Someone recently asked me if I was paid for the stories I write on Newsmax and NY Sports Day. I told them that my rewards are the wonderful memories and lessons that I get to share with the world.
University of Steinbrenner
I remember being at a college reunion that Mr. Steinbrenner had put together at the old Yankee Stadium. All of the Boss’s old friends from his school and other major universities were there. These very impressive gentleman were talking about their exploits at the schools and I remember being somewhat embarrassed about being in their company since I had only gone to one year of college. Mr. Steinbrenner noticed the look on my face and said, “Mr. Negron put your head up because you have gone to the best school of all.” I asked him what he meant and the Boss said, “You have gone to the University of Steinbrenner.” We all laughed because he was so right.
If Mr. Steinbrenner was the president of this university, than the professors were named Catfish and Munson, Piniella and Jackson. The dean of the great college named Martin. Some of the students to graduate were named Jeter and Mattingly, Rivera and Rodriguez.
Working for the Yankees all of these years has truly been a great education. The one thing that I always did was to focus on these players more as people than as athletes and I learned a lot about life in general.
I was always impressed by the clubhouse people skills of Thurman Munson. In 1976 the Yankees were making their first run at a pennant in years, it would be the first for Mr. Steinbrenner. Thurman Munson knew that in order for us to win, we would need Mickey Rivers to be the catalyst at the top of the batting order. Munson stayed on Rivers all season long, encouraging him and telling him that if he continued at the pace that he was going he would be the most valuable player. Rivers loved how Munson pushed for him and made him feel like he was truly “the big guy.” The Incredible thing was that the better Rivers hit, the more RBI’s Munson was getting.
By the end of the season Mickey was so into the team concept that he honestly wanted Munson to get the MVP and he would tell Lou Pinella that he would not have had this kind of season without Thurman pushing him the way he did. Pinella countered that by saying that Mickey was right however they couldn’t have won without him (Mickey). When the season ended and we were beaten by the Reds in the World Series, the last thing Munson did was to stop by River’s locker and he said.” Mickey you were our MVP, thank you.” Mickey, who could have the worst diction in the world sometimes, said clear as day, “I could not have done it without you–thanks big guy.” Thurman gave “Mick the Quick” a big hug.
Later that winter, Thurman Munson would call Mickey Rivers because Rivers did not win the MVP- Munson won it. Munson was happy but he would later tell me that for the good of the team it would have been better if Mickey Rivers had won. I thought that this was one of the most unselfish acts that I’ve ever seen in baseball. Mickey told me that Munson literally apologized to him for winning and told him that he (Mickey) was more important to the team.
I always like telling the story about Detroit Tiger rookie Lynn Jones. In those days the players weren’t given a lot of free equipment and when he came up to bat Thurman noticed that Jones’ shoes were ragged and worn. After the game, Munson went into his locker and asked me to take a new pair of shoes to Jones. When I delivered them, Jones acted like a kid at Christmas and said. “I can’t believe Thurman Munson would do such a cool thing. I’ll save these forever.” I wonder if 40 years later he still has them.
Last week I went to an awards party for some of the “baby bombers” including the new Yankee catcher Gary Sanchez. The ceremony was put together by Toyota of Manhattan to help the Boys and Girls Club. They gave out trophies to these new Yankees. Sanchez noticed that one of the trophies was missing its nameplate. So the player whose name was missing would not be embarrassed, he asked everybody to turn their trophies around, no nameplate would be facing towards the crowd, that way they all looked the same. Everyone started to clap because they all understood the maturity and sincerity of this young man. I would later have a conversation with him and I told him that Thurman Munson would be very proud of him because with Thurman it was always about looking out for your teammates first.
I guess the University of Steinbrenner is still going strong.
Ray Negron co-hosts the radio show Impact with Felix Dejesus and can be heard every Wednesday evening from 6-7pm on WPAT 930AM