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

Luis Severino, His Pride In Being a Yankee

Just when you think you know someone, you find out that you really don’t know them at all.

This was the case with Luis Severino.

Just recently, I was watching a simulated game at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Brett Gardner was getting some extra at bats along with some of the young hitting prospects. Severino came out to watch a couple of the pitchers that were throwing. For the last two years, I had only heard Severino speak in Spanish so I took it for granted that he only spoke Spanish.

To my surprise, I heard him speaking to Brett Gardner in English! It wasn’t a broken English, but a very clear and polished English. He saw me smiling at him and he asked why? I said that I was so happy to hear him talking in English because I feel that too many English speaking latin players, that I know, like to hide behind their translators and we never get to see how intelligent and interesting some of these guys really are. I used to be Bartolo Colon’s translator and I was often upset with him because I wanted him to speak to the press himself so that everyone could know who he was instead of just this character known as “big sexy” When his baseball career is over he will still only be the heavy guy  who was known as Big Sexy.  I think that this is sad because Bartolo Colon is more that that, he is actually a pretty intelligent guy who the world never really got to know.

In the case of Luis Severino, that will never be the case because this young man took it upon himself to master the language and to also master the sense of being a responsible person. He told me that he actually learned English by watching the television series “Friends” with his own American friends and asking them a lot of questions. He said that he has also helped a lot of those same pals by teaching them Spanish. I also love the fact that he considers himself a responsible parent that must teach his own child by example as well as by being an adult.

Severino said that when he heard about the Parkland shootings he really felt it as a parent and wondered how a parent could send his child to what is supposed to be a safe environment and then not have their child return home. He said that as a parent he took it very personal. He really hurt for those parents that lost their children.

Luis Severino started a foundation that helps children in the Dominican Republic with their education and also poor people of his hometown and he wants to do the same thing in the poorest areas of New York. Luis has a total understanding of what a Yankee baseball player is supposed to be and what he represents. Luis said that a fellow countryman and great Yankee, Robinson Cano, wore his pinstripes with great pride in the Dominican Republic and was a wonderful example to so many Dominican players . That in itself made it easy for Luis to really want to be a Yankee.

How ever it happened, I want to congratulate the Yankees for whatever hand they had in helping Luis Severino, not only develop as a baseball player but also as a fine young man. The prototype for development of these players, the one used for Severino, should be kept in the front of the file.

Luis Severino will be the opening day starter for the New York Yankees in Toronto and he is extremely proud of this assignment. I’m not going to get into all the numbers and success ratios etc. I will leave that up to the analytic guys. I will say that I feel very comfortable with Mr. Severino on the mound for us as our ace. On the 40th anniversary of the greatest season that a Yankee pitcher has ever had (Ron Guidry) I look forward to great success from this very fine young man this season.

Vision eSports Ready to Blow Up in Yankee Universe

The New York Yankees hosted “Echo Fox” during their final Spring Training weekend in Tampa as an introductory “eSports” day for the Yankee fan base. As one of the first investors in “Vision eSports,” the New York Yankees are dedicated to engaging as an active partner through various opportunities, beginning with this weekend’s event.

This is the new generation of Steinbrenner. Last year, you saw George Michael Steinbrenner, one of the Boss’ grandsons, enter the car racing arena with the Mario Andretti racing team and have had success by winning the St. Petersburg Grand Prix. You also saw Robert Molloy as a producer of two major motion pictures “The Little Mermaid” and “Stano” which should premier this summer.

Now we have Michael Molloy, another of Mr. Steinbrenner’s grand kids, team up with NBA basketball great Rick Fox in the very exciting “Vision eSports.”

I conducted a “Q & A” with Rick Fox about this exciting sport that had some of the Yankee players, including Greg Bird, on the edge of their seats as they were manning their hand controls.

Rick went on to explain his and Michael Molloy’s vision.

Negron: The Steinbrenner family has been very excited about what you guys have put together. Could you tell me just a little bit about it?

Fox: Well, it’s been an honor and a huge compliment for the Yankees and the Steinbrenner family to consider partnership with “Echo Fox” and we have been growing the last few years as an organization. I’ve brought “eSports” to a traditional sport capacity where it’s respected and our athletes are appreciated. And now we get to come and experience, and they get to share the day here at Spring Training to see how the Yankee athletes prepare themselves and hopefully those two walls blend and they continue to grow as pro athletes.

