No one will ever forget 1996.
It was the year that we were introduced to the greatness of Derek Jeter, the gracefulness of Bernie Williams, the power of Tino Martinez, King Leyritz’s homerun, Doc’s no-hitter, Strawberry being saved from the minors by the Boss to get some very timely hits, and of course Girardi’s leadership. And who could forget Cone’s strength, Wetteland at the end of every game teaching a young Mariano Rivera the way a closer does the job, Cecil Fielder’s power, Charlie Hayes’s grit, Wade Boggs’ desire, Pat Kelly always ready and yes it just wouldn’t work without the warrior Paul O’Neill.
It was a great team put together by Gene Michael, Brian Cashman, Bob Watson, Mark Newman, Billy Connors and Joe Torre and his staff led by Don Zimmer, Jose Cardenal, Mel Stottlemyre and Tony Cloninger.
However, two other coaches stood out for me, Willie Randolph and Chris Chambliss. Both unsung heroes of that staff, but two coaches who more than anybody on that staff, knew how to win the George Steinbrenner way. They understood the Boss’ mentality and were able to make the players understand that there was a method to his madness. In a very dignified way they did more than their job without stepping on any of the other coaches, and more importantly the manager’s toes. Egos can be touchy in baseball and they understood that. People forget that these two great guys were a very big part of the Boss’ first AL championship team of 1976.
As a rookie in 1976, Willie helped to hold the infield together and was a natural leader that the great Yankee manager Billy Martin would love. Chris Chambliss would save the season by hitting perhaps the biggest home run in Yankee history. They lead, as players in 1976, to make the manager’s job that much easier, just as they would in 1996 as coaches. Two guys that understood the Boss and Billy Martin and the true will to win in 1976 and were able to teach this new group of young Yankees in 1996 that very thing. Every day they were teaching and instilling the Yankee way. They did a great job. It takes a whole organization and a lot of money to run any big business but it also takes the bloodlines of being a Yankee to help become a winner. Randolph and Chambliss were winners and were able to pass it on the Steinbrenner way.
This weekend New York honors the 1996 Yankees for their great championship season. I will be there to cheer them on and be very proud that in a small way I was a part of that. I will also walk across the street to where the old stadium was to honor Catfish, Thurman, Billy, Bucky, Mick the Quick, Roy White, Bloomberg, Oscar, Nettles, Sweet Lou, Dock Ellis, Chicken, Dirt, and all the 1976 Yankees.
I will never forget Frank Sinatra and Cary Grant sitting in the Boss’ suite acting like excited little boys as Chambliss’s home run cleared the right-field wall. Of all of the celebrations, 1976 was the one championship that I thought made the Boss the happiest, probably because it was the first championship and how dramatic that home run would be. One championship is not better than another, it’s like saying which kid do you like best. Please enjoy what happened in 1996 but let’s not ever forget the Boss’ first championship team and the people that helped get us there.
A special thanks to “Teenager” (Willie Randolph) and “Snatcher” (Chris Chambliss) for connecting the bloodlines and, of course, to Billy and the Boss – the two guys who loved the Yankees the most.
Ray Negron is a sports executive with over 40 years of experience in baseball. 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.” He also writes for NEWSMAX. He is also the host of Impact on 930 am WPAT every Wednesday from 6 to 7 pm. To read Ray’s archive, Go Here Now.