As Told To Ray Negron.
Yesterday, I attended a great Christmas party along with Hank’s Yanks, the youth baseball organization that is sponsored by Hank Steinbrenner, the co-owner of the New York Yankees. We were at the Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club in the Bronx and there were over 500 kids there.
Before I got there they played a five minute video about who I was and naturally of my proudest moment on the field –my no-hitter in 1996. When I walked in, the kids went crazy for me, almost as crazy as I was for them because they were wonderful and this was their day.
Kids came from some of the poorest sections of the city, however you would think otherwise. I spoke to them about baseball and when we distributed their gifts I almost felt like crying. If you saw their faces you would understand why. A reporter asked me what the event made me think of and I told him that it made me think of my mom and dad. It also reminded me of the Boss, Mr. Steinbrenner, and the first time I had met him.
It was after the 1985 season. I had just won the Cy Young award and felt like I was the king of the world. I was on a flight going back to Tampa, sitting in first class when all of a sudden George Steinbrenner walked onto the plane and sat in the front row of the first-class section. I remember that even though I had met every celebrity possible including Whitney Houston, Mike Tyson and Frank Sinatra to name a few, but there was something that made the Boss bigger than life.
I thought about getting up and going over to him to say hello but for some reason I chickened out. The plane was pretty full so I was happy to be sitting in first class. Before they closed the door to the plane an elderly lady walked on. The Boss stared at her and asked her where she was sitting and she showed him her ticket. All of a sudden he said to her, “You’re sitting right here” and he gave her his seat in first class. The lady said,”No” and he said, “I will not take no for an answer!” I will never forget the look on the flight attendants face as the Boss did this. One of the flight attendants said “This has never happened before.” It was almost embarrassing because I was hoping that another old lady would walk onto the plane so that I could also give up my seat. (It didn’t happen.)
When we landed in Tampa, I waited at the gate to say hello to Mr. Steinbrenner. I waited quite a while so he must have been sitting way in the back. When he finally came out I said “Hi Mr. Steinbrenner, Doc Gooden.” He said, “I know who you are young man. I’m so happy for your success. You have made Tampa very proud. Don’t tell anyone but you have become my favorite non-Yankee baseball player.” His smile and his eyes were very warm. I was very proud to meet him and I told him that I had seen what he did for the lady on the airplane. All of a sudden his eyes weren’t as warm as they were five minutes before. Like a lion, he came at me and said,”You saw nothing.” Then just like that, he walked away. I would not see him again until ten years later when I would sign with the Yankees. We became very close friends and I got to understand why he didn’t want the world to know the ” real” George M Steinbrenner lll
Yesterday’s Christmas event with the kids at Kips Bay reminded me of some of the events that I used to go to in Tampa with Mr. Steinbrenner and how much it meant to him. The tears in my eyes were because I was happy for the kids but along with Ray Negron, I miss my parents and miss the Boss.
As I am listening to Jose Feliciano singing Feliz Navidad, I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas from the bottom my heart.