Karpin: Reggie, Thurman and Ray

When Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson joined the Yankees for the 1977 season, things didn’t exactly get off to a good start with his new team. A Sport Magazine interview, written by Robert Ward, was released in June and it featured Jackson making some controversial comments, about Yankee owner George Steinbrenner, Manager Billy Martin and in particular, Captain Thurman Munson, that didn’t sit well with the rest of the team.

According to the article, Jackson downplayed Munson’s impact on the team by allegedly saying, “Munson thinks he can be the straw that stirs the drink, but he can only stir it bad.” In his autobiography, “Reggie Jackson, Becoming Mr. October,” Jackson claimed he never made that comment. “It never happened. At least not like he said it did,” Jackson said in his book, but the damage was done.

Reportedly, Munson and Jackson did not like each other and the magazine article only exacerbated the situation but it was a surprising third party who intervened and helped mend the relationship between the two mega-stars.

A 20-year old Yankee bat boy named Ray Negron was getting a first hand look at the strained relationship between the two Yankee stars so he decided to make an attempt to heal the wounds.

During his weekly Saturday morning radio show, “Swing Away with Reggie Jackson” on Sirius XM’s Mad Dog Sports Radio, Negron called in and implored Jackson to tell the story of how he and Munson eventually became friends.

“After the blow up or all the news in the spring of 1977, we made a trip a few months into the season in Detroit,” Jackson said during his show. “You [Negron] were the guy, I think you were the bat boy at the time, but you were the guy. You were a bat boy but you were very close to George Steinbrenner, very close to Thurman, very close to Billy Martin, very close to me. I don’t know how you did that, you probably should’ve grown up being Henry Kissinger.”

It was an appropriate assessment of Negron’s maturity and ability, even at a young age, to bring people together.

“You [Negron] set up a meeting between myself and Thurman, I forget the name of the place but it was a hamburger place, well known place in Detroit,” said Jackson. “You built a bridge there between the two of us and from there, we became pretty good friends. I flew in his [Munson] airplane with him several times, to Anaheim and Seattle and places like that. I would say that you [Negron] were the guy that made that happen. I was just so glad, after about a year or so, Thurman passed in 1979, in that year of 1977, certainly you were instrumental in getting us together, gotta give you a tip of the hat because Thurman was a guy that was on his way to the Hall of Fame.”

With the relationship mended, the Yankees went about their business and won the 1977 World Series. Jackson clinched the Series with a memorable and historic three home run game and was named the World Series Most Valuable Player for a second time.

If you watch the video from that memorable World Series game, notice Munson’s “ear-to-ear” smile as Jackson hits the dugout. A few moments later, you can see Negron implore Jackson to walk out of the dugout to take a curtain call as vindication for the struggles of that season.
Negron asked Jackson if Munson, who has the credentials, will ever be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. “I haven’t really looked at his numbers, you’ve gotta have some numbers when it comes, Jackson said. “I think more deserving than Thurman is probably Don Mattingly, who was the best hitter in baseball for probably a five year span. They turn around and take at look at numbers and they say numbers are not quite enough.”

Like many that watched him play, (including this columnist) Negron believes that Munson deserves to be in the Hall of Fame because the Yankees would not have “been able to win without him.”

Thanks in part to Negron, Jackson and Munson were able to put aside their differences and produce a working relationship that helped the Yankees add two more World Championships to their glorious history.

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