George Steinbrenner use to tell me to help the kids and ask questions later. That’s the motto that I lived by since I was a 17 year old kid. (I am 60 now) The day he grabbed me from the streets and made me a batboy he only wanted one thing. He asked me, how much do you love your job? I said so much that I would pay you. He said the only way you can pay me is by always helping the less privileged. Never be afraid to help others no matter how big or small.
One time, I was trying to get his attention so that I could take some baseballs to a hospital and the security force said I better get the OK from him. However, he was having a very tense day to say the least. Later that day, he asked me what I needed. When I told him it was about getting some autographed baseballs to take to the hospital, he got upset. He told me to take care of the kids and asked the questions later. I told him that I didn’t want to get in trouble. He said, you used to get in way worse trouble than this. If a kid is going to be better off because of it, isn’t it worth the butt kicking! As long as the butt kicking is coming from me you will always be OK. Understand that when you help a kid in need, that small kid may come up to you in the future and say do you remember me? Hopefully you will see a mature man that you possibly helped at some point in his life.
Mr. Steinbrenner’s all-time favorite film was The Pride of the Yankees. There is a scene where Lou Gehrig visits a sick boy at the hospital. The little boy asks Gehrig to hit him two home runs. Lou says I will hit you two home runs if you hit one for me. That home run was for the little boy to try his best to get better. Years later as Lou Gehrig was walking into Yankee Stadium for Lou Gehrig day on July 4, 1939. A teenage boy came up to Lou and asked him do you remember me? You once hit two home runs for me in a World Series game. The teenager said and I hit that home run for you, you see I can walk. In 1974, while spending an afternoon with Mrs. Gehrig she verified this story to me and much more.
Babe Ruth, was universally known for many of these kind gestures as were many other Major League players. Whenever I speak at schools, I always say that when Major Leaguers especially Yankees put on that uniform they become supermen. I always get a big roar from the crowd. I remember going to a hospital with Reggie Jackson when he was the King of New York Baseball. This little boy had been burnt on over 70% of his body. The Boss has asked Reggie if he would visit this poor little boy and bring him some Yankee Magic. The Boss knew that Mr. October would give the kid the will to live. I was never more proud of Reggie Jackson. It would be the second time I would see him cry (when Thurman Munson died was the first.)
Today’s Yankees have Delin Betances and CC Sabathia doing so much for kids that you can’t help but feel proud because it really comes from the heart. In New York, Mark Teixeira has helped Harlem RBI and has helped other organizations throughout his career, a true gentlemen that I have known since his days in the minor leagues.
This weekend, I received an urgent call from sports writer Rich Mancuso, He told me of a 14 year old boy who was playing in a baseball tournament in Puerto Rico. He said that the boy’s name was Brandon Ortiz. In the middle of the game his father had a heart attack and unfortunately died. Rich Mancuso felt that since Brandon loved the Yankees that maybe a visit to the Stadium and words of encouragement would possibly just bring a smile to Brandon’s face. I am a true believer in God and I let the forces takeover. Remembering that with the Boss no longer here, I don’t have the pull that I used to. At the same time I always think of what the Boss would want me to do. So I went to the stadium manager Sonny Height and team president Randy Levine and they gave me carte blanche to help this young man in any way that I could. The youngster, Brandon Ortiz, and his brother Jonathan met me in the lobby. As we were standing there talking the video screen shared Bucky Dent hitting the famous home run at Fenway Park. Guess what happened next, Bucky Dent walked through the door. If you know Bucky, than you know that he is one of the truly great all time people ever to put on a Yankee uniform or any uniform for that matter. Bucky who just recently lost the love of his life (his wife) was the perfect person to share time with Brandon. Bucky said all the right things, talked about the Boss and insisted that we take a picture with the statue of the Boss. We than took a walk on the field and saw batting practice, had lunch, and got to watch the game with some of the player’s families. What a nice day. We got to put a smile on a Bronx boy, who just did not want to smile anymore.
I am completing my 44th season in Baseball and can honestly say that the Yankees have the best community relations department in sports. I don’t say this because I love the Yankees so much. I say it because I have seen all the others in sports and no one can touch the incredible work of Brian Smith and Rocky Bulsy who run this great department.
Also the great work of Jason Zillo during Hope Week. There has to be a God because he gave us Joe Girardi, who is the most giving person of any manager during the Steinbrenner’s Yankee’s era. Billy Martin was definitely terrific also because like Joe G, Billy did everything from the heart, when it came to helping people. I learned so much from him and like the Boss, Thurman and of course Bobby Murcer, who was truly a fine wine, they all knew how to perform Yankee Magic!