Negron: Rick, I’m not going to lie to you, I was always a fan of yours when you played in the NBA, also your movies. You’re a terrific actor and terrific at your commentary work, but the enthusiasm you have shown in this is at an all-time high. I mean why really?

Fox: Well, you know at the end of the day it’s competition, it’s sport, that’s genetically in my makeup. To find it again at this stage of my life in another field of play, I would say has been refreshing. My son himself is a very competitive “eSport” individual, so just being a parent and being a fuel for his passion led to me really being a part of this organization, that is, I think, forging away for a new generation of professional players.

Negron: Well, I was going to ask you about that. The Steinbrenners are passionate about their fans, but they’re unbelievably passionate about their kids, grand kids, etc., so I understand that. Is that the same thing with you when you were a kid?

Fox: One thousand percent. It’s been a journey to really support him as he heads into manhood. As he moved out to college, he expressed his desire to be in the video game industry and to have a career. He was searching for what that would look like, which shape that would take, and for me it was just important to be in support of that to begin with. What I found in that is not only a love for competition and sharing his passion with him but I found an entire industry and a whole bunch of kids and a whole bunch of competitors that were emerging and it allowed me to really support them as well.

Negron: The Steinbrenners are involved with “Andretti-Steinbrenner” in the car racing business. Is this the same thing, “Fox-Steinbrenner?”

Fox: Well, its championships right? It’s almost surreal to think that the collaboration like this for us has come in such a short span of time of existence, but they’ve really recognized in us an opportunity to grow together and bring what they bring, which is excellence, to our organization and help us grow to win championships on a level that you see here in the Yankee organization.

Negron: Last thing. I want the fans to know exactly what the name of the company is and how can we get a hold of you guys.

Fox: The Company is called “Echo Fox.” You can find us through echofox.gg which is on line. And if you go there you can find merchandise, you can find anything you need to know about our players, our schedules and where we compete. Look for us in “League of Legends,” “Call of Duty,” “Gears of War” all the fighting game competitions. The new H1Z1 pro series is coming April 21st in Vegas so we are growing.

Negron: Unbelievable. An incredible sport is happening. Good luck to you.

Fox: Thank you so much Ray, I appreciate it.

Parkland Kids Visit Yankees

This past Friday night, kids from the Parkland Pokers, a baseball team from south Florida , visited the New York Yankees. As some of you remember, I visited the high school where the tragic shootings occurred a few weeks ago. To say that what I witnessed was extremely sad is an understatement. To see the tears of family and friends and people of that community was one of the saddest times that I have ever gone thru. I was not there as the Yankees community consultant, but as the father of four children who cares about all children. I was there because I work for an organization and an owner that was always there for all of the children.

When Howard Grosswirth, the Yankees VP of Marketing in Tampa, told me that the kids from Parkland were coming, I was not surprised because Howard,  like so many others in the organization, is a great dad and has always gone out of his way for all kids in need.  I have to commend him for his efforts with these kids. Not only did he get them on the field, but he also had Aaron Judge come over to spend quality time with them. Judge took pictures, signed balls caps and naturally took selfies with the kids.  Aaron Boone, who has been nothing short of sensational with all kids this spring, did it again. He was very gracious and understanding of these kids plight. Naturally,  the former Yankees captain and great second baseman Willie Randolph came over and was to the kids how he has always been to all kids …..wonderful, I guess that’s why Thurman Munson called him Willie Wonder!

The final surprise for these kids was when CC Sabathia came over and just like in his book “CC Clause” he really knew how to cheer the kids up and make them laugh.  Howard gave all of the kids a Yankee duffel bag filled with lots of goodies.

I asked Ryan Mockenhaupt, one of the players who is considered a team leader, what was the best part of the day and he said that being able to smile and laugh and feel safe surrounded by the Yankees made it one of the best days of his life. Andrew Sarro, Michael Cacace, Nick Solomon and Josh Espinosa said at different times of the day that it’s just nice to have a day that they don’t have to think about the tragedy that happened at home in Parkland. One of the kids, maybe Ryan said, “I will always be a Yankee fan because they didn’t forget us at this crucial time and I love baseball more now because of this.”

