Negron: Hank Steinbrenner – One of Baseball’s Most Interesting Men

The other day, 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. 

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