. If Gio, like Gleyber, can’t get to an event for kids, than, like Ricky Ricardo, they do the virtual thing too.

Thanks Ricky for always representing our Latin athletes in such a wonderful and dignified way and my sincere congratulations to Gio Urshela for winning such a wonderful award…. The Thurman Munson Award… Ricky Ricardo is right… Thurman Munson would’ve loved you.

2021 – We Must Be Winners

In the immortal words of the great Frank Sinatra… Here’s to the winners lift up your glasses… Here’s to the glory still to be! We as people must stand together to make 2021 a better year. A year to start our growth as a nation all over again and maintain who we are… The greatest country in the world!

We must ask the best of ourselves and give much more. Here’s to the heroes, those who move mountains, here’s to the miracles, they make us see… Here’s to all the brothers, here’s to all the people, here’s to the winners that in 2021 all of us must be!! Or else all the people that we loved and lost in 2020 would have died in vain! We are all winners because at the end of the day we are all good people… I honestly do believe that.

Happy New Year! PS we must try to surround ourselves around good people that are willing to sacrifice of themselves in order to make our world good again. You know who the good are and you know who the bad are. At the end of the day, in Gods eyes we need to do the right thing. Not always easy but it’s a must!

Negron: The Doc Gooden Show

Did I hear that right, “The Doc Gooden show?” Well, my understanding is that Dwight Gooden or Dr. K or Doc or by what ever name you know this former phenom baseball player, he is coming to the YouTube and Optimum network very shortly.

Doc along with entertainment entrepreneur Larry Davis will be doing a weekly show. With everything that the Good Doctor has endured in life I can only imagine all the laughter and tears that this show will display.

The show will be produced out of the NYPVG studios in Bellmore Long Island. Doc recently moved back to the Island so he naturally wanted to be connected to the best production studio out of Manhattan. Doc has brought in the very talented producers Peter Rodriguez and Joe Labascio to head up his team. The show will be directed by the very talented Carmine Elvezio from the upcoming new pilot, “Mind Games” and “Reachout with Ray & Steve.”

I will have the honor along with my sidekick, Steve Vaccaro, of being the executive producers. That means that We try our best to help out my great friend Doc in anyway possible.

The bottom line is that this is going to be a damn good show. From week to week I’m sure “The Doc Gooden Show” will be full of surprises. Stay Tuned.