I need to truly compliment all of the coaches from the Parkland baseball organization for understanding the minds of these kids at a horrible time like this. I hope that they understand that with their actions in wanting to give these kids this great day after such a tragedy, they may have saved a life (lives)  in the long run.

Howard Grosswirth, what can I say? I know that you get it because of the many deep talks we have had about our own kids.

New York Yankees, you have gotten it since the days of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig–Thank you.

Hank Steinbrenner: One of Baseball’s Most Interesting Men

Hank Steinbrenner

Yesterday, the New York Yankees spent the afternoon in Sarasota, Florida playing the Baltimore Orioles. Rather than drive an hour to watch the Bronx Bombers, I decided to spend the afternoon with Yankee Co-Chairman, Hank Steinbrenner and just hang out and talk about baseball and talk about life, after all didn’t a great prophet once say, “Baseball is life”

Well, maybe it wasn’t a prophet but it was someone that truly loved the game like I do and millions like me.

When I got there, I asked him what he was doing and said that he was watching Wagon Train. Since I love old western television shows, I wanted to ask him if I could watch the old television classic but I didn’t because he wanted to talk about this year’s team and how excited he is about the possibility of having a new “Murderer’s Row.” Hank likes having Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton batting back to back in the lineup and he loves the advancement of Didi Gregorius at shortstop and how he has advanced as a hitter. He loves how Gary Sanchez is maturing as a player and as a man. Hank asked me what I thought about Aaron Boone and I told him that if he was anything like his dad, Bob, who I considered a great leader in baseball as a player and manager, then Aaron would be just fine. Hank told me that Boone’s knowledge of the game really came out with his skills as an analyst during the ESPN television broadcasts.

We then talked about Hank’s younger days in baseball and the fact that he really enjoyed his time with the legendary manager Billy Martin. He told me about the great charm that we both knew Billy had. Billy thought that Hank would make a terrific owner someday and he (Billy) said he looked forward to working for him. Unfortunately, we all know that Billy was killed in a car crash on Christmas Eve of 1989. I asked Hank who he thought the best manager was of his time and he said, “No question, it was Billy Martin.”  Hank said, “Billy was always two innings ahead of the other managers and always made the game fun.”  Ironically, at this moment I told Hank that Reggie Jackson, who is like a big brother to Hank and Hal, was in the hospital for emergency surgery after taking a fall at his hotel and hurting his knee. Hank asked to get Reggie on the phone so that he could make sure that Mr. October was alright.  When Hank got him on the phone Reggie sounded very weak and was in a lot of pain. Hank told him to just get well and they would get together soon. Even though he was in a lot of pain, you could tell that Reggie was so very happy that Hank had called him.

At that moment, I said to Hank, “Since you are feeling like Mother Teresa, our long time equipment manager Lou Cucuzza had just undergone bypass surgery and is back in the Bronx recuperating.” So, just like clockwork, Hank said, “Get him on the phone so that I can wish him well.” The phone rang and the tone was to the music of the old western movie The Magnificent Seven. Lou answered and I said. “Hank wants to talk to you.”  I was almost afraid that Lou would have a heart attack because it’s very rare for him to get a call from Hank or Hal Steinbrenner. Again, Hank was very nice to one of his employees in their time of needing emotional support. Lou was very happy for the call and told Hank, one of his boss’s, that he would be ready by opening day.  It was nice to see true appreciation from both sides of the fence, the employee and the employer.

It was a real pretty day in the Tampa Bay Area so we decided to take a walk outside.  We talked about another one of our favorite subjects, music.  We talked about great guitar players and the great drummers and the fact that Ringo Starr was a better drummer then the credit that he has received. Hank also told me that Ringo was his Dad’s favorite Beatle. I had to chuckle at this because I couldn’t even imagine George Steinbrenner being a Beatle fan.- I know that he loved the great Frank Sinatra. Like Sinatra, Mr. Steinbrenner got to really appreciate some of the Beatles later works. Hank even told me a wonderful story about him and his dad going to a Beatles concert in Cleveland. All of these years later Hank can still feel the anticipation and excitement of waiting for the Beatles to take the stage. He said that George Harrison was pushed onto the stage by the other Beatles and the crowd went crazy. I asked him if his dad went crazy and Hank laughed and said, “I don’t remember.”

Hank had so many wonderful stories but I’m only allowed 700 words so I guess we will have to sit down again with this very cool cat at another time. The Yankees and New York are very lucky to have Hal, Hank and the entire Steinbrenner family guiding our fabled team.

Gardner Helps Find a Heart

I once saw the movie, The Pride of The Yankees. In the film there was a scene where Babe Ruth and a young Lou Gehrig visited a sick boy at a hospital. Babe Ruth promised to hit the little boy a home run. The little boy turned to Gehrig as Babe Ruth was leaving the room and asked the young Yankee if he would hit a homer for the sick boy. Gehrig asked, “Why would you want a homer from me when you already have the great Babe Ruth hitting you one?” The boy looked into Gehrig’s eyes and said, “Just because it’s you.” With that, Gehrig knew that he had no choice but to try his best to hit one for the little boy, but in return, he made the boy promise that he would do everything in his power to get well. Lou Gehrig told him that there isn’t anything you can’t do if you try hard enough. Well Gehrig homered and the little boy walked out of the hospital on his own free will. True story.

Eighty five years later, I received a call from a lady named Sally Cook, who is a volunteer at an organization called, Project Sunshine. Project Sunshine is a nonprofit that provides in-hospital programs and activities to young patients and their families facing medical challenges.

Sally was calling about a little girl named Alyssa and some other kids at a hospital in Manhattan and she asked me if I could bring a Yankee to visit the kids and read some children’s books to them. I asked the youngest Yankee, Brett Gardner and initially he said, “Those kids don’t want me, they want a Jeter or Mariano Rivera.” I told Brett that because he was closer in age to the kids they would really appreciate him so nervously he agreed. He actually read one of my books. “One Last Time: Good-Bye to Yankee Stadium” with Babe Ruth’s granddaughter. And he read “Hey Batta Batta Swing” written by Sally Cook. He was great and the kids didn’t want him to leave. This one little girl named Alyssa gave Brett a bracelet as he was walking out he turned to her and thanked her. He said, “If there is anything I can ever do for you let me know.”  She said,” There is.” He asked,” What is that?” And she said, “Would you hit a homerun for me tonight?”  Brett told her that he wasn’t a home run hitter but she asked him to please try anyway. He smiled at her and told her that if he played that evening he would try and then said,” Try to get better so that you can get out of here soon.” They both agreed.

The tough part for Alyssa was that she was suffering from a heart disease and had been waiting for a heart for quite a while. The last thing that Brett said to Alyssa was keep fighting.

Brett GardnerWhen Brett got into my car he turned to me and said, ‘This is a nice mess you got me into. I don’t think I’m playing tonight.” I laughed and said, “Things always have a way of working out in the Yankee Universe. If you don’t play just remember that you made so many kids happy today.” He said, “I guess you’re right,” I could tell that he was bothered about not possibly coming through for Alyssa.

When we got to the ball park his name was not in the lineup card. The first thing that Brett did when he got to his locker was to hang Alyssa’s bracelet in a very prominent spot in his locker. That night, Brett sat on the bench and watched as we played the Minnesota Twins thinking that he was not going to get into the game and would disappoint the little girl. All of a sudden in the third inning something crazy happened- Johnny Damon, one of the nicest guys on the team who never argues about anything, got into an argument with the umpire about a called third strike and he got thrown out of the game. Manager Girardi told Brett to take over in left field.

When Brett came to bat in the seventh inning he hit a fly ball to left field that one way or another went past twins left fielder Denard Span and rolled all the way back to the wall and the extremely fast Brett Gardner circled the bases for an inside the park homerun!  The stadium went crazy and I have never seen a bigger smile on Brett’s face. When the reporters crowded by Gardner’s locker, they could all see Alyssa’s bracelet. Brett explained the significance of the bracelet and gave the credit for his great game to Alyssa.

The Miracle didn’t end there. I received a call from Sally Cook, before I left the ball park that night that a heart was found for Alyssa. I couldn’t wait to run back to the locker room to tell Brett. He was just about to walk out when I caught him and broke the news to him. You would have thought that Alyssa was one of his own kids. That’s how happy he was.

This is exactly the reason why I love what I get to do. It started with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and it continues 95 years later with Brett Gardner, CC, Didi and all of the Baby Bombers.

This is the ten year anniversary of that very special game and Alyssa’s new heart.  I sat down with Brett to talk about that miraculous day.  I will post our Q&A tomorrow so stay tuned!

Gleybar Torres: Second to None

Gleyber Torres

When you’re talking about Yankee championships, they mention the fact that there was always a great center fielder — DiMaggio, Mantle, and Williams. There was always a great catcher– Dickey, Berra, Howard and Munson. And the second basemen weren’t too shabby either — Lazzeri, Martin, Richardson, Randolph, Soriano, Cano.

Sandy AlomarIn 1974, exactly one year after George Steinbrenner purchased the New York Yankees, he made the one trade that would make the team competitive. He already had a great catcher in Thurman Munson and a terrific centerfielder in Bobby Murcer. The Boss had his General Manager, Gabe Paul, work some magic to get second baseman Sandy Alomar from the California Angels. With Alomar the Boss would say, “Now we can make a run at the pennant.”  He was right because we stayed in the race until the next to last day of the season. Two seasons later, the Yankees would get Willie Randolph from the Pirates in one of their all-time great trades. The best thing about this trade was that the Boss decided to keep Sandy Alomar around for the season as a mentor to Randolph. It’s no coincidence that Alomar’s son is the great Roberto Alomar, baseball’s greatest second baseman.

Throughout the years, the Yankees have always brought back all of these greats, who have had wonderful careers, to teach the next generation of players. This camp is no different. They have a young player by the name of Gleybar Torres who is a natural shortstop, but because we already have Didi, Torres is more than happy to try to play second base. And the Yankees are very fortunate that the two professors here at spring training are Alfonso Soriano and probably the greatest second baseman in Yankee history, Willie Randolph.  The things that Sandy Alomar taught his son, Roberto, he had taught Willie, who in turn passed it along to Soriano and Cano and is now teaching Torres.

In spending time with Gleybar, he tells me the transition has been easier because of how generous Willie and Alfonso have been with their time. Willie has emphasized the mechanics of going at the ball and the times at which you have to stay back on the ball. Alfonso, who also was a natural shortstop, was taught by Willie Randolph how to play a quality second base. Alfonso smiles sometimes because what he teaches Gleybar are the things that he learned from his mentor, Willie Randolph.

I’m happy to report that Gleybar happens to be a pretty sharp kid, who understands and appreciates what being a Yankee is all about. He knows the history of the Steinbrenner brand and what The Boss represented, and he is proud to wear the Yankee uniform.

Torres recently received a message from Omar Vizquel, Venezuela’s greatest middle infielder and a future hall of famer, which said “I hope you make Venezuela proud because someday you will be one of the great players to have come from Venezuela and I will always be rooting for you.” When told of that message, Gleybar said, “I guess I have no choice but to be one of the best and I’m very proud that someone like Omar Vizquel would acknowledge me this way.”

Brian Cashman, Able to Leap Tall Buildings in a single bound

Brian Cashman

Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Look up in the sky. It’s a bird ,it’s a plane, it’s Superman. No I meant Brian Cashman.

As we all know, at Christmas, he climbs the side of buildings for charity, but his real job is building Championship teams for the New York Yankees.

I sat down with the long time Yanks general manager and we spoke about the upcoming season and how he has created such excitement in New York for the first time in years.

Ray Negron / Brian Cashman Interview

Negron: Brian Cashman, New York Yankees General Manager, now Brian number one how are you?

Cashman: I am doing great. The weather is good; we have healthy players, and exciting times.

Negron: Now Brian is this probably one of the most exciting spring trainings you have ever had?

Cashman: It’s hard to say because we’ve had a lot of great players, a lot of great teams before so hopefully I can at some point add a team like this to that level of conversation, but you know we are down here working that out right now to see if we can emerge into that level.

Negron: They say that you’ve built a rock star atmosphere with this ball club, how do you feel about that?

Cashman: I hope the expectations; we are able to meet those. I mean that’s what this is all about it’s trying to put together something special and then letting it play out that way and we are excited about the buzz, we certainly got everyone’s attention by years of hard work by a lot of people and hopefully we can deliver on what everyone is hoping for.

Negron: There has been a lot of criticism about the fact that baseball has become 40, 50, and over as far as fan perspective. I did a walk around the ballpark, I am seeing a lot of younger fans this year more than any other years, what is your opinion on that.

Cashman: Well I know last year with what Aaron Judge and Sanchez and Severino amongst others were doing created a great deal of buzz and interest- I saw nothing but old and young obviously rallying around the type of athletes that are wearing those Yankees uniform, so that’s exciting enough. I don’t believe that there is an area of the younger generation not buying into baseball, that’s not what I see. It’s our job to make sure we put a great product on the field that people want to come see, young and old.

Negron: With so much attention going to the two twin towers, Stanton and Judge, I see that other guys are stepping up. I saw where a guy like your short stop Didi Gregorious was going into the stands and talking to the fans and signing extra autographs is that something that, in an essence, you have put to these guys or are the guys doing this on their own?

Cashman: Oh that’s something that comes on their own. We have a lot of high quality people. They understand the importance of the fans and giving back and putting forth their own time and they do that all the time. That’s how they’re wired, that’s credit more to their parents than the Yankees because we inherit that goodness that they already had in them. We are thankful for it; it’s one of the attractive traits that I’m sure our scouts bought into when they had a chance to drill down on these guys, not just their performance but them as people. They are hitting homeruns in the ballpark and hitting homeruns off the field with how they relate with everybody.

Negron: On ESPN Desportes people have asked about different situations, different players that you bring into for spring training, the retired guys. One guy that I noticed when he gets here, he goes into the stands, he really embraces the people, is Nick Swisher. Do you have an essence to pick guys that you feel that were going to be the most fan-friendly?

Cashman: I mean we are looking for nothing but people that realize that it’s a privilege to wear this uniform and find a way to contribute to the efforts that we are putting forth and allowing this team to be all it can be. And that’s on both sides of the ball, meaning the players in that locker room, how to best prepare them, and then also how to create a fan-friendly atmosphere. Nick Swisher for instance gets all aspects. He understands what this game is about, to play on the field and the fans in the stand as the same time, he’s a special one. We’re lucky that we’ve got him. He goes down as one of our better trades that we’ve ever made. And he is one of the reasons why I have a ring on my finger, which is 2009 the most recent one, it’s because of his contributions. He’s nothing but positive energy at all times and we want that. We want people to come in here and lift us all up and take us to a new level and Nick Swisher is one of many that are trying to do that.

Negron: Last thing- fans don’t always understand what’s really going on inside the clubhouse and the decisions that management has to make. Very difficult decision for you I’m sure was the Girardi-Boone thing and yet in one week I have noticed how the fans have taken to Boone and how Boone has taken to the fans without ever really managing and the people are really digging that which is an important trait for Yankees managers

Cashman: Well I mean our fans are excited about this club and I think they rallied heavily around Joe Girardi at all times and I think they’re going to do the same for Aaron Boone. Listen, Aaron is going to be leading this club on that field and finding a way to set those lineups everyday and to plug our pitching on a daily basis and they want him to make every decision right as we do too in the front office. He’s going to have their support; there will be some push back along the way as our previous managers knows as every manager has to deal it. It’s a tough job, it’s an impossibly difficult job but we think we’ve picked a good one. We relied on the team process to allow us to pick a great one before and we’re hoping we have a great one now. It’s nice to know where spring training is a great atmosphere where everybody can find a nice, loose, and relaxed way to go about their business, because the games don’t count yet but once they do it’s lights, camera, action, and obviously the pressure gets increased a little more or a lot more depending how things go.

Negron: I went to an event just before spring training started and you had Gleyber Torres there and he was signing autographs, this was on a Saturday afternoon in New Jersey, and then next to him was your manager Aaron Boone. The one thing that I was able to report to the people at ESPN Desportes was, “que el savilla habla espanol” that Aaron Boone was actually able to speak in Spanish to Gleyber Torres and I found that actually pretty cool, did you know that?

Cashman: Yes, I mean he’s obviously gifted. He’s extremely smart; he obviously can speak some Spanish. His imitations of people, their mannerisms, and their physical walks have you second to none. He’s a smart, very sophisticated individual and he’s got a very calm presence about him. I think we’ve run into a tremendous baseball person. His family back ground is well documented from his brother playing to his father playing in the big leagues to his grandfather playing in the big leagues so the family is one of the all-time families of baseball and I think we’re fortunate to have him here.

Negron: I’m very excited about this ball club; I’m very excited about what you have done, and congratulations, early.

Cashman: Thanks, we’ll see what happens.

Frankie, Yankee Love In. Oh What a Night!

Last week I received a call from Bobby Rossi, who arguably is Florida’s top music promoter and heads all show events a Ruth Eckerd Hall. He told me that Frankie Valli will be performing his 30th show at Ruth Eckerd Hall and is going to be honored by the City of Clearwater. This is the all-time record for any performer at the venue.

As most people know, Rossi and his family have been long time friends of mine through our mutual love of Bobby Murcer and the New York Yankees. Bobby also knows that Frankie Valli is my all-time favorite musician, singer, performer, whatever you want to call him, he is the man.

Rossi told me that on the record breaking night he wanted to do something special for Frankie.

I asked Rossi what was planned and he told me that he was going to have Mayor George Cretekos give Frankie the key to the city and that a street outside of Ruth Eckert Hall would be name after Sir Frankie. It would be called “Frankie Valli Alley.”

Rossi, knowing my passion for Frankie and his band members, asked me what gift we could give to Frankie. That’s a though one because what do you give a man that you think has everything? So I asked my friend Aris, a retired corrections officer who Hank Steinbrenner calls “the man of mystery” because in his crazy, sometimes crude ways. Aris always seems to have all the answers!

Aris asked me who Frankie’s hero outside of music was and I told him Joe DiMaggio. Within 24 hours Aris came up with a real flannel Joe DiMaggio shirt. (How did he do it I have no idea.) Did he get it from Hank Steinbrenner, who knows Aris is usually the person I go through when I need to talk to Hank?

The bottom line is, it was a beautiful gift and it looked even better when Rossi had it framed. Now, who were we going to get to make the presentation?

Rossi and I agreed that the presenter had to be special because we wanted to do this on stage and we wanted to really surprise the audience and it was important for Frankie to really love it. I spoke to Frankie’s musical director, Robby Robinson, for some ideas. Finally, I asked myself, what is it that I love the most about Frankie Valli? His class and his dignity, the way Frankie loves and is loved. With that being said I Immediately thought of Ron Guidry and Willie Randolph. They are what class and respect are all about, they were loved by their teammates and George Steinbrenner thought so much of them that he made them Co-Captains.

When I went to them individually to ask if they would do it, they responded almost as if they were scripted, “Are you kidding I love Frankie.”  Guidry said. Willie Randolph said, “I grew up on Frankie Valli and the four Seasons, I would be honored.” Well the night could not have gone any better, with the exception that Craig Pilo, Frankie’s drummer, was wearing a Boston Red Sox cap so I decided to embarrass him in front of the audience of predominantly Yankee Fans by telling him that he had to remove that cap. Frankie and the crowd agreed so off went the cap as the audience roared. Mayor Cretekos gave Frankie the key to the City and then I introduced Willie and Guidry to the totally sold out arena. It was quite touching to hear Guidry and Willie tell Frankie that they loved him. Knowing Frankie as long as I have, I thought that he was really moved by these two Yankee icons sharing the love. The Ruth Eckerd Hall audience just couldn’t get enough of the love that that was being given to a man that is so deserving, Frankie Valli. It was also so beautiful that the love of the Yankees helped make the night that much better. After the show, the party moved back stage and I wish we could have brought the audience with us but there just wasn’t enough room. By the way, I didn’t know that Ron Guidry and Willie Randolph could dance like they did last night. A special thank you to Japanese baseball scout, Richard Seko, for flying in from Los Angeles to fulfill his dream of meeting his hero Frankie Valli. Some people say that sometimes it’s not good to meet your heroes however in Richards’s case, his scouting report on Frankie reads, “Frankie Valli is a super star in every way possible.”

In the immortal words of Frankie Valli, “Oh What a Night”

Additionally, Ray can be heard Saturday and Sunday on IMPACT on ESPN Radio 1050am talking baseball and entertainment. His writes a weekly column for NY Sports Day, Newsmax And Baseball America.  A powerful and inspirational speaker, he passionately shares his amazing journey, revealing his experience with the Bronx Bombers, special relationship with Steinbrenner and what it was like to hang around some of baseball’s greats.

For more information about Ray please check out his website batboyhelps